The Largest City in Aruba

Up until the late nineteenth century, San Nicolas, the oldest and largest city in Aruba, existed as a peaceful settlement of a few fishermen and their families living in small huts scattered along the southeast coast. All that changed in 1879 when the Aruba Phosphate Company began exporting locally mined phosphate in large quantities to the US. Subsequent demand, combined with the need for a larger workforce, prompted officials to build houses for their employees, and the makings of the town began. After vast oilfields were discovered off the coast of Venezuela during the early part of the twentieth century, the Largo Oil and Transport Company announced plans to build an oil refinery near town.

By 1951, the once-quiet village had a population of just over 20,000 residents, almost twice the size of Oranjestad - and twice the size of the town's current population. Social clubs, golf courses and luxurious homes in the new suburbs of Largo Heights and Seroe Colorado were built for the hordes of workers - from the island and beyond - who flocked to this boomtown. When the refinery closed in 1985, the city was left in a shambles until it was reopened in 1991 by Coastal Aruba Refining.

The town hasn't got much to offer, other than a few abandoned ruins of old buildings that give a glimpse of the British-Caribbean charm of the town's former glory days. This will change, however, in the near future as plans for hotels and an exclusive shopping district are in the works. For now, restaurants, snack stalls and a handful of shops selling local crafts and souvenirs can be found alongside the picturesque promenade on Zeppenfeldstraat. One word of caution, San Nicolas sports a Red Light District with a reported 31 chica bars.

In San Nicolas is the most famous bar of the island: Charlie's bar, which dates back to 1941. Everywhere you look, on every spot, are souvenirs from all kinds. Baseball caps, soccer shirts, little flags, train tickets, postcards: everything. It's real fun to look around. Charlie's bar was founded in 1941 by the original Holland-born Charlie and Marie Brouns. The second World war made San Nicolas a Boom Town. Seaman, contractors, refinery and harbor workers made Charlie's bar famous. In 1977 Charlie was decorated by the Queen of Holland with the order of Oranje Nassau and promptly retired. As he always said: "The gold medal belongs to Marie". Charlie Jr. born and raised in Aruba, took over the bar and proudly tries to preserve the traditions.

Nearby, about 6km east of San Nicolas, are two small popular public beaches . To reach them, take Fortheuvelstraat out of town until you come to a huge cement anchor at the end of the road. Turn right on the main road and follow the signs to Rodger's Beach and Baby Beach. You'll first hit Rodger's Beach, which, despite a view of the nearby oil refinery, is a good spot with decent swimming conditions and the Coco Bar and Grill Restaurant . Just east of here, the sheltered waters of Baby Beach offer ideal swimming conditions, especially for families with small children, as well as good snorkeling.