When we first talked about going to Aruba, I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea. I pictured white sand beaches and beautiful blue waters, but to a background of high-rise hotels, hundreds of lounge chairs and cabanas, and thousands of tourists pouring off the cruise lines every day at 9 am. And that just really isn’t our scene. This is a pretty accurate description if you stick to Oranjestad and the built up strip along Palm Beach. If you’re looking for the all-inclusive lifestyle with perfect weather and those turquoise ocean Caribbean views, then Palm Beach is your spot.
But if you’re searching for more adventure, this small island has a few surprises in store. Outside of Oranjestad and Palm beach, there’s great snorkeling, practically empty beaches, rugged hiking trails to a natural pool, and fresh, cheap seafood. Here’s our guide to three days in Aruba.
When to go
It’s the Caribbean, so there’s really no bad time to go. The sun is (almost) always shining and the temperatures hover around 80°F year round which spells a perfect beach day to me. The high season is mid-December to mid-April, so the island is a bit busier and more expensive during this time. We went just before the Christmas holiday which is supposed to be one of the busiest weeks of the year. Outside of the main tourists areas, we didn’t find it overcrowded.
Where to stay
If you do want all-inclusive, options include the Ritz-Carlton on Palm Beach and the Renaissance Hotel with its own private flamingo island. We opted to stay in an Airbnb near Noord where, in our opinion, you’ll find the best beaches.
Where to eat
There’s everything on Aruba, from fine dining to fast food. The one place you can’t miss is a family style seafood restaurant called Zeerovers. The fish is literally boat-to-table; we watched a fisherman haul a catch off the boat, descale, slice and hand it to the cook. The fish is fried, but it’s light and crispy. It must fry so fast that it doesn’t have time to soak up the oil. I’ll stop there before I go on and on, but trust me when I say just go! It’s on southeast end of the island on the way to Baby Beach, so it’s a convenient stop for lunch or dinner (or both!). At about $10 per person, it’s a great deal too.
Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and you can see the Dutch influence, especially in the sweets. There’s a Dutch pancake house called Diana’s, the local Superfood grocery store serves fresh Dutch pastries out front, and we ran inside to pick up a few packages of stroopwafels (I’m addicted :/).
If you’re planning on exploring the island, I highly recommend renting a car. A taxi trip from the airport to Noord (about 13 kilometers) costs approximately $30, so relying on a taxi can get expensive if you’re trying to venture beyond to the main tourist area around Palm Beach. There are plenty of bus and jeep tours that cover most of the popular sites on the island, but this doesn’t allow you the flexibility to explore on your own or at your preferred pace.
Three Days in Aruba
North Coast Beaches
We spent the first morning exploring the best beaches on the island, first stopping at Malmok Beach, just a 15 minute walk away from our Airbnb. After snorkeling at Malmok Beach, we wandered up the coast to Boca Catalina and Arashi Beach.
From Arashi Beach, it’s a short walk to get to the California light house.
We were going to drive past the light house to explore a bit more, but were warned against going any further by a friendly gentleman in a Land Rover Defender. It had rained the night before, so the track was pretty muddy. He doubted his 4×4 could make it up the hill, so we followed his advice and turned around.
Aruba is home to over 80 species of migratory birds, many of which stop off in a natural habitat near the tourist strip set aside as a Bird Sanctuary. We started to walk along the path winding through the trees and even spotted a few different birds flying between the branches, including tiny yellow finches. But within a few minutes I started to feel like a mosquito feeding ground; I tend to attract mosquitoes like I’m sending out a siren call. I’m not sure if there’s always so many mosquitoes, or if the population was at a peak as we visited in the middle of rainy season.
We walked from the bird sanctuary towards Eagle Beach, looking for the biggest conch shell among the hundreds strewn along the shores.
We hung out at Eagle Beach to watch the sunset, home to a few of Aruba’s often photographed Divi Divi trees.
Meanwhile, Hudson was trying to do the world a favor by returning the sand on the beach back to the ocean.
Arikok National Park
The rugged terrain, cacti and tall rock outcroppings of Arikok National Park are not what I pictured on a Caribbean island, but there are lots of trails and plenty of interesting rock formations to discover
The most popular attraction in the park is what locals call the “Conchi” or natural pool. There’s a spot along the coast where the volcanic rocks shelter a natural pool from the rough ocean. You can reach the pool by two different routes: a hiking path that starts near the Visitors Center (about 1.5 hours to the pool) or a 4×4 route that starts at the Shete entrance (about 45 minutes hiking to the pool). After walking the path, I can say you definitely need a 4×4 vehicle like a quad to make it over the bumps and hills.
About 330 days of the year, the rocks create enough of a barrier that the Conchi is calm and perfectly safe to swim in. On the day we arrived, huge waves were smashing over the rocks and into the pool, it was hard to believe that the water there is ever still. Even without being able to jump in, it’s still a fun hike with great views and a cool place to explore.
There are three caves located in the park: Guadirikiri Cave (home to a few harmless bats), Fontein Cave (pictographs by Arawak Indians on the ceiling) and Huliba Cave (nicknamed the Tunnel of Love for the heart-shaped opening).
In the afternoon we headed to Baby Beach. Because it’s a bit out of the way, it feels more like a local beach. The water is very shallow and calm in this man-made lagoon, and hence aptly named Baby Beach. We thought it would be perfect for Hudson since he’s usually running directly into the crashing waves. Of course, this was the only time he was not interested in getting in the water. I think he’s after the adventure 🙂
Baby beach is on the southeast side of the island, so it’s the perfect time to stop in at Zeerovers for some of the best seafood of your life.
Beaches and Water Sports
We spent our last day in Aruba at Eagle Beach and Arashi Beach, taking advantage of the perfect conditions for a few water activities.
Kite surfing – Aruba is known to have some of the most consistent trade winds on the planet, so it’s a perfect spot for kite surfing, whether you’re just learning or a pro.
Stand up Paddle Boarding – You’ll find a few places with SUP rentals and lessons near Palm Beach, where there’s flat water prime for a smooth ride.
Snorkeling and Diving – Aruba’s neighbor Bonaire is famous for its diving, but Aruba has some spectacular underwater life too. If you’re scuba diving, check out Shallow Reef and Cabez Reef. Aruba also has two ship wrecks from WWII, the SS Antilla and SS Pedernales, as well as the Jane Sea Wreck, where plenty of fish, sea creatures and even manta rays now call home. There’s colorful snorkeling around the island too. We found the best snorkeling at Arashi beach. There are no vendors near the beach, so make sure to bring your own gear!
We also found rentals for water skis, parasailing, banana boats and more near Palm Beach and Eagle Beach.
If you’re heading to Aruba, enjoy your time on One Happy Island!