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Aruba is best known for its soft white sand beaches, stunning sunsets and gentle surf. And you definitely will want to spend time on the beach when you visit. But there also are plenty of fun things to do in Aruba beyond the beach. From hiking among the desert wonders of Arikok National Park to soaring overhead in a parasail to taking a dip in a natural pool, these are our favorite things to do in Aruba.
Located just 15 miles off the north coast of Venezuela, Aruba is a Dutch island with the sweet motto, “One Happy Island.” Its native Divi Divi trees display a permanent southwest bent due to the constant trade winds that keep the island cool.
Aruba is outside the hurricane belt, so even as a tropical storm brewed in the Caribbean during my visit, the only ill effect was one cloudy day and a couple of brief but intense rain showers.
These are the top things to do on a visit to Aruba, whether you’re traveling with a significant other, girlfriends, solo or with the kids.
Go to the Beach
With more than 40 miles of coastline, the beach is the place to be in Aruba. The sand is soft, the waves are mild and, depending on where you stay, the drinks are flowing.
At least they flow at the beach bars of the island’s all-inclusive resorts. And they flowed at the Hilton Aruba, where I stayed on my visit, thanks to the waiters who make the rounds taking orders and delivering the goods right to my beach chair.
I stayed in the Palm Beach area of the island. It offers calm waters, gorgeous sunsets and a huge variety of watersports. The popular beach resort area is just one of Aruba’s beach options. Others are:
- Mangel Halto is a secluded beach favored by snorklers who want to explore the island’s reefs.
- Locals into bodyboarding favor Andicuri Beach, where dramatic bluffs flank a sandy cove.
- Baby Beach on the southeast end of the island near San Nicolas offers shallow sheltered lagoons. It was the right spot for Grandmom Terri Marshall to watch over her 7-year-old granddaughter as she practiced her newly-learned snorkeling techniques.
- Family-friendly Arashi Beach, just off the road to the California Lighthouse, has gentle currents and abundant marine life just waiting for snorkelers.
- Eagle Beach, voted the third Best Beach in the Caribbean and fifth best in the world in a 2022 TripAdvisor survey, is near the low rise hotel area. It’s known for its soft white sands, Caribbean ocean views and sea turtle nesting area.
- Boca Catalina is a small beach about a 5-minute drive from the high rise resorts in Palm Beach. Park alongside the road and walk down the stairs to this small, secluded bay.
- Hadicurari Beach, near the Marriott Aruba Resort, is the place to learn and practice wind and kite surfing.
- Malmok Beach is a narrow sandy stretch ringed by the rocky coast known for its calm, crystal clear waters.
- Surfside Beach is close to downtown Oranjestad with beach chairs for rent and a floating waterpark for kids.
Arikok National Park
No matter where you stay on the island, a visit to Arikok is a must-do. Once a gold mine, the park is being returned to its natural state. The surprising desert terrain of this national park takes up about one-quarter of the Caribbean island’s 75 square miles.
There are many ways to explore the natural wonders of the park. You can hike, go horseback riding, take a guided tour in a bumpy jeep or off-road UTV tour or drive your own vehicle.
Of those, I highly recommend NOT driving your own vehicle. We saw a number of small rented sedans bumping over the sand dunes and craggy dirt roads as we zipped past, bumping along in our ready-to-take-on-the-elements Jeep.
Plan at least a half-day visit to the park. If you have the time, there’s plenty to keep you busy on a full-day visit.
De Palm Jeep Tour
There were more than a dozen adventurous women and one man on our tour and none of us could stop smiling as we bumped and bounced across this rugged terrain.
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We didn’t lose anyone – not even the women in the back row of the open air Jeep who were hanging on tight.
The tour hits the top things to do inside and outside of the park, including stops at the California Lighthouse in Noord (named for the shipwrecked S.S. California), the iconic beachside Alto Vista Chapel on the island’s North Coast and a Natural Bridge.
The tour ends at the Conchi or Aruba’s natural pool, where we spent a blissful hour in the calm waters. The rock formations form a protective wall, creating a secluded spot for swimmers. Our guide had a stash of snorkels and masks to use to see the teaming schools of fish below the surface of the Caribbean Sea.
SheBuysTravel Tip: This tour is NOT recommended for people with a tendency toward motion sickness.
Perhaps the best deal on the island, you can hire a park ranger for a private hike for the rock-bottom price of $25. For that, you can choose your adventure, including asking for a custom tour that will take you to the parts of the park you most want to see, whether that’s the defunct gold mines, the high point that allows you to see from one side of the island to the other, the limestone caves where you’ll discover Arawak Indian drawings, a walk through the towering cacti in search of an edible bloom or something else.
