What is it like being a zero waste vegan in Aruba? In this blog entry, I am going to answer just that by taking you on a virtual trip through Aruba, better known as "One Happy Island." I had the pleasure of visiting this tiny Dutch island in the Caribbean back in October of 2018 for the Vegan Influencer Retreat sponsored by Vegan Aruba, Aruba Tourism, and When in Aruba. To say I had the time of my life would be an understatement. The people, the food, the attractions– a dream come true to any blogger who lives for documenting these kinds of travel experiences. One of the best parts of the trip was getting to experience it all alongside some of my favorite Instagrammers/YouTubers from around the US. Say hello to Jasmine and Chris of Sweet Simple Vegan, Sammy Grim, Brian Turner, and Remy of veggiekins! Our love for veganism, good times and frequently documenting our days through IG stories made us instant bffs. Join me below for a day by day run through of what we did, where we ate, and how I navigated the experience as not just a vegan but also a zero waster who aims to send nothing to the landfill.
Day 1: Let the Journey Begin
Our first day in Aruba was a rainy one (my fav kind of weather). Meredith of Vegan Aruba couldn't get over the weather as she explained it never rains in Aruba. We checked into the Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa and had a little down time before our first foodie destination which was conveniently next door. When it came time for dinner, we all walked to Bucuti & Tara beach resort's Elements restaurant, an exquisite a la carte dining on the oceanfront deck or in air-conditioned comfort with a full view of the beach and sparkling sea via floor to ceiling windows.
The restaurant prepared a special vegan menu for our group, featuring a diverse set of flavors and textures. As we all were ordering Remy and I learned we were the only two gluten-free vegans who also didn't drink in the group. We giggled and decided we found our gfv&s (gluten-free vegan & sober) soulmates. While all of the dishes we devoured had the "wow" factor, the one that truly blew us away was the Tempeh Satay with Peanut Sauce. The peanut sauce was the perfect balance between sweet and salty and had the most creamy texture. The tempeh, oh... the tempeh! I've never had tempeh as fresh, hearty and moist. Needless to say, Elements gets 5/5 stars from me. I would highly recommend this destination to both vegans and non-vegans, as they masterfully created a menu that offers something for just about any eating preference.
Zero waste lifestyle tip: bring your own to-go container or Zero Waste Kit jar with you wherever you eat, as you may have leftovers.
Day 2: Mermaid Smoothie Bowls, SUP yoga, & meeting Yoga Girl
We started Day 2 with an epic breakfast at Eduardo’s Beach Shack, the cutest stop for grabbing a smoothie bowl, raw vegan treats, Coco Whip soft serve and more! It was difficult to choose what we wanted off the menu because everything sounded so good. I decided to unleash my inner mermaid with the mermaid bowl– a mix of blue spirulina nice cream and pink pitaya nice cream served with fruit and granola in a pineapple. I also ordered the vegan and gluten free waffles topped with coco whip soft serve. Magical? Check. Delicious? Check. Would order again? Check!!
Zero waste lifestyle tip: bring your own bowl, silverware and napkin to snag one of their raw vegan treats or the waffles. While they offer compostable to-go containers, there is no appropriate waste bin to discard them, leaving you no choice but to send the containers to the landfill. I brought my Zero Waste Kit, and made use of the napkin, utensil and container.
After breakfast, we walked further down Eagle Beach to our Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) Yoga class with Island Yoga. I thought for sure I would fall into the water, but to my surprise I stayed up the entire time. #Winning
For lunch we headed to the newly opened Nourish Cafe, a place to eat healthy, delicious vegan foods in a peaceful garden setting. And the best part? Nourish Cafe is attached to Yoga Girl’s studio! Meeting her in person was so special. Definitely a retreat highlight.
I ordered the tofu scramble wrap, which I found quite nourishing (haha I am so punny) and tasty.
After leaving Nourish Cafe, we headed to the Ritz Carlton Aruba for a spa excursion. We began the experience with an ever-so-memorable live tutorial of how to make an aloe drink. I of course was most excited by the compostable straws they provided us with! Go Aruba :). I learned recently that Aruba's government made a landmark decision in 2017 to ban all single use plastic bags and, encouraged by the impact that move had, has now extended it to include such everyday items as plastic cups and straws and Styrofoam boxes, such as disposable coolers. The ban is effective in 2019, with a one-year transition period to a total ban in 2020. #PinchMeIMustBeDreaming
After drinking our aloe drinks we headed to the spa for our full body massages, facials and some lounge time in the sauna. One word: divine.
We ended the day with a sunset cocktail reception at the hotel, where we had the pleasure of connecting with local vegans and hearing live music. Foodie fun being served included vegan sushi by Omakase Sushi Bar (located at Manchebo) and a gigantic vegan paella prepared by Chef Sandro featuring vegan seafood.
