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Aruba is best known for its beautiful white sand beaches, stunning sunsets and gentle surf. And, if you’re like me, you definitely will want to spend plenty of time on the beach when you visit. But my two trips to the Caribbean island proved that 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, this list includes the best things I did on my trips to 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. Even better, Aruba is outside the hurricane belt, so even as a tropical storm brewed in the Caribbean during my first visit to the island, the only ill effect was one cloudy day and a couple of brief but intense rain showers.
If you’re traveling from the United States, Aruba is an easy first foray into international travel. Just about everyone on the island speaks English, US dollars are readily accepted and you clear customs in Aruba so you won’t have to wait in long immigration lines when you get back to the US. Plus it’s an easy direct flight from many East Coast airports. (Sadly, this does not include O’Hare International, my home airport in Chicago. So I had long travel days with a connection in Charlotte NC.)
These are the top things to do on a visit to Aruba, whether you’re a group of women traveling together (as I was on my last trip), or traveling with a significant other, 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 first visit and the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, where I stayed on my second trip, thanks to the waiters who made the rounds taking orders and delivering the goods right to my beach chair. That’s just one of the delightful surprises you’ll find at the resort.
Both resorts are situated on Palm Beach. 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.
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.
Admission to the national park is $11 USD for everyone ages 18 and up. Children enter for free.
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.
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.
De Palm UTV Tour
This is the adventure tour for the more adventurous. We got to drive our own UTV, a beach-buggy style open air vehicle. It lacked a windshield or windows but, thankfully, had a roof to give us some protection from the harsh Aruban sunshine.
We had a great time bouncing over the rocky terrain, zipping along the shoreline and skidding through the sandy spots. We followed our guide, GG, who stopped at several spots along the way to impart its of Aruban history and tell us about the each or church or lighthouse we were looking at. Most of the stops featured locals selling snacks, coconuts, sunhats and other souvenirs and tchoichkes.
The only downside: We ate A LOT of dust as we followed GG’s UTV through the dry terrain. Fortunately, the tour price includes a neck gator, which doubled as a dust barrier and sun protection. One of the women travel with me bought a pair of goggles at the tour office shop. She said it was $10 well spent.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you prefer to go it alone on your adventures, you can rent a Jeep or UTV and take on the terrain on your own. I preferred being able to follow GG as he expertly led us through the winding trails. If you do rent your own vehicle, I recommend choosing a Jeep. It comes with a windshield and air conditioning to make your adventures a little more cushy.
Nature Hike through Arikok National Park
Perhaps the best deal on the island, you can hire a park ranger for a private hike. We were able to choose our own adventure which allowed us to get a custom tour that took us to the defunct gold mines and the high point of the island where we were able to look from one side of the island to the other.
My 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.
Aruba Aloe Factory
We saw these products all around the island, including at the airport as I waited for my 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 and 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 surface. 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.
The turquoise water is so clear that you almost don’t need a snorkeling mask. But having one made it easy for us to see the sunken ship lying on the sea floor, 400 feet below the surface of the water.
We visited two different snorkeling spots, one to see the shipwreck and the other to see the coral reef and the colorful Caribbean fish. I was pleased to find that the catamaran stocks magnified snorkeling masks so people like me — those of us who can’t see without our glasses — could actually see the fish and the shipwreck!
I also was pleased that one of the workers jumped into the water alongside my friend who doesn’t swim and had never snorkeled. She was scared, but she did it, with him swimming next to her and both of them holding onto a life ring. She liked it so much that she jumped in and snorkeled by herself at the second stop.
Meet the Animals on Aruba
Aruba is home to herds of wild goats (they’re considered something of a nuisance since they eat everything on the island) and donkeys, both left behind by settlers and conquerors.
Meeting the animals was must-see stop when SheBuysTravel contributor Terri Marshall visited 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 Aruba Marriott, have casinos onsite. The best part about the Stellaris Casino at the Marriott: It’s a non-smoking casino, which meant I could actually be in the casino long enough to lose a little money in the machines.
Bars and Entertainment
It’s easy to find a great spot for a drink on the beach. Many of the resorts and entertainment areas offer live entertainment on most nights. At the
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