- Street Legal Vehicle
- Arikok National Park
- A Fun Surprise
- Valid Driver’s License
- Off-Road Vehicles
- Are You Ready To Drive A UTV?
- The Aruba Effect
The author with a UTV in Aruba’s Arikok National ParkPhoto credit: Sandi Barrett
Wind whipping through the open air creating a tangled mess of our well-coiffed hair and copious amounts of mud speckling our glasses making it difficult to see didn’t deter our whoops of excitement as we sped along the red clay roads. A small group of us, intrepid travelers that we are, decided to take a heart-pumping ride through Aruba’s Arikok National Park in a UTV.
A utility task vehicle (UTV) is a two-four passenger, all-terrain vehicle with a roof and a bare-bones frame, whereas an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is designed for a single rider with no frame. Both typically are quads (four-wheelers) and are designed to get you off-roading. They are perfect for tackling rough terrain where the freedom of the open road takes on an entirely new meaning.
If you have never been off-roading in a UTV or ATV, you might want to include it in your next adventure itinerary.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
Street Legal Vehicle
Ladies and gentlemen, roll up your neck gaiters and start your engines.
I began my UTV off-road adventure with a healthy dose of fear and anxiety. I knew I would be expected to take my turn driving — and I truly wanted to drive the buggy — but that little voice in my head was throwing shade on my girls-just-wanna-have-fun vibe.
I was fortunate enough to share my UTV with a friend who was willing to take the first shift as the driver. That didn’t sound too overwhelming until we realized we were a 20-minute drive away from our off-roading destination. This means we needed to drive a UTV on the road — with cars… and trucks!
Aruba prefers rotaries to traffic lights. If you have never driven around a rotary in Aruba, let me tell you, it’s not a simple task. They have bumpers in the road separating the lanes so you can’t just switch to a different lane. So, if you get in the wrong lane, you need to go around the rotary again and again until you can cross into the one you want.
Now picture a UTV convoy — with untrained drivers — careening along the road at 50+ miles per hour and circumnavigating multiple rotaries. I was very happy I had a harness holding me in — seat belts wouldn’t have done the trick. I was over the moon that I was simply the passenger during the rotary adventure.
Several times we had to forcefully throw our arm out the “window” and hold up a hand to make a much larger vehicle stop. My driver would scream a very forceful “NO,” and surprisingly it was a great tactic — at least we are still here to tell the tale.
The cactus-laden landscape of Arikok National ParkPhoto credit: Sandi Barrett
Arikok National Park
We finally reached our destination: Arikok National Park. A sprawling desert-like oasis on the east side of Aruba. It covers about 20 percent of the island. The lush, tropical landscape gives way to towering cacti, enormous rock outcrops, rugged shorelines, and barely plausible “roads.” The so-called roads are essentially tire tracks running through the sand.
The scenery is spectacular, and it is difficult to simultaneously watch where you are driving and enjoy the vistas as they are whizzing by. Arikok has a magical quality in the juxtaposition of turquoise blue waters crashing against massive ochre rocks.
UTVing on muddy roads in Arikok National ParkPhoto credit: Sandi Barrett
A Fun Surprise
Arikok National Park averages just over 17 inches of rain per year. We were scheduled for an afternoon tour, and that morning it poured; buckets of rain fell. For Aruba, it was a deluge. Guess what happens to hard clay when it gets drenched in rain — lots and lots of sticky, slippery mud.
Adding to our already hair-raising adventure, our UTV tires were slip-sliding sideways up mud-covered rocks, spinning out on hairpin turns, and sliding down embankments even though we were gunning it in reverse. My OMG telepathy was going completely haywire.
Overlook at the remnants of the Aruba Natural BridgePhoto credit: Sandi Barrett
Valid Driver’s License
We stopped at a beautiful overlook. After we extricated ourselves from the safety harness and attempted to wipe the mud from our glasses, we were awestruck by the view. The beautiful blue ocean waves thundered against rocky outcrops while the post-torrential rain sunshine warmed our skin chilled from the wet mud. Cue the rainbow.
My turn to drive…
Yes, I have a valid driver’s license. It is required to drive this spider-like buggy on the road. We switched seats.
Mechanically, it is a simple vehicle. When you take your foot off the gas, it stops. We were instructed to only use one gear, so how difficult could this be? After all, my last car was a 4-on-the-floor VW Beetle; I should be able to handle one little UTV.
And we are off…
I queued up in line with the rest of my fellow UTVers and hit the gas. It was slow at first. We had stopped at the Natural Bridge (which has collapsed — nothing to see here) so I needed to navigate through the parking lot and around innocent bystanders. Done.
After a few tentative turns and getting a feel for the slippery back tires swinging of their own volition, my confidence grew. When we hit the flats before the Alta Vista Chapel, I had that thing up to 65 miles per hour. My passenger was more than slightly alarmed — she was bouncing around in her harnessed seat with a few “OMGs” and “whoa girls” emanating from her lips.
I couldn’t help myself, it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I wanted to spin a few doughnuts on the flats. I wanted to go fast, fast, fast. I was whooping it up like a girl on a bucking bronco.
Off-roading in Arikok National ParkPhoto credit: Sandi Barrett
I’m not sure if I consider myself an off-road enthusiast, but next time I have the chance to drive a UTV, I’m ready. I still need to tackle the on-road UTV driving — those cars and trucks are huge compared to this little buggy — but I’m going to employ the hand out the window with a firm “NO” method of navigating paved roads.
Now, I need to muster up my courage to get behind the wheel of an ATV — no roof, no harness, no problem!
Are You Ready To Drive A UTV?
When you are ready to experience your own UTV excellent adventure, I suggest starting with a group tour. A trained guide will help ease your anxiety and get you through the first hurdles.
Baby Natural Bridge in Arikok National ParkPhoto credit: Sandi Barrett
The Aruba Effect
After you are finished with your drive, check out these great Aruban restaurants. You will definitely need a spot to rest your head during your stay. The Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino is the perfect resort to recuperate from your amazing off-roading adventure.
Enjoy the Aruba Effect and create your own excellent adventure that you will never forget.
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