Aruba is a perfect destination for a comfortable, lively island vacation getaway. I was lucky enough to visit a friend during her work trip with the tourism board, so I had the best personal tour guide ever and am stoked to share the experience with you guys!
A Dutch territory, Aruba’s 108,000 population learn Dutch, Spanish, English and a mix of the three that makes up their local language, Papiamento, in schools. 80% of their economy is tourism, so unlike other tropical Caribbean destinations, locals easily can and want to provide for your every possible need. Main roadway signs point you around their roundabouts to “High Rise” or “Low Rise” hotels. Cheerful, slow-paced island folks, beachfront resorts and a variety of natural tour experiences abound.
What struck me most about Aruba is the diversity of the land in such a short stretch. In just 20x6mi, these shores host powdery white sands that calmly welcome nearly translucent turquoise waters on one end, while the other presents deep royal hues crashing against jagged volcanic rock wonders like the Conchi Natural Pool. It’s so awesome. Riding horseback and UTV’s through the clay and cacti valleys of Arikok National Park to get there… even awesome-er.
WHAT TO DO
Waters on the hotel side are so serene that it could really be tempting to lay on shore all day, but you’d be missing out on all the natural wonder Aruba has to offer. There are ATV’s, UTV’s, catamaraning, paddle boarding, JetLeving, scuba-diving, SNUBA if you’re not certified, and more. I snagged a car rental ($40/day with Hertz) and drove the length of the island in just over half hour and to explore the local’s side of town full of quiet beaches, fisherman boats, uber-cheap boutiques and scenic waterfront restaurants with a more eclectic crowd. If you like to get off the beaten path, Morgan’s Island is an abandoned water park that has obviously seen it’s share of parties and spot fires, and climbing to the top of an old burnt down invert slide both gives a panoramic view of the island and makes for a pretty rad story. For a more stable panoramic view, Bubali Bird Sanctuary is a free lookout within walking distance of Palm Beach hotels.
Nightlife in Aruba is cute and island-y and what you might think to expect from a place populated with more visitors than locals. It’s definitely not why you’re on the island. From 6-10pm every Thursday they host the Carubbian Festival welcoming new visitors.
WHAT TO EAT
Turns out that Aruba is a desert island, so the land, while striking, does not produce. All food is imported — only cucumbers and tomatoes (non-organic) are grown locally. Fun fact: Aloe is the only homegrown staple and it takes some serious irrigation to maintain all that greenery around the hotel areas, so take a moment to appreciate it while you’re there! These things in mind, I immediately doubted the food quality. However, like Vegas, Aruba makes the imported food thing work.
Their most popular local dishes are Keshi Yena – which is said to represent the melting pot of Aruba’s culture, the Aruba Ariba cocktail, new addition Eagle Beach Bellini, Fried Funchi (Arubans love fried food and have taken on American fast food all over the island), Pan Bati and more.
I only enjoyed cocktails on the patio of La Trattoria, but the overall ambiance was inclusively the best outdoor sunset restaurant experience I’ve had (sorry, NY rooftops). Disclosure: I’ve since sent a friend there on her honeymoon and was mortified to hear she had less than stellar dining service, but I’ll stand by that if you go even only for a cocktail and the sunset… go.
Papiamento was hard to get pics of at night, but I still put this post together because the fairytale dining experience was that spectacular. You’ll need a reservation.
WHERE TO STAY
Mostly any option will offer beachfront paradise within steps, so it depends how important accommodations are to you. I enjoyed naps at the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa, which was conveniently located near Moomba, DePalm Pier, Red Sail Sports, and Palm Beach’s tourist shop/restaurant hub, Arawak Gardens.
HOW TO GET THERE
I flew Copa Airlines to AUA through MIA, booked 4 weeks in advance and paid a bit extra to take a day in Panama City on each end, flight total was $580.
Perk: Copa has a separate international entrance that saved at least 30 minutes of line-waiting on the way home, which I was lucky for since I savored a few minutes too many in the soft sands that morning.
BEST FOR: Romantic or family getaway
SOLO TRAVEL DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Easy