Famously fine powder sand on Palm Beach in Aruba.
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.
• 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.
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)
More powder on Eagle Beach, after a rough night. Photo by Rumblebee.
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).
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.
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.
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! ).
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.
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!
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.
Aruba uses a 120v/60hz system with US/Canadian style plugs.
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. Photo by Set1536.
An Aruba panorama just to ensure you understand what this flat patch of sand is all about! Photo by Rick Zwart.
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!
Getting There and Around
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.
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.
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.
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%.
Aruba has a good reputation among the Caribbean islands as being one of the safest.
Tap water is perfectly safe, and indeed sweet, to drink.
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.