Aruba Pictures Guide, Dutch Caribbean

palm beach panorama, aruba, Caribbean

Famously fine powder sand on Palm Beach in Aruba.

Vacations in Aruba

Aruba is geographically dull but offers reliable tropical weather, safety and superb beaches at a reasonable price.

This is a small, flat, tropical island just 17 miles off the north coast of Venezuela. Barely 20 miles (30kms) long and 6 miles (9kms) wide, it is a Dutch dependency, along with neighbouring Curaçao and Bonaire. All three, known as ABC, are on our Best Budget Caribbean Island list.

Aruba’s big selling point is one of the best climates in the Caribbean, with little rain, lots of sun cooled by trade winds, a nearly constant temperature of 81F (27C) and dramatically white sand beaches washed by warm aquamarine waters. Aruba really makes an effort to look after tourists with good all-inclusive beach resorts and a pleasant, strolling main town.

Costs: Compared to many islands in the Caribbean, Aruba is inexpensive, but not cheap, though if you find the right all-inclusive package or go for an apartment rental out of high season and content yourself with traveling by bus and doing few non-essential activities then the island can supply a great value beach holiday.
Unlike the top three budget Caribbean islands that are big enough to grow at least some of their own produce and have a large, low-paid work force at hand, Aruba imports everything.

On the downside, exploring the island won’t take long as the adventurous tourist will discover one 500ft hill (Hooiberg/The Haystack) at the centre of the island, no rivers and scrubby desert vegetation, though the bent divi-divi trees make a good photographic subject. A slightly hairy off-road drive to the Conchi rock pool is as good as adventure gets.

oranjestad port, aruba, caribbean

Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. Photo by Susan Renee.

Things to Do

Apart from hitting the beaches you could

•  take snorkeling day-trips or sunset cruises on a luxury catamaran.
• dive, dive dive! in a submarine cruise, underwater of course. Quite unique.
• sailing/windsurfing/kite surfing.
• fishing
• kayaking.
• horseback riding from Gold Mine Ranch.
• cycle tours.
• trikes. Live to ride Harley-Davidson trikes. . . but you need to know bikes and a stick-shift!
• jeep/ATV ‘safari’ across the island to Conchi, a natural rocky pool sticking out into the sea that is a tough, steep and scary ride. It’s 85 steps down to the pool.
• do a scuba course or coral diving.
• shipwreck diving. The Antilla wreck is popular. It’s a German ship that probably re-supplied U-boats and was scuttled off Malmok beach.
• walk around the town of Oranjestad.
• tour the island’s modest sights. Try to restrain your excitement here: California Lighthouse, Our Lady of Alto Visto Chapel, Casibari and Ayo rock formations, natural bridges, Aruba Aloe factory, Aruba Ostrich farm, Guadirkiri Caves, Haystack Hill (561 steps and you can see Venezuela), Butterfly Farm, gold mines at Bushiribana and gold mill in Balashi, Bubali Bird Sanctuary (migratory birds).
• hike in Arikok National Park, a reserve that encompasses ancient Arawak drawings, colourful trails that demonstrate the variety of plant and animal life on the island.
• museums – of History; Archeology; Numismatics (ancient coins).
• gamble in a casino.

Aruba Beaches Map, zoom for bus routes

Aruba is in what is sometimes known as the Dutch Caribbean or Dutch Antilles, just north of the coast of western Venezuela, South America. The only Caribbean islands in the vicinity are Curacao and Bonaire, also part of the Dutch Antilles.

Best Beaches on Aruba

The southwest coast has the best beaches, if powder sand lapped by gentle turquoise waters is your desire. Note that you can use any beach in Aruba as they are all public, but if you need shade – and the sun will be merciless – then you’ll have to pay for parasols (palapa) or chairs if you are away from your own beach hotel.

Eagle Beach (Palm Beach strip)

7 miles of wide, this white powder sand hosting everything from quiet, shady huts to buzzing beach bars, from tranquil swimming in the superbly warm and gently ruffled sea to all kinds of watersports including banana boats and parasailing. Eagle Beach is the quieter section, Palm Beach busier with activities, shopping, dining and more of a party atmosphere.
However this stretch is dominated by a variety of luxury beach resorts and the water depth shelves quite rapidly so perhaps it’s not brilliant for toddlers who would be better off at Baby Beach (below).

Manchebo

clean, very wide and family-friendly with soft white sand, warm sea and a real ‘paradise’ beach feel. There’s less to do than at Palm Beach, of course, and few shade huts available but it’s much less busy and more important not dominated by high-rises.

