Aruba is a tiny 70 square mile island (20 miles long, 6 miles wide) that is located in the Caribbean, just 18 miles from Venezuela. Also known as “The Happy Island”, it is a Dutch island owned by the Netherlands, which makes it part of the “Dutch Caribbean”. It’s capital is the colorful city of Oranjestad, which boasts Dutch-inspired architecture and colors, and the weather maintains a pretty consistently amazing 82 degrees year round. About 75% of Aruba’s gross national product comes from tourism, so you will find plenty of resorts, casinos, restaurants, shopping, and taxis. The locals are all extremely friendly and willing to help, and pretty much every establishment will accept US dollars and speak English. My husband and I visited Aruba for 3 days and 2 nights in February 2017 and had a blast! Fair warning though, I wouldn’t classify Aruba as one of our cheaper destinations. Being that they rely on tourism, they are used to tourists spending money, so prices aren’t overly friendly. I think of all of our travels over the past year and a half, we spent the most per meal on food in Aruba than anywhere else. Still wasn’t bad, just not as budget friendly as other places we’ve visited and we weren’t necessarily aware of that when we booked it. There are, of course, ways to MAKE it more budget friendly, but just a head’s up, it may require a little more research and creativity! Below is a list of some our favorite parts of Aruba!
1.) Eagle Beach – chances are, you’ve seen photos of this beach whether you realized it or not. This is one of the most popular beaches on the island, characterized by its white sand and beautiful turquoise water. However, the unique feature of this beach are the trees that appear sporadically throughout the beach. These famous divi-divi trees are common throughout the Caribbean, but the uniqueness of the Arubian divi-divi tree is the fact that all the branches of these trees in Aruba point southwest due to the constant trade winds that blow across the island. The trees are a popular photo subject and are also a common place to post up for the day for whoever gets there first, so you may have to try a few times before you’re able to get a photo without anyone else in it! However, other than the trees, this is a gorgeous beach that surely won’t disappoint. Most hotels/resorts have a block of lounge chairs and umbrella huts that you can use, however, they fill up quick, so you’ll need to get down there early to claim your spot (early like 6am!). There are also several beach bars spaced throughout the beach where you can get drinks….be sure to ask about Happy Hour to get that BOGO pina colada! Just a head’s up, if you’re looking for seclusion and privacy, this is probably NOT your beach. It isn’t the most crowded beach we’ve ever been to, and you can still find plenty of room to walk and swim, but it is a popular beach. If you are looking for more seclusion I’d recommend walking down the beach away from the resorts, however, there won’t be chairs for you there, so you’ll have to prioritize what’s more important to you. We stayed right next to Eagle Beach, read more here.
- Passions on the beach: This was a fancy little pop-up beach restaurant where you literally sit at tables in the sand. The combination of the sand, sunset, ocean and glow of candles and tiki torches definitely make this the most romantic place we’ve ever eaten! It is a bit of a nicer place, and you usually do need reservations otherwise you won’t get in until it’s dark out. We had reservations for 7:00, which was perfect since that was right at sunset. I would recommend going for a 6:00 or 7:00 dinner, but no later, as it does get dark pretty quickly. It’s still very fun at night with the fires, but if you’re paying for the view then make sure it isn’t too dark to see the ocean! Also, make sure you have reservations, because those prime ocean-viewing hours are busy! We shared a $40 plate of the mixed seafood sampler and everything was AMAZING! Some of the best mahi-mahi I’ve ever had! Check it out here.
- Red Fish Restaurant: Amazing fresh seafood, friendly staff, and great atmosphere! More of a local place, so it’s not overly “touristy”. My husband and I shared the seafood paella plate which was wonderful!! Would definitely recommend! The owner actually goes fishing every morning so the seafood is super fresh! If you’re looking to eat with a view this is not the place, as it is right off the road and the view is a road/parking lot, but they have dressed it up as nice as you probably could! It is covered seating but you’re technically outside, but it is flourishing with greenery everywhere which makes it a really cool spot! Would absolutely go back! For more info visit here.
