What’s Aruba like for a holiday? I wondered the same.
I feel like this Dutch Caribbean island is under the radar in England. I flew over for the week to see exactly why it’d earned the reputation as being the paradise it has.
I know the exact moment when I fully registered how wonderful Aruba is.
We’d joined a snorkelling trip on the Tranquillo – a 43-foot sailing yacht. Instead of taking us all out as a snorkelling force, on a quest to find the most magical fish we could, our guide instead gave us a few pointers to get us started and off we went.
Somehow I came to lead the group. I’ve snorkelled loads of times, confidence of a mermaid. But, for some of them, it was their first time.
So I went first, mask fixed, snorkel erect, flippers on, and GoPro steady around my wrist. The others followed into the azure waters, slowly and cautiously.
He’d given us two routes, and as I completed the first down current, I was the only one who attempted the second.
I was chasing a fish. A rainbow one more colourful than I’d ever seen before. Go Pro fixed on it I glided above before he delicately snaked off, too fast for me. It was that moment that I turned around to see a whole school of them behind me, flitting from colourful coral to aged rock in the Caribbean Sea.
A magical moment on my first day on the island.
16 Awesome Things to Do in Aruba
If you want to know more about what to do in Aruba, then watch the video below.
From epic drone shots, to tasty food, to boat rides and spa advice, here’s what to expect from a holiday in Aruba.
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Holiday in Aruba
My trip hadn’t started off too well. My luggage was still in Amsterdam, and we wouldn’t be reunited until 30 hours later. All I had was the trainers, dress, leggings, scarf, and cardigan I’d travelled 20 hours in.
Restless in the hotel in our break before dinner, and knowing my tired mind would NOT want to go shopping after, I decided to wander to the shops, a 40-minute walk away. I got what I needed – 90 minutes and $150 later. Flip flops, a dress, a swimsuit and sun lotion.
I hadn’t realised that getting back would be such a problem though. I got the bus, as the lady selling me the swimsuit had told me to, and then promptly got chucked off just as I got out of the main strip as I only had a $10 note.
No taxi would stop, I must’ve tried about 10. And so I walked. Over 40 minutes, in the dark. Not the best idea, but the only option to my tired and weary mind.
All it would take was a good sleep and waking up to an amazing sunrise, for the memory of that first night to drift away.
The incredible sea bass at our beach restaurant, Passions on the Beach, helped too.
One Happy Island
Aruba are hot on their marketing – you’ll see ‘One Happy Island’ written all over social media, and Aruba.
Aruba is part of the Dutch Antilles Islands, in the South Caribbean Sea. I didn’t really know what that meant before I went, but I soon realised it meant there are lots of Dutch people on the island. It gave the island a very European feel, compared to the other Caribbean islands I’ve been (St Kitts, St Lucia, Antigua, Cuba and Barbados).
There was none of the rum punch for lunch, steel bands and tumble down beach shacks that I’d been expecting.
Instead, Aruba is a very neat island.
I asked our guide, Archangel, why it was so orderly, well kept, and even, structurally sound. Apparently the placement, just 9 miles off Venezuela at its closest point (you could see it on a clear day) and behind the protection of the Caribbean islands like Haiti and Dominican Republic, meant that the rough weather and typhoons typical of the Caribbean don’t make it as far as Aruba.
Thanks to the defence from nearby islands, they’ve created an intact, colourful and clean island with buildings, houses, and businesses that look like they’ve had the investment to last a lifetime.
Read more travel tips for Aruba
What’s the food in Aruba like?
All the food I had in Aruba was fantastic. I’d recommend everywhere I went in fact. I was on a press trip with the Aruba tourism board and so treated to the best of the restaurants on the island.
– Passion on the Beach
– Garden Fresh
– Local Store
– Hostaria Da’ Vittorio
– Yami Yami
– The Westdeck
From seabass and ceviche, to tuna tartar, Italian deli boards, sushi and mama’s own chicken wings, I enjoyed every mouthful. The whole food scene in Aruba is totally on par with European standards. Vegans will be fine, gluten frees catered for and there are plenty of healthy options in among the rich choices.
It’s definitely not just the chicken and rice, locally caught fish, and BBQ and conch fritters you might associate with the Caribbean. Although, thankfully, they’re waiting for you in Aruba too.
Sustainability in Aruba
While I was in Aruba, they were awarded ‘top 10 country for 2020’ from the Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel team. Thanks to their approach to sustainability and ‘colourful and creative revival’.
Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority, said:
“…Aruba takes pride in being an innovative leader and is aware that people are traveling to destinations that are investing in eco-friendly programming and where they can ultimately make a difference while visiting.
Along with our ambitious sustainability goals such as the working bans on single use plastic and reef-destroying sunscreen and opening the Island as a testing hub for renewable solutions for our planet, we are excited to be rolling out a human-centric action plan for 2020 and beyond to ensure the protection of the environment for generations to come.”
With 80% of their energy coming from solar power – apparently the most that could be agreed with the local energy board – their dedication to renewable sources is easy to see around.
There are also 10, 180-meter high wind turbines on the northern coast, providing even more energy for the island through wind.
What about the flamingos in Aruba?
Think of Aruba and you might think of the flamingos, I know I did. It was one of the reasons I wanted to go.
But, like much animal tourism now, it can actually be seen as pretty cruel. And it’s not something the tourist board want to promote.
There are actually only six flamingos on the whole of Aruba. Yeah, that blew my mind. All those photos you see of bikini clad women feeding them in the sea – it’s been the same six flamingos every time.
The same six flamingos who are clipped, so they can’t fly away if they wanted to.
If you want to see them you have to pay $150+ per night to stay at The Renaissance Hotel to have access to their private island. There used to be day passes to the island but they’ve cancelled them as they were so popular, the hotel guests were getting annoyed.
The amount of tourists wanting pics with the flamingos far exceeds the amount of actual flamingos.
With so much more to see on Aruba, there’s really no need to support the flamingo tourism here.
Best things to do in Aruba
Explore the coastline
If it’s not the aforementioned flamingos, then it’s the beaches that Aruba is so famous for. The organisation I described means every one is carefully labelled, with official Aruba signs to give the history of each one.
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Took my drone out on Eagle Beach this morning. According to Trip Advisor this is the 3rd best beach IN THE WORLD 2019. And according to Lonely Planet’s #BestinTravel yesterday, Aruba is the 4th best country to visit. Sooo… get yerself over here. Look at it! [AD] #onehappyisland #bestbeaches #beachplease #arubabeaches #droneshots #beachdrone
Baby Beach, San Catalina, Abashi Beach and of course, Eagle Beach, all absolutely stunning in their own right. Head north and the waves are wilder, but in the south there’s barely a wave.
See Arikok National Park
The arid desert topography of Aruba may come as a surprise to anyone just used to seeing the endless pictures of beaches.
If you visit Aruba, you need to have a day off from the said stunning beaches, and explore Arikok National Park though.
I’d recommend doing it in an ATV as part of an organised tour. I actually did it in a 16-person open top jeep and bounced around for three hours, sometimes even out of my seat. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the ride.
I did enjoy the scenery though, so find a way to see it.
There’s some backlash on Aruba about tourists just hiring ATVs and UTVs and exploring on their own, as they disrupt local wildlife and may be driving on protected land.
Join an ATV tour and you’ll get a comfier ride, with a bit of independence too.
Check out the street art
Aruba is just so colourful, and so vibrant, I’d absolutely recommend you to go and visit St Nicolas to see some of the best street art I’ve ever seen.
This street art actually contains real gold, to symbolise to all that the wealth should stay in the area.
When the oil refineries closed, St Nicolas was known as one of the poorer areas of the island. Away from the wealth of the tourism in the north, and the capital of Oranjestad, it was known as a no go area.
In recent years the whole area has been rejuvenated with this street art, festivals and street decorations.
Work on your wellness with yoga
Aruba is a perfect destination for a wellness holiday.
Yoga is a big deal here.
Even one of Instagram’s most famous Western practitioners has set up a studio here, Yoga Girl. I had so many comments on Instagram asking if I was going to go, so I did. Unfortunately she wasn’t running any classes that week and the cafe had recently closed. Looked round her gift shop though – she’s well up on the merch!
I did do two yoga classes while I was in Aruba though.
I spent the morning at the Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa, in their stunning pavilion. Doing yoga while hearing coconuts being macheted from the trees, the waves in the distance and the wind in the palms was phenomenal.
