Aruba is an island and a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the mid-south of the Caribbean Sea, about 29 kilometers (18 mi) north of the Venezuelan peninsula of Paraguaná and 80 kilometers (50 mi) northwest of Curaçao. It measures 32 kilometers (20 mi) long from its northwestern to its southeastern end and 10 kilometers (6 mi) across at its widest point. Together with Bonaire and Curaçao, Aruba forms a group referred to as the ABC islands. Collectively, these and the other three Dutch substantial islands in the Caribbean are often called the Dutch Caribbean, of which Aruba has about 1⁄3 of the population.
Aruba is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten; the citizens of these countries are all Dutch nationals. Aruba has no administrative subdivisions, but, for census purposes, is divided into eight regions. Its capital is Oranjestad.
Unlike much of the Caribbean region, Aruba has a dry climate and an arid or desert, cactus-strewn landscape. This climate has helped tourism as visitors to the island can reliably expect warm, sunny clear skies year-round. Its land covers 179 km2 (69.1 sq mi) and is quite densely populated, by 101,484 inhabitants, as at the 2010 Census. Current estimates of the population place it at 116,600 (July 2018 est.) It is south of the typical latitudes of hurricanes but was affected by two in their early stages in late 2020.
There has been a human presence on Aruba from as early as circa 2000 BC. The first identifiable group are the Arawak Caquetío Amerindians who migrated from South America about 1000 AD. Archaeological evidence suggests continuing links between these native Arubans and Amerindian peoples of mainland South America.
The first Europeans to visit Aruba were Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda in 1499, who claimed the island for Spain. Both men described Aruba as an “island of giants”, remarking on the comparatively large stature of the native Caquetíos. Vespucci returned to Spain with stocks of cotton and brazilwood from the island and described houses built into the ocean.
Vespucci and Ojeda’s tales spurred interest in Aruba, and the Spanish began colonizing the island. Alonso de Ojeda was appointed the island’s first governor in 1508. From 1513 the Spanish began enslaving the Caquetíos, sending many to a life of forced labor in the mines of Hispaniola. The island’s low rainfall and arid landscape meant that it was not considered profitable for a slave-based plantation system and the type of large-scale slavery so common on other Caribbean islands never became established on Aruba.
Early Dutch Period:
The Netherlands seized Aruba from Spain in 1636 in the course of the Thirty Years’ War. Peter Stuyvesant, later appointed to New Amsterdam (New York), was the first Dutch governor. Those Arawak who had survived the depredations of the Spanish were allowed to farm and graze livestock, with the Dutch using the island as a source of meat for their other possessions in the Caribbean.