Aruba is an island situated 21 miles (33 kilometres) south of the Caribbean Sea and 17 miles (27 kilometres) north of Falcon State and Paraguana Peninsula in Venezuela. Formerly, Aruba, together with its neighbouring islands Bonaire and Curacao, formed a group of islands in the Lesser Antilles region, commonly referred to as the ABC islands. Aruba has a total land area of 74.5 square miles (193 square kilometres), and an estimated population of 104,494 in the year 2007.
Unlike other Caribbean islands, Aruba has a dry, arid climate and cactus-strewn landscape. This climate has helped the tourism in the island because visitors expect a relatively sunny, warm weather. Aruba has an average mean temperature of 81 F (27 C), and is known for its white sand beaches. The island is divided into two coasts: the southwest and northeast coast. The northeast coast, which is near the Atlantic, has a rough sea and few beaches with rocky coastline and dangerous currents. The southwest coast, on the other hand, has warm waters, turquoise seas, and a number of white sand beaches. The capital city as well as the largest city, is Oranjestad; the harbour city is Barcadera. In 1499, Aruba was first discovered by Spain; however, it was then acquired in 1636 by the Dutch.
During the late 19th century, gold mining was discovered and became famous; it was then followed by an oil refinery industry in 1924. During the last years of the 20th century, tourism became a major contributor to the island's revenue. In 1986, Aruba seceded from the Bonaire and Curacao islands, and became an autonomous, separate member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Although Aruba moved towards independence in 1990, it was postponed due to the written request of Nelson O. Oduber, the then Prime Minister; however the request was rescinded afterwards. Soon after, complete independence was attained by the island in 1995. Tourism and other related activities are the island's top income earning industry, next to oil refining and storage and offshore banking. The boom of the tourism industry also paved the way for the expansion of other activities such as construction of hotels and other establishments. Along with the white-sand beaches, there is a wide range of destinations in Aruba that tourists can visit.
The Alto Vista Chapel, a small catholic chapel, is located above the hills of the northern part of the island; it became famous for its wonderful architectural design. The Arikok National Park, which comprises 18% of Aruba's land area, is renowned for its preserved resources including rocks and mineral formations, as well as other indigenous species found on the park. Other points of interest in Aruba include Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations, Hooiberg, Caves of Aruba, Mount Jamanota, Bushiribana and Balashi, Frenchman's Pass, California Lighthouse, Tierra Del Sol Golf Course and Quadiriki Caves. Famous beaches on the island include Eagle Beach, Palm Beach, Aruba, Baby Beach, Aruba and Palm Island, Aruba. Aruba is also famous for its traditional dishes: Stoba di Bestia Chiquito and Keshi Yena. These dishes, along with other international foods, are served in a wide range of restaurants found on the island including Sawasdee Thai Restaurant, Rumba Bar & Grill, El Gaucho, Iguana Joe's and The Flying Fishbone.