GETTING THERE: United has seasonal nonstop flights from Washington Dulles to Aruba on Saturdays only, from December through April, with March departures starting at $850 round trip. US Airways and American Airlines have midweek flights starting at $600 round trip, with connections. Continental, Delta and Northwest also serve Aruba from the D.C. area, with connections.
WHERE TO STAY: Most beachfront lodging starts at about $200 per night during high season (through April) and drops to $130 per night and up in late spring and summer. For example, the Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (800-421-8188; www.arubarenaissance.com) has doubles starting at $209. The Occidental Grand in Palm Beach (800-858-2258, www.occidentalhotels.com) has doubles starting at $228 and dropping to $185 off season. Many hotel rates include breakfast.
Prices at many of the low-rise hotels are similar: The Best Western in Manchebo Beach (800-528-1234, www.bestwestern.com ), for one, has doubles starting at $200 during high season, with occasional promotional rates of $140. The caveat: March and April require a seven-night minimum stay.
To save money, consider an apartment. We got lucky with Sunset Boulevard Studios (800-813-6540, www.aruba-sunset blvds.com), which offers doubles across the street from the beach starting at $104 per night. Cheaper beds are available, especially if you don't mind driving to the beach. Aruba Harmony Apartments (011-297-588-6787, www.arubaharmony.com) lists small apartments in Oranjestad from $85 per night in winter and $65 per night off-season. Note, however, that Oranjestad is a congested city housing a massive cruise ship dock.
Most lodgings, including villas and private rental homes, are listed on the tourism office's Web site at www.aruba.com, with links to each property's Web site.
GETTING AROUND: Shuttles serve the major hotels and taxis are plentiful. If you want to rent a car, expect to spend about $160 a week for a compact. I paid $180 for a Jeep for four days and could have done better per day had I rented for a week.
WHERE TO EAT: My most scenic meal was at Ventanas del Mar at the Tierra del Sol Resort and Country Club in Malmok. The property sits on a hill -- so go early, grab a fruity drink and stroll the terraces at sunset. The grilled tuna with Oriental mango-tomato chutney and soy sauce is a winner, as is the seafood ceviche appetizer. Dinner for two, with wine, runs about $100.
La Trattoria el faro Blanco,next to the California Lighthouse, has perhaps the best sunset vantage on the island. The prices seem high for Italian food -- entrees average $30 -- but the mood is romantic.
WHAT TO DO:
* Sail boarding. The owners of Sunset Boulevard Studios also own Aruba Boardsailing School, south of the studios. Look for gear-packed trailers along the beach (the "office"). Rentals start at $30 per day for guests, $40 for non-guests. Other rental operations, with similar rates, include Aruba Sailboard Vacations (800-252-1070, www.arubasailboardvacations.com).
* Snorkeling is average along the Malmok coast, and the best beach in this area is Boca Catalina, about 11/2 miles north of the Marriott. The best snorkeling I found was outside the breakwall at Baby Beach, on Aruba's southern tip. Red Sail Sports rents gear for $10 per day. Info: 877-733-7245, www.redsail.com; located at the Hyatt Regency, Allegro Resort and Marriott.
* Touring the east coast is a must, in a four-wheel drive Jeep (as I did) or on horseback or mountain bikes. Numerous outfitters offer horseback tours, including Rancho del Campo, with tours from $50 a person. Info: 011-297-585-0290; www.ranchodelcampo.com.
INFORMATION: Aruba Tourism Authority, 800-TO-ARUBA, www.aruba.com.
-- John Briley