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Aruba is an old-world island with a modern face. The island bustles with lavish casinos, posh hotels and nightclubs, gourmet restaurants and shopping centers. Having a good time from sunset to sunrise and back around again holds high priority here.
Sitting a mere 19 miles north of Venezuela, Aruba has the most beautiful beaches in the ABC Islands. The island also boasts a water-sport charisma - especially for those who choose to see the world through a facemask.
Aruba's south coast features a thick reef face that abruptly drops down to a depth of 130 feet, similar to the reef systems found in neighboring Bonaire and Curacao. But the island's western shore has bottom contours with a much flatter profile and most dive sites bottom out at around 60 feet.
Aruba's main attraction for divers is actually not reefs, but an accumulation of wrecks awaiting exploration. The most distinctive in Aruba's collection is the Antilla, a largely intact 400-foot German freighter listing heavily to port in 55 feet of water. Judging by large, serrated sections of her starboard hull lancing through the wave tops, the Antilla's demise was not pleasant.
Operating as a supply ship for the notorious German Wolf Pack submarine fleet during World War II, the Antilla mistakenly pulled into Aruba in May 1940. Faced with capture by the Dutch authorities, her captain ordered the ship's engineering compartment to be flooded. After coming in contact with cooler seawater, the freighter's highly heated boilers exploded, ripping the ship nearly in two.
Over the course of six decades the Antilla has become more reef than wreck. Attempting to identify her metal components through the bristling plentitude of growth is nearly impossible. Among a myriad of small reef fish occupying the wreck, pulsing schools of silversides often make an appearance by the openings of the immense cargo holds.
The Jane Sea is a fully intact freighter resting upright in 95 feet of water near the island's south coast. The ample profile of this 250-foot ship rises sharply to within 45 feet of the surface. Colonies of vivid red and pink encrusting sponges, intermixed with orange cup corals and sea fans, have enveloped the freighter's forward cargo crane and aft bridge deck structure, as well as her 6-foot-high propeller and rudder.
Equally alluring is the nearby fuselage of a Convair 400 airplane that was confiscated during a drug-smuggling bust in the late 1980s and later sunk as an artificial reef. Similar in size and shape to a DC-3, the twin-prop aircraft is still more than 80 percent intact. The plane presents an eerie sight when approached from the front with its landing gear extended and wings flared out above a shallow sloping reef.
Counting the casinos, nightclubs, great restaurants, shopping and, of course, diving, getting a little "wrecked" in Aruba can definitely be an enjoyable experience.
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