No one cares or even notices we’re driving in the wrong direction. We’re officially on Aruba time, where moments are counted in happiness rather than minutes. Cacti and colourful buildings blur together and a reggae remix of Chers ‘Believe’ beats out of the speakers. As I dangle my arm out of the car window the familiar breeze of the island heat warms my skin, and I close my eyes not wanting to wake from this dream.
I haven’t even left yet, but somehow Aruba’s got me hooked, I’m urging time to stop, so I don’t have to say goodbye to what the locals, and I now call , the one happy island.
One week in Aruba seemed like plenty before I arrived. At only 8km at its widest, and 30km at its longest, this small Caribbean island just off the coast of Venezuela isn’t exactly vast. But what it lacks in size, Aruba makes up for in punch. There is an abundance of natural wonders here, alongside the better-known resorts and casinos, though sadly I feel many people don’t venture beyond their all-inclusive.
While there is no shame in just taking a holiday, and boy Aruba is the perfect place to do so, for those who want to venture beyond those oh-so-inviting waters and their next cocktail, you’ll be pleased to hear an authentic Aruba still very much exists. With rugged national parks, incredible stargazing, fantastic local restaurants, near-empty beaches, caves with historical paintings and a thriving street art scene, Aruba is so much more than a sandy feet escape.
In this Aruba travel guide, I’ll take you through everything I got up to, or learnt about, during my one week in Aruba. When I was planning my trip, I realised how hard it was to find detailed Aruba travel guides on everything the island has to offer so I’ve tried to compile it all into one place so you can make the most of your visit.
The beaches of Aruba
I’ll start with Aruba’s most famous attractions, its glorious coastline which ranges from gently lapping waves to mangrove weaved beaches and crashing surf. For a small island, you can find a vast array of beaches here. Some with sands so white sunglasses are essential, to those which are littered with cacti.
My favourite beach is a short drive south of the Airport, although most things are a short drive in Aruba. Mangel Halto seemed lesser known than many of the other beaches on the island, especially given it is a little way from the city and cruise terminal.
Mangel Halto is a mix of white sands, and mangroves, and it’s also a great spot to snorkel. If you walk along from the beach to the side road, you’ll find a mix of stairs and decks leading straight down into the water.
Another of my favourites was Arashi Beach and the nearest to my accommodation at Gold Coast in Malmok. The beaches along here are well known for their snorkelling and with a beer shack and fewer crowds, it was a beautiful place whether in the day or for sunset.
The main resort beach on the island is Palm Beach , which is flanked by hotels along its length. While I had heard talk of the ‘high rise’ beach before arriving in Aruba, it isn’t that drastic at all. I had assumed it would be like Benidorm with huge tower block hotels, but it’s still a lovely beach with some of the whitest sand I’ve seen, although a little crowded.
At Eagle Beach you’ll find a similar vibe to Palm Beach given its proximity, but not as busy. Here you’ll see swings for that Insta shot, jet-skis for hire, and a lovely restaurant on the sand where I enjoyed lunch.
Eagle Beach is also just by the Bubali Bird Sanctuary where you can spot various birds in the marshlands here, so it is worth combining them.
At Hadicurari Beach you’ll find a more authentic feel thanks to the fishermen and their huts which are here. If you want to find a similar vibe with a much more deserted feel, then drive over to the east coast beaches on the island, much less frequented by visitors.
For another sublime beach, with waves crashing against rock faces and water that might as well be photoshopped, head to Dos Playa , the beach inside the Arikok National Park is a gem.
Watersports and diving in Aruba
If you are anything like me, then lying on a beach is only good for a while before you are restless and ready to hit the water.
The water in Aruba is a warm temperature, so swimming and snorkelling are a go-to activity. Snorkel hire is available at many resorts and most of the beaches, except for the smaller quieter beaches that don’t have activity centres.
Palm and Eagle beach likely have the most on offer, from jet-skiing to kayaks and SUP. The prices seemed entirely fair here, for Aruba anyway, with costs being around the USD 20 for an hour on a SUP or USD 50 for thirty minutes jet-skiing.
The Scuba Diving in Aruba is some of the best in the Carribean, partly due to its excellent coral reefs such as Mikes Reef, but also due to the abundance of wreck diving.
Some of the wrecks, such as The Pedernales which was torpedoed during WWII, are legit wrecks, while others have been purposefully sunk. The difficulty of diving varies between the wrecks so consult with a local diving school which is best for you. One of the most famous, The Antilla for example, requires a boat to get to and although some of the ship is near the surface, the main hull is as low as 18metres.
A unique opportunity offered for diving in Aruba is the sunken aeroplane which is near the Renaissance island. Sadly I wasn’t able to dive it on this visit, but it certainly raises the stakes when it comes to wreck diving FOMO.
The marine code of Aruba, like most places, means you can’t touch the wildlife. This includes the turtles which you can sometimes find laying, or hatching, on the island as well as underwater life.