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Set your intention. You have your memories behind you. Your dreams in front of you. Those you love around you. And everything you need inside of you. ? * This morning’s words at the end of our paddle board yoga session, got me in the feels. Warmed my heart and my mind, while my body was warmed by the sun. * The perfect way to end the trip. She lost me at the headstands (pic 2 is my face at the suggestion), and I fell in twice, but it was FUN in the SUN. * [AD] #arubabeaches #onehappyisland #arubaonehappyisland #supyoga #arubayoga #suparuba #arubalife #noordaruba #palmbeacharuba #velaaruba @velaaruba @arubatourismuk
And on our last day I went to the Vale Windsurfing school for a paddleboarding yoga session out on the water. I’ve tried paddle board yoga once before, in Antigua. It was so much fun, our instructor was lovely, and I left feeling nourished in mind as well as body.
I’ve done a yoga class in England since and as I closed my eyes I recalled sitting on that paddleboard out on the Caribbean sea with the warmth in my body, and it felt goooood.
My signature treatment at the Ritz Carlton
The Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach is absolutely incredible. The hotel looked amazing, but I wasn’t there for that. I was there to check out the spa area, and have a treatment.
I went for the Ritz Carlton Aruba signature treatment with aloe. This included a full body massage, a facial and reflexology on the feet for a delightful 110 minutes. Absolutely heavenly.
I felt like I floated out of there.
Anyone is welcome, you don’t need to be a guest, and you can enjoy the steam room, sauna and the biggest jacuzzi I’ve ever been in afterwards too.
Hire a car
Aruba is just 20 miles long, and six miles wide. We hired a car for the day in Aruba, which I’d absolutely recommend. They drive on the right, but the pace is pretty slow, you can’t go much wrong, and you basically go up and down.
Also, the cars are automatic.
Get a car and you can make the most of the impressive sunsets and sunrises on Aruba. They’re best viewed from the California Lighthouse, as we discovered on the last morning. Our 5:30am wake up wasn’t hard when the reward looked like this.
Give yourself extra time if you’re driving to dinner reservations though. Like many Caribbean islands, cruise ships provide a huge source of income to Aruba. When they arrive in port the east of the island knows about it. It took us 20 minutes to drive the two minutes past the port when three of them were in.
A whole industry has been built up around the cruise ships though, and rather than view them negatively, my trip has helped me to see them as a source of income. Since the oil refineries shut down, Aruba’s main industry by far, is tourism.
Take a tour around the Aloe Factory
At the Aloe Factory and Museum they have over 30,000 plants, and have been producing aloe products for over 160 years.
Every 15 minutes they run tours so you can learn more about what goes into production, and there’s a chance to buy some of the goodies at the end. Thanks to the sun burn I’d managed to gain that morning on the boat, I couldn’t resist the aloe gel and mineral face cream either.
So, what is Aruba like?
I’ve been trying to find the right word to describe Aruba, in comparison to what you might think of when it comes to the Caribbean. I’m going with ‘organised paradise’.
For me, it doesn’t have the ramshackle charm of other islands I’ve visited. But in its place, is a reassuringly ordered bliss.
Even the lanes on the roundabouts are divided by mounted lines, something I’ve never seen before. I thought it was great at first, until I totally got caught out trying to return the car and ended up in the wrong lane, twice.
Aruba is a relaxed island, while still providing excellent service in the hotels, restaurants and bars. The beaches are incredible, there are plenty of other things to do, and there’s a creative vibe too.
Should you go to Aruba?
And it’d be a great one for your first introduction to the Caribbean.
My week in Aruba was amazing.
I’ve never seen such incredible coloured waters, or eaten so much seafood in a week, or swam in such a famous beach. Aruba is its own blend of European Caribbean and for anyone wanting to wake up to the beauty of this blue, every day, with the comforting feel of home, then this is the Caribbean island for them.
I only knew one person who’d been to Aruba before I did, but with their modern approach to sustainability, to food and to the changing needs of travellers, along with their incredible beaches, and space, and that Lonely Planet accolade, I really think that’s going to change in the future.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you’ll enjoy Aruba.
Where to stay in Aruba
I stayed at the Amsterdam Manor, right on Eagle Beach.
It was a wonderful place and I had a one-bed suite right by the pool.
There was a great breakfast on offer, a sunset bar and a little shop selling all you needed. I swam in the pool twice, and watched sunsets and sunrises from the beach. I was very happy here!
For more ideas of where to stay in Aruba, check out this post on the Divi Resorts, by Globe Guide.
I was in Aruba thanks to the Aruba Tourist Board. They invited me over and paid for all activities, food and drink, in return for coverage.
More on travel in the Caribbean
One Week Aruba Itinerary for Wellness & Good Food