Just when we thought we were too full to stuff our faces with more food, we were proved wrong at our last destination of the night: Ike’s Bistro (also located at Manchebo). Ike's has a full vegan menu offering incredible appetizers, entrees and desserts such as the cheese platter, chickpeas tartare & avocado, lychee ceviche, truffle porcini risotto & grilled tofu and (drum roll please) raw vegan snicker bars. Check out their full dinner menu here and see for yourself why there is every reason to visit this place when in Aruba.
Day 3: Fun in the Sun & Sea!
I woke up the next morning super achey. Apparently this is common after a full body massage– it's called therapeutic inflammation. I headed downstairs to Ike's and had a light breakfast and green juice. This instantly made me feeling better.
After breakfast I headed to my room and quickly changed into my swimsuit. Next stop: Eagle Beach to hop on a cruise with Montforte Luxury Cruise. Never had I been on a cruise where I could eat everything on it. This cruise came equip with TONS of vegan treats, drinks, good vibes and even a chocolate fondue fountain. We went to the Spanish Lagoon, snorkeled around the reef, and zip lined. I forgot to let go at one point while zip lining and swung back and nearly hit my head on the boat. I gave everyone a heart attack, lol... #ClassicMarina.
Zero waste lifestyle tip: if you ever take a cruise, they may not have reusable silverware, cups and plates for you to serve your food and enjoy your drinks. Come prepared with your reusable water bottle, a cup if you drink, and your Zero Waste Kit to function as your food container and reusable napkin/utensil set.
The party didn't end once the cruise was over. We journeyed home to get ready for a full night ahead. It began with the Kukoo Kunuku party bus followed by a 4-stop vegan food tour.
Stop 1: Faro Blanco Restaurant, featuring unreal vegan-meets-Italian cuisine. Not only was the food beautiful, but the restaurant itself looked like a movie set. The iconic lighthouse in the distance, the soft yellow lights, and the sophisticated tables and seating left you feeling some kind of way. Definitely keeping this spot in mind for the next time I am in Aruba with my significant other.
Stop 2: White Modern Cuisine, a fine dining experience and as the name alludes to, furnished in an all white, minimalist style. The most memorable dish was the corn chowder. Though it was a bit too sweet for my liking I appreciated how creative the dish was featuring corn in a variety of ways, including popped corn, baby corn, corn chips, and a grilled corn dip.
Stop 3: Hadicurari, where we sampled a real-tasting vegan fish! Casual ambiance and easy-to-please-everyone kind of menu.
Stop 4: Our last stop was Yemanja Woodfired Grill, where we tried a spare rib and mac and cheese plate. Remy and I got their gluten free option was a creamy, rich risotto.
Day 4: Would It Really Be a Vegan Retreat If We Didn't Visit an Animal Sanctuary?
Day 4 started with Terra Wave Yoga, which is essentially yoga for the hella balanced folk. Done on an uneven, surfboard like surface, doing this kind of yoga was a first for me!
After yoga, we left the hotel for breakfast at Taste of Belgium, a family style restaurant in Palm Beach Aruba, perfect dining with delicious European dishes. They had just launched their new vegan menu and we were the firsts to try out what the menu has to offer. My favorite was the gluten-free french toast because of the whip cream and bananas.
Right after breakfast we boarded our Jeep tour with De Palm Tours. Stops included Donkey Sanctuary and the gorgeous Arikok National Park.
We made an impromptu stop to the ocean, and I was devastated to find plastic everywhere I walked. In just 5 minutes, I filled my tote bag. This was likely because of the recent rains. Meredith explained how the trash was not just from Aruba but rather from the other islands in the Caribbean as well.
Our tour began winding down with a trip to The Little One, a traveling retro drink and photobooth vehicle. We all enjoyed drinks out of pineapples and got to see a little bit of the darling town San Nicolas.
Our trip concluded at the Gold Mine Ruins where we all took photos of each other and enjoyed the scenery.
On our last night, we ate at the Sunset Grille at the Hilton. Chef Matt Boland prepared for us the most wonderful vegan menu. The most memorable dish for me was the pumpkin soup served in a cactus bowl.
Day 5: A Bittersweet Farewell
We concluded the trip with the thing we all do best: eating and being merry together. One Happy Bowl warmly welcomed us to show off their soon-to-open restaurant and 100% vegan menu. Foodie highlights: savoury pancake bowl with veggie stir fry + avocado and the sweet pancake rolls filled with coconut and pandan aka flamingo pancake.
After giving hugs, we headed to the airport. An airport highlight was the restaurant called Freshii, which offered a variety of gluten-free vegan options. They were stoked that I had my own to-go container, too!
With a full heart and belly, I headed back home to San Diego. I look forward to the day I can return to One Happy Island, as this trip was one of the best trips I have even been on.