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With its seemingly endless supply of white sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters,
is one of the more popular Caribbean destinations for many sun-worshipers and cruise-ship passengers. The smallest of the ABC islands, Aruba is 25km north of Venezuela and only 30km wide. Over one million visitors a year come to this tiny island of 90,000 to indulge in the glitz associated with its luxurious beachside resorts, elegant restaurants, 24-hour casinos, shops and boutiques. The harbourside capital
attracts many of the visitors, as do resort-filled
just north of town. In stark contrast to these glamorous areas, the rugged interior is dotted with stands of cacti, twisted divi divi trees and herds of wandering goats. In the Mars-like landscape of
Arikok National Park
, mysterious boulders painted with ancient petroglyphs and limestone caves are sights not to be missed.
Gold was discovered here in 1824, but the real economic boom began in the early 1900s when oil was discovered off the coast of Venezuela and a refinery was built here in
. After its decline in the 1980s, the Aruban government launched a new initiative, focusing its attention on large-scale tourism. Seeking more independence and greater control of its finances, Aruba gained s
in 1986, thus allowing Arubans to have their own parliament, flag, currency and more freedom in their internal affairs than their counterparts in the Netherlands Antilles. Today more than half of the population is employed by the flourishing tourism industry and Arubans enjoy a higher standard of living than those living on many other islands in the Caribbean.
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