Aruba’s endless blue skies and turquoise waters beckon travelers from North America and Europe.
Situated off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba (part of the “ABC” islands — the others being Bonaire and Curacao) is nearly as far south as one can go in the Caribbean, while still enjoying many aspects of what one would consider a “typical” Caribbean vacation. The pristine beaches, aquamarine waters and stifling heat combine nicely with the brightly colored buildings in town and the plentiful oceanside restaurants serving up freshly caught fish.
While this destination has seen relative popularity over the past years as a choice honeymoon destination, more and more families are choosing to visit and one trend is undeniably clear — those who visit Aruba and love it, are more apt than not to revisit again and again, year after year. There’s just something about this island that sets it apart, despite its run-of-the-mill Caribbean traditions.
And it’s not just Americans you’ll find flocking to these shores. Aruba is an equally popular destination for European travelers, especially given its status as a constituent country of the Netherlands, a part of the Dutch Caribbean. While the majority of locals you come across speak excellent English, you’ll find a fair amount speak Dutch as well.
After all, you didn’t come to Aruba for the airport anyway, right?
How to get to Aruba
Arriving in Aruba is an easy task. The flights are short — even coming from as far away as Chicago only takes about five hours. Plus, the flights are easy to find any time of year, most are non-stop and you can choose from a variety of carriers, whether you prefer one of the bigger names, such as United, American Airlines or Delta, or one of the budget carriers like Southwest, Spirit or JetBlue.
Aruba has one primary airport — Aeropuerto Internacional Reina Beatrix — where 28 airlines offer scheduled service to and from the island. Beyond the American airlines, you can find other easily accessible carriers like Air Canada and WestJet. Additional carriers come in from Europe and South America, and any avgeek will have a fun time spotting the lesser-known brands on the runway (Insel Air Aruba, anyone?).
The airport itself is relatively small and unfortunately underwhelming. Whether you’re arriving or departing, don’t expect this little hub to deliver on dining, drinks or shopping options. However, it does its job and it does it as well as can be expected.
Once out of the airport, getting a ride into town or to your resort is easy. Safe and affordable taxis are lined up outside the terminal, with helpful airport staff directing the throngs of travelers to waiting vehicles, herding them about like lost sheep, assisting with luggage and translating in rare instances in which the driver does not speak English.
The courtyard of the Amsterdam Manor Resort is sunny and quiet, perfect for a couples-only getaway, and only steps from Eagle Beach.
Where to stay in Aruba
Finding a resort or hotel that fits your budget and tastes is a breeze in Aruba, quite honestly. Options range from the most luxurious, to the most budget friendly, with a little bit of everything in between. You’ll find you can have most of the amenities you want within your budget, too, even if you can’t afford the lavish lifestyle offered by some hotels.
Some of the most popular posher options include The Ritz-Carlton Aruba, and The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. A big difference between these two properties is location.
The Ritz-Carlton Aruba is located near Hadicurari Beach, closer to the northern tip of the island. Do note, though, the island itself is small (20 miles long and six miles across at its widest point), so distance is relative. The Ritz-Carlton obviously carries with it the popular name that speaks of luxury and the finer things in life, but, as is the case at all luxury resorts, there are certain tiers of niceties you can choose from. Go with something on the lower end of the spectrum, and be treated to a nice enough guestroom with limited views. Go all out, though, with something like the Ritz-Carlton Suite, and live it up with ocean-front living featuring a huge amount of space right on the ocean, and multiple private outdoor spaces. Regardless of the room you choose, this property provides two beachfront pools, cabana rentals, beach tennis and volleyball, children’s programming and various water sports equipment (for scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking).
On the other hand, the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino is located in Aruba’s capitol city of Oranjestad. It’s right next to a mall (and a casino, of course), but there’s also a water taxi that carts guests to the resort’s 40-acre private island. Additionally, this property has two sections, one for adults and one for families, perfect for those individuals who would rather spend their vacation away from the kid-o’s. Like the Ritz, the guestrooms and their niceties vary, but there are a few more suite options to choose from. One of our favorites? The Ambassador Suite, which, while not the most spacious, boasts a modern and sophisticated design, with the decor that has become standard in many Renaissance properties.
An important travel tip? The private Renaissance Island features one of the most popular, Instagram-worthy spots in Aruba, Flamingo Beach, filled with gorgeous, vibrant pink birds. You don’t have to be a guest of the Renaissance to visit, though, even if it is a private beach. For just $100, you can get a day pass to the private island, and hop aboard the water taxi for an unforgettable experience.
A nice stay in Aruba by no means requires you to break the bank. For example, the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort Aruba is located right on Eagle Beach, one of the top-rated beaches on the island, where you enjoy both proximity to the city and a step away from the hustle and bustle, for a relaxing time on the private oceanfront. With several restaurants, a pool and a boutique feel, this property is perfect for the traveler who wants to get away, but doesn’t require over-the-top amenities. Many of the guest rooms are studios and include a small kitchenette and nightly turn-down service.
Beyond the resort and hotels, you can also find plenty of home rentals in Aruba, including more traditional condo-style rentals and Airbnb options. In fact, an Airbnb property may be your best bet for an unbeatable combination of privacy, luxurious amenities and price, if you can forgo the hotel amenities such as on-site dining and equipment rentals.