Our hike with Roger the park ranger was as educational as it was exhilarating. One of the few areas of the island that is hilly, the park has any number of well-marked trails. You certainly can hike it on your own – check in at the visitors center so they know you’re in the park – but I was happy to have Roger guiding and educating me along the way.
This allows you to drive your own ATV over the sandy trails, led by a guide. I did not do this and I’m not sure I would want to. While it’s always fun to drive an ATV, the trails are very dusty. And driving right behind a string of other ATVs is a dusty way to go. If you choose this adventure, definitely bring a face covering. Goggles might be smart, too.
Aruba Aloe Factory
You’ll see these products all around the island, including at the airport as you wait for your flight home.
A made-in-Aruba product for more than 100 years, the company offers free factory tours. You learn how to fillet an aloe leaf to extract the slimy, medicinal innards an then head inside to watch the Arubans make the products, fill and ship the bottles. (Here, everything is done by hand, not machine. That’s because this family-owned company believes in employing Arubans.)
There’s also a new, hands-on experience we got to try: Making our own aloe body scrub. I’m not sure my husband would have wanted to do it, but it’s a fun way to spend an hour with girlfriends. And you go home with a jar full of aloe-infused, sugar-based body scrub.
Catch a Sunset
There are glorious sunsets all over the world. Definitely plan your days in Aruba to be seated somewhere by dusk to witness the glowing skies as the day turns to night. If you can, make that spot an open air bar where you can sip the country’s signature drink, the Aruba Ariba. I recommend doing that at the Hilton Aruba.
Or you can splurge on a sunset cruise on a catamaran.
There are a stunning number of ways to enjoy the water. You can bring along your own inflatable float and spend the days floating on the gentle surf of the Caribbean Sea. Or you can get some laid-back exercise by paddleboarding, kayaking or scuba diving to see the shipwreck of the SS Pedernales that lies 25 feet below the suface. Or you can rev up the adrenalin and opt for parasailing, windsurfing or jet skiing.
Whatever your water pleasure, there’s a kiosk along the beach offering that service.
Meet the Animals on Aruba
Aruba is home to herds of wild goats (they’re considered something of nuisance since they eat everything on the island) and donkeys, both left behind by settlers and conquerors.
Meeting the animals was a big part of Terri Marshall’s visit to Aruba with her granddaughter. Their first stop was the Donkey Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for the donkeys on the island. Tender-hearted Katherine shied away from the aggressive donkeys demanding food and moved instead toward the shy older one waiting patiently at the edge of the covered porch.
If you’re up for more animal adventures, check out the Aruba Ostrich Farm where you’ll learn all about these lovable but not too smart birds. Another favorite, Philip’s Animal Garden is a non-profit with a focus on rescuing exotic animals in Aruba. Here you’ll find everything from camels to parrots and pigs.
For a lighter touch, head to The Butterfly Farm in Oranjestad. It’s home to hundreds of exotic butterflies. Take the 20-minute guided tour to learn about the evolutionary cycle of butterflies.
Nightlife on Aruba
The Party Buses
Not a night goes by that you won’t see a party bus plying the main drag on the island. Popular with locals as well as tourists, Arubans will hire these buses for birthday parties, family events and even children’s celebrations. For tourists traveling with a group, it’s a fun way to see the island, get a little rowdy and have some fun while someone else does the driving.
Gambling is legal — and a big draw — on the island. Many of the resorts, including the all-inclusive resorts on Aruba, have casinos onsite.
Bars and Entertainment
It’s easy to find a great spot for a drink on the beach. Many of the resorts and entertainment areas offers live entertainment on most nights. At the Hilton Aruba, the entertainment ended at a family-friendly 10pm.
More Fun Things to Do in Aruba
Ayo Rock Formations
If you rent a car in Aruba to facilitate your sightseeing, the Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations are a don’t-miss spot. The cluster of cacti, boulders and hiking trails in eastern Aruba has a prehistoric feel.
Go during the day and take a short Instagram-worthy hike. But be careful where you step. The island has snakes and other creepy-crawlies you won’t want to disturb.
This is the place to see the remnants of a once-thriving 19th-century gold mill. You can park, take a walk and ogle the gorgeous Caribbean Sea views.
The capital city is home to:
- The Fort Zoutman Historical Museum, a restored military fort built in 1798 that tells the history of the island
- National Archaeological Museum, which showcases 5,000 years of Amerindian culture
- Several shopping malls