RACE AND RELAX ON ONE HAPPY ISLAND
Longing for a taste of the tropics and an end of season October race-cation? You can knock yourself out trying to qualify for Kona. Or, you can easily register for Challenge Aruba and discover how this itty-bitty Dutch Caribbean island delivers big on triathlon and tourism activities alike. Bonbini! That’s “welcome” in Papiamento, Aruba’s native tongue (a mix of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, French, English and South American Arawak). It’s a greeting you’re sure to hear regularly from the warm and friendly inhabitants of this Dutch Caribbean outpost. Aptly dubbed “One Happy Island,” Aruba hosted its first long-course triathlon – Challenge Aruba – in 2016 and aims to become a wellknown world-class race destination in the years to come. The inaugural Challenge Aruba offered half- and sprintdistance races, plus a relay division. The event provided an inviting atmosphere for international competitors, friends and family members to mingle with local endurance athletes and enjoy a relaxing island-style holiday.
Don’t even think about packing a wetsuit for Aruba – the average October water temperature is 29 C. The sea is calm as can be, too, with unusual clarity, shallow depth and a pristine white sand bottom along the entire course. You’ll swim a single loop in front of the high-rise hotel area’s Palm Beach, starting at the Hyatt Regency and ending at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean, where the transition area awaits just beyond the sand. For pre-race swim training, simply step out your hotel door into the crystal clear sea, or try Aruba’s Piscina Olimpica Roly Bislik, an Olympic-sized swimming pool located 20 km from the hotel strip.
Wind is a constant in Aruba and you’ll notice it most while on the bike. The balmy trade winds provide an added challenge to the predominantly flat course, but they also ease the oppressive humidity that plagues many tropical race destinations. (Note: The 2016 Challenge Aruba race saw unusually high humidity due to disrupted weather patterns and lighter than normal winds following hurricane Matthew.) The wind is sure to increase during each of the bike’s three coastal loops, which take you south from transition toward Eagle Beach, then return northward to the California Lighthouse, one of Aruba’s most recognizable and historic landmarks. Two short climbs – the first leading up to the Tierra Del Sol Golf Resort and the second leading to the lighthouse – provide out-of-saddle breaks from the otherwise aero position ride. This northern portion of the course (from the hotel area to the lighthouse) sees only light vehicle traffic and, therefore, is your best bet for taper week bike training on the island.
Off the bike, you’ll hit the roads and beach path (mostly paved, save for a few short jaunts through the sand) for a three-loop run course thick with spectators. You’ll
also find a plethora of well-stocked aid stations where the endless cups full of ice provide a welcome remedy to combat the midday sun. Your pre-race run training takes place on this same route – or you can stretch your legs along the roadside path leading to the lighthouse, the favorite venue of local runners, boot camp groups and yoga practitioners.
Travel and Attractions
The best flights between Toronto or Montreal and Aruba call for seven to 11 hours of travel time with a single stop in New York, Atlanta or Miami. Only one hour ahead of Eastern Canada, jetlag for travellers to Aruba (which observes Atlantic Standard Time) should be minimal. Once on the island, you’ll find plenty to keep you and your support crew of all ages happily occupied.
Though tiny (Aruba is a mere 31.5 kilometres long and 9.6 kilometres wide), the island packs a punch in terms of easy-access tourist attractions, making it a favourite for bridal parties, spring break boozers and snowbirds seeking a warm spot to relax in the winter months. First and foremost are the sparkling white sand beaches, where you’ll want to park your race-weary muscles under a waterfront palapa and soak up a sunshine-filled day. Once you’re feeling rested and recovered, consider one of several local tour companies (we recommend ABC Tours, Pelican Adventures and Depalm Tours) for a sightseeing or undersea adventure.
A half-day jeep tour to Aruba’s rugged eastern shore is a must for any thrill-loving visitor. Be prepared to hold on tight – the ride includes a number of 4x4 only access roads and a few forays straight up and over the treacherous rocky terrain in Arikok National Park (which covers nearly 20 per cent of the island). The heartin-your-throat feeling will be worth it when you arrive at Aruba’s Natural Pool, a protected snorkeling spot tucked into the rocks and chock full of colourful fish. Other highlights of your tour include the Natural Bridge, the site of a giant coral limestone arch which actually collapsed in 2005, but where the smaller “Son of a Bridge” remains, and the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, where gold was discovered on the island in 1824.
Another half or full day is easily spent snorkeling with any of the numerous catamaran tour operators. You can explore the SS Antilla shipwreck, a Second World War German cargo ship sunk by its own crew to prevent being captured. The ship’s remains are submerged in 60 feet of water, with portions pointing upward within a few feet of the sea’s surface. More traditional snorkeling can be found at Boca Catalina reef; or go all-in with a scuba diving excursion to another of the island’s infamous wrecks or reefs. If you enjoy being on the water, there’s no better way to wind down a day in paradise than with a sunset sail, complete with open bar cocktails to celebrate your Challenge Aruba achievement.
All your swimming, cycling, running, exploring and partying under the Caribbean sun is sure to work up an appetite and Aruba hosts a handful of health-conscious culinary gems amidst the standard tourist fare and traditional fried foods. For quick and healthy bites near the beach, pick from among an array of acai bowls at Eduardo’s Beach Shack or create your own wrap or organic ingredient smoothie at Garden Fresh Café. For a more elaborate Euro-caribbean dining experience, head into the capital city Oranjestad (a quick cab ride from your hotel) and enjoy a delicious dinner at Yemanja Woodfired Grill. Craving a savory splurge? Try pastechi, a fried pastry dough filled with meat and cheese, most often served at breakfast.
All told, Aruba provides a picture perfect venue for a season-ending race and plenty of hard-earned relaxation and revelry, not too far from home. The second edition of Challenge Aruba is scheduled for Oct. 22, 2017. Register at challenge-aruba.com.
Holly Bennett is a freelance journalist based in Boulder, Colo.