Gusty winds may bring in a few clouds, but the weather is rarely depressing in Aruba, and the waves are always low enough for an easy swim.
When to visit Aruba
There’s hardly a bad time to visit Aruba. One fantastic fact about the island is that it lies outside of Hurricane Alley, the area of the Caribbean and southern United States which is frequently hit by annual hurricanes. This makes it easy to plan a getaway without worrying about the potential threat of a storm canceling your flight.
Aruba also happens to be one of the more temperate Caribbean islands, with an average temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with few rainy days. However, keep in mind that this fair weather comes with gusty winds in many instances.
Beyond the weather, though, there are many amazing times to visit Aruba thanks to a calendar full of local celebrations you won’t want to miss. Aruba’s Carnival celebration takes place all throughout January and February, with multiple parades, street parties and concerts. There are several marathons and triathlons that take place throughout the year. The Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival takes place each May (and has, in the past, included top acts such as Robin Thicke, Alicia Keys, Trey Songz and more). A jazz festival occurs each September as well.
What to do in Aruba
Aruba is filled with plenty of fun activities for anyone, regardless of your age or level of activity. However, you do want to be sure that you keep plenty of time open for lounging about on your beach chair (the most popular beaches being Baby Beach and Eagle Beach, for their overall jaw-dropping beauty), soaking up the sun and taking in all that gorgeous blue water. If anything, Aruba is the perfect spot to kick back, relax and leave refreshed.
Otherwise, here are some things you’ll want to fit into your itinerary:
Four-wheeling around Aruba gives you a look at another side of the One Happy Island, where beaches make way for deserts, rock formations and cacti.
Four-Wheeling Around the Island
This activity is fun whether you go along with a tour group, head out on your own, go out for a full day or just for a few hours. One thing many visitors are surprised to know about Aruba, is that half of the island is desert, a stark contrast to the tropical beaches on the southern shore. Go north and you’re greeted with rocky cliffside that feels the brunt of the Caribbean’s spray, stacks upon stacks of lunar-like rock and an otherworldly landscape filled with cacti. It’s an experience not to be missed, however you end up doing it. Plus, it’s not difficult at all to either book a group tour with one of the many providers, or rent an ATV for the day.
Hiking Arikok National Park
This national treasure is almost 8,000 acres of trails and beautiful natural resources. Spot endemic species such as the Aruban whiptail lizard and several varieties of snakes, alongside herds of wild goats and donkeys. The park ranges in geological features, from volcanic rock formations to caves filled with ancient native drawings to beaches to a lagoon. If you’re not feeling up to a hike, you can also access the park easily by car, or via a mountain bike or even on horseback. This is also a budget-friendly activity option, at only $11 per adult for park entry.
Beyond the shops of Oranjestad, you’ll find plenty of character-filled boats on the waterfront, as well as a pelican or two.
Shopping in Oranjestad
Even though you’ve come all this way for sand and surf, take a little time for shopping, too. The beautiful downtown area of Oranjestad boasts colorful shops in vibrant oranges and pinks, with ocean views and plenty of cheap trinkets to take back home. Check out the Dutch Colonial architecture while you’re there. Even if you’re not interested in buying anything, you’ll still enjoy the scenery and people-watching, as you browse the shops, restaurants and waterfront. You may even find time to pop into one of the few historic museums. One of the most popular shopping points? The outdoor mall at Royal Plaza. Getting into downtown Oranjestad from a hotel or resort is easy — bus stops (or, more accurately, van stops) are located on main roads, and easy signage directs you on how to catch one into town.
Photograph the Top Sites in Aruba
There are several top places on the island that are worth a visit for a photo alone, even if there’s not much to actually do once you get there. Some of these attractions include:
- California Lighthouse (you can climb to the top for the view)
- Aruba Natural Bridge (a natural limestone bridge that is now collapsed, though still beautiful in its own right)
- Alto Vista Chapel (an interesting and spiritual visit to a quaint little chapel in the desert)
Beyond the shops of Oranjestad, you’ll find plenty of character-filled boats on the waterfront, as well as a pelican or two.
What to eat in Aruba
Truth be told, Aruba is not a foodie paradise compared to some other Caribbean destinations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some fine culinary options, and fresh seafood daily. There are more than 200 places to dine on the island, ranging from chain restaurants to local gems you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Some of the most popular include:
- Screaming Eagle (where you can enjoy the award-winning restaurant’s wares in a public lounge bed)
- Zeerovers (where the name means “pirate” and you can eat at a picnic table right on the dock, the same place where boats dump their fresh catches each day)
- Barefoot Aruba (fine dining on the beach, as close to the water as possible)
- Taste of Belgium Aruba (it may sound odd, but with the island’s European heritage, it just makes sense that you would find a taste of the Old World right in town)
A few tips for dining in Aruba — make sure you have cash on hand. Many places only accept cash, but they will take American dollars (just be okay with receiving your change in Aruban coins). Additionally, many restaurants will automatically add a service charge of 10-20 percent, but for those who don’t, it’s perfectly acceptable to add a tip, same as you would in the States.
One happy island
Once you’ve visited, it’s easy to see why Aruba has branded itself the “one happy island.” Regardless of your travel style or budget, this Caribbean island is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, whether it’s with the welcoming locals, beautiful beaches or plethora of ways to have fun.