2.) Palm Beach – arguably the most popular beach on the island, Palm beach is definitely more crowded than Eagle Beach, partly due to the fact that there is a pier jutting out from it and a boardwalk directly behind it. We only stayed long enough to eat our pitaya bowl lunch since crowds aren’t really our thing, but it was still worth going if not only for the pitaya bowl and for seeing more of Aruba. The boardwalk behind the beach is great for little bars and dives, and the town behind the boardwalk is great for shopping if you’re wanting to shop! There’s also a Starbucks in the town area if you’re one of those people who just HAVE to get a Starbucks country mug for every country you go to 🙂
- Eduardo’s Beach Shack: Literally the BEST thing I ate the entire trip. If you don’t try anything else from this post at LEAST do yourself a favor and try this one! This is a tiny little beach shack right on the Palm Beach boardwalk area that is some type of vegan-ish establishment. I’m not vegan or vegetarian or anything, so I don’t know which one this place is, but it’s one of those super healthy places. I got a pitaya (dragon fruit) bowl and my husband got an acaia bowl. Pitaya bowls have been my new favorite thing since Feb. 2017. I came back to the states and found out the closest place to me that makes these asap! It’s basically a smoothie blend (mine was dragon fruit, his was acaia), topped with granola, honey, all kinds of fresh fruit, and raw coconut. SO AMAZING! And such a refreshing treat/lunch right at the beach! Fairly cheap too compared to other island food…”fully loaded” bowls (the ones with granola, honey, and coconut) were $10 each, but cheaper options are available if you’re looking for something smaller. The bowls are big enough to share though depending on how hungry you are! Do yourself a HUGE favor and check it out!
3.) Oranjestad – as the capital of Aruba, you will probably drive through this main city as you go to and from the airport, but if you can fit it in, you should absolutely make plans to walk around and visit this incredibly fun little city! With it’s Dutch architecture (maybe it’s just me, but I’m a sucker for cool and unique architecture, so this may not actually be a selling point for everyone else) and vibrant colors it’s definitely something you’re not going to want to miss! We aren’t city people by any means, but we were so glad we spent an afternoon here. It was honestly like what I would imagine visiting a little beach town in the Netherlands would be like. Not that I would know, but one day I’ll find out for sure 🙂 If you’re a shopper then this is probably your best one-stop shop, with lots of convenience stores, boutiques, touristy stores, and designer stores as well. We just took a few hours and walked around the city, eating dutch pancakes, admiring the awesome buildings and visiting the blue horses.
- Notice the different 8 blue horse statues displayed throughout Oranjestad as a tribute to the past and the important role that horses played on this tiny island. A vast majority of Aruba’s rich history is centered around horses and the thriving horse trade that was the main economic source of the island. Horse Bay was where shiploads of horses were flung out to sea to swim to shore. The deep blue color is symbolic of the water on their skin as if they had just emerged from the bay and trotted into town. Be sure to find all 8 horses in the city…if you’re interested in the story, there are reading plaques next to each of them which tell different stories (we didn’t read them all, but it’s an option for those who will!). Each horse is in a different stance, has it’s own name, and represents something unique!
- The Dutch PancakeHouse: Dutch pancakes are a real Dutch specialty, so we couldn’t NOT try one, especially if it has nutella and strawberries on it! There are several well-known pancake houses that the web will point you towards, but this was just the one we happened to walk by and stumble upon first, so that’s how we chose this one. I’m sure they are all pretty much the same though! Not fluffy and thick like our pancakes in the US, but more like a cross between US pancakes and crepes, and absolutely DELICIOUS! Honestly, this was more of a dessert than a brunch, but they have so many options that can be more breakfast OR lunch based, including savory and cheesy options! We just split the one because we really just wanted a taste and didn’t want to spend money, but it was HUGE! So I’d recommend splitting one for sure. But a DEFINITE must-try! The mimosas and Arubian ice coffee sure weren’t too bad either 🙂 Read more here.
Side Note: If you’re looking for Aruba’s famous flamingo’s keep reading! Aruba’s pink flamingos live on Renaissance Island, which is owned by the Marriott. If you stay at the Marriott you get free access to the island, where you can spend the day on their private beach and mingle with flamingos. However, if you are not a guest of the hotel, you can buy tickets to go out there for the day for about $90 per person. We thought about staying at the Marriott, but ended up finding a way better deal elsewhere (read more here), and in the end we decided that $90 per person was just way too much to pay to lay on a beach. Come to find out, there’s really only like 6 flamingos on the island, and there’s a chance they won’t even be out that day. We asked our cab driver about the island and he advised us not to bother, saying it wasn’t worth it. In the end, a beach is a beach, so we certainly weren’t disappointed. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend forgoing this excursion and sticking to the free beaches. We plan to save the flamingo-visiting for other islands like Bonaire where they are more abundant!
* Disclaimer: all photos and opinions are my own, for which I received no compensation or discount