Arashi Beach

Near the Lighthouse at the north end of the island, Arashi Beach is clean and quite remote and offers a high-rise free shore with deeper waters than other popular beaches and some fair snorkeling (great for kids), along with windsurfing, sailing and deep-sea fishing. The sand is OK, there are a couple of food/drink shacks and some palapas/cabanas available if you arrive early enough but few/no beach chairs so bring your own. Arashi gets busy with locals at weekends and public buses go there.

Boca Catalina

This beach is for snorkeling in super-clear water, not for sand, so bring water shoes or fins for swimming. It’s in a small rocky cove beautifully surrounded by giant cacti, palm trees and fish, fish, fish. No facilities except palapas and recently rental loungers, so bring a loaded cooler box and park beside the beach or take a bus to Malmok stop. Snorkel tours not needed (but they still arrive at about 10. 30am-11am, so get there early if you want solitude! ).

Hadicurari

Fisherman’s Huts is the mecca of Aruba board surfers, as chosen for regular Hi-Winds Pro Am windsurfing competitions. The white sand is mixed with some pebbles and shells but the water is conveniently shallow and the breeze is reliable. Shade huts are available and there is some low-cost board sailor accommodation nearby.

Baby Beach

Near San Nicholas in the far south, Baby Beach is so known because it’s expansive but shallow, no more than 5 ft deep max and a clear baby blue. It’s a good snorkel destination due to a reef, rocks and large schools of fish; also favoured by topless sunbathers. It’s out of the way, about 40 minutes drive from Oranjestad and offers no shade but has a couple of pricey cafés supplying the necessities, shade huts and chairs. Don’t stay for sunset!

eagle beach, aruba, Caribbean

More powder on Eagle Beach, after a rough night. Photo by Rumblebee.

Currency

Aruba’s currency is the florin, Awg, worth one US$ roughly = 1. 77 Awg, but dollars cash are widely accepted in the country, as are most credit cards. Other currencies can be easily changed at banks, and ATMs are everywhere in towns.

Electricity

Aruba uses a 120v/60hz system with US/Canadian style plugs.

Language

English is widely spoken but the official first language is Dutch, followed by Creole (a melange of Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch), and Spanish.

Oranjestad Main Street, aruba, caribbean

Oranjestad Main Street. Photo by Set1536.

Aruba Weather

The high season is January-March, when it’s marginally cooler at 76F-85F (24C-29C) and less humid than the rest of the year when it’s around 79F-88F (26C-31C). Rain generally falls in showers at night, but if it arrives in the daytime it’ll be short and heavy.
However, since ABC (the Dutch Antilles, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) lies outside the hurricane belt there’s probably not going to be a huge difference whatever month you go there. Perhaps the water may be a little more rough/murky/seaweedy with some beach debris but that’s something you can overlook if the prices are way down!

Flights

The only airport on the island is Reina Beatrix International on the west side of Aruba. There are direct flights from many US cities and some from Canada, UK and the Netherlands.

Visas

Nationals from US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Europe and many other countries may stay in Aruba for 30 days with just a passport, return flight ticket (with re-entry permit), and possibly a hotel booking confirmation. Cruise ship passengers OK for 24 hours. Full Aruba visa information.

Domestic Transport

Taxis have no meters but fares fixed by the government, per trip not per person, so check before riding. Typically a ride from the airport to Eagle Beach costs $22.
Cars can be rented at the airport, from the guest’s hotel or a downtown office, but it’s a very small island and there are a couple of European complexities that may confuse (roundabouts? ! ) so it may be best to take a walk, get onto the beach, think about car hire and then catch the bus!
The local bus system, Arubus, is cheap and covers much of the island; the fare along the hotel strip is $1. 50 one way or $2. 30 return. Central bus station is in Oranjestad across from the Cruise Terminal. Buses stop running at 11. 30 pm.

aruba high rise buildings, caribbean

An Aruba panorama just to ensure you understand what this flat patch of sand is all about! Photo by Rick Zwart.

Food

Most tourists are on an all-inclusive package but they still like to go out for something different occasionally. Fast food joints US-style are the most obvious targets for the budget travelers who are not on all-inclusive, but local restaurants serve good food at low cost too.
Tipping: If there is a service charge, a tip is not necessary but a small amount for excellent service would be appreciated. If there is no service charge, a tip is appropriate as in the US, about 15%.

Safety

Aruba has a good reputation among the Caribbean islands as being one of the safest.

Health

Tap water is perfectly safe, and indeed sweet, to drink.

Accommodation

Most visitors to the islands will plump for an all-inclusive hotel close to a beach somewhere but beach lovers on a tight budget could investigate apartment/condo rentals or private holiday villas for larger groups.