Aruba is alphabetically first of the 'ABC Islands', along with Bonaire and Curacao, that lie just off the northern coast of Venezuela. The original inhabitants were Arawak Indians who migrated from South America. The island became known to the Europeans after Amerigo Vespucci's voyage of 1499, when he described it as "an island of giants". Spain quickly sent colonists and by 1508 there was a Spanish governor. The Dutch took control of Aruba in 1636 and the island remained in their hands since then, with brief British interludes during the Napoleonic Wars, as part of the Dutch West India Company. The island began pursuing independence in the 1940's and it is today one of four constituent countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The climate is hot and dry, with cactus and aloe vera the predominant plants; and the island lies outside the Caribbean hurricane zone—both features make it attractive to tourists. The west and south coasts have been lined with resorts and tourism now accounts for three-quarters of the gross national product. With predictable weather, beautiful beaches, excellent diving and snorkeling, and good food and beer, Aruba is a delight to visit.
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