The smallest of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Cura‡ao), Aruba's colonial era began after the arrival of Spanish adventurer Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Dutch took over in 1636 and have held on to it ever since, except for a British interlude from 1805 to 1816. The dry, dusty, rocky landscape - complete with cacti and rattlesnakes - made it unsuitable for plantation farming and slavery, and Arawak culture lasted longer here than in most other Caribbean islands. The economy boomed after gold was discovered in 1824, and again when oil was found 100 years later, but today tourism is the mainstay. The varied ethnic mix of the population is reflected in the local language, papiamento, which blends Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and other European tongues, plus African and Amerindian languages.
Aruba was colonised by Spain for over a century. The Cacique or Indian Chief in Aruba, Simas, welcomed the first priests in Aruba and received from them a wooden cross as a gift. In 1508, Alonso de Ojeda was appointed as Spain's first Governor of Aruba, as part of "Nueva Andalucía."