What are the five best things to do in Aruba?

Many first-time visitors are surprised to discover that Aruba is no typical tropical paradise. It’s rocky and flat. The island’s interior is a cacti-studded, desert-like outback full of meandering wild goats, donkeys, iguanas and twisted divi-divi trees.

Its barren beauty is a stark contrast to its colorful Dutch colonial capital, but all sides of Aruba are well worth exploring to really get a sense of place. On both land and sea, there are plenty of interesting things to do beyond simply sunbathing on its beautiful beaches.

Sail and Snorkel
Aruba’s waters are teeming with marine life and the top snorkel spots are all close to shore. There’s also a sunken ship — the Antilla — to explore. The shipwreck is in such shallow water that snorkelers get to experience a scuba-like dive without descending into the depths.

You’ll often spot sea turtles there, too. There are many snorkel sail operators, and most stop at the same three spots because that’s where all the fish are. Jolly Pirates’ wooden schooner often makes an additional stop to showcase rope swing acrobatics in deeper waters. Most operators also offer romantic dinner and sunset sails as well.

Take a Jeep Safari
There are many ways to explore Aruba’s arid outback, but taking a jeep safari to the natural pool is the best. The volcanic rock formations of the coast create a tranquil swimming spot well worth the trek.

Hang on to your hats, however (and your sunglasses, too), as it’s a rough ride over tough terrain, especially when the driver shows off his off-roading skills. The scenery is stunning though, and you can snorkel in the natural wonder (equipment provided), but be forewarned there are steep stairs and the seaside rocks can be extremely slippery.

Most safaris also take in some other famous landmarks en route like a fallen natural coral bridge.

Explore Arikok Park
You need not be a hardcore hiker to enjoy the island’s Arikok National Park, which encompasses 20 percent of Aruba’s landmass. Drive through by rental car or take a guided tour with many outfits by road.

But if you do want to hike, there are many options for all skill levels, including guided treks with nature experts.  The best place to start is at the large visitor center where you can learn all about the flora and fauna you will encounter, receive maps and info, and even take a complimentary mini-hike provided by the park’s rangers.

Visit San Nicolas
If you’re not on island during Carnival, then a visit out to San Nicolas for its weekly Carubbian Festival is the next best thing. Every Thursday night the oil-refinery-town-turned-cultural-gem hosts a major celebration with colorful parades, food stands, art and live music.

Many resorts offer packages that include return bus transportation. You can also day trip out on your own. Plan to spend time at beautiful Baby Beach there, and then visit the new Carnival Village Museum and workshop.

Lunch at legendary landmark Charlie’s Bar — a mini-museum in its own right — is also a must. 

Learn a New Sport
Did you know that Aruba is one of the world’s first pioneers of beach tennis? There are always games and instruction at MooMba Beach Bar and often upcoming tournaments.

Aruba also boasts some of the best conditions on the planet to learn windsurfing and kite boarding. Constant trade winds and shallow waters at Fisherman’s Huts cove are ideal for beginners, and expert instruction and equipment rental is available. Then there’s the odd sport the Dutch call “blokarting.”

Learn to drive a cart powered by a sail on land through Aruba Active Vacations, also located on Fisherman’s Huts Beach.

  • On April 22, 2016
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    Does Aruba have good diving?

    Though not as much of a diver’s paradise as neighboring island Bonaire, Aruba does have easily accessible healthy coral reefs full of thriving marine life, and some of the best wreck diving sites in the Caribbean.

    Guided dives and PADI instruction is provided by many reputable companies; the main dive operators are Red Sail Sports off Palm Beach and JADS Dive Centre out in San Nicolas, but there are smaller ones catering to more intimate experiences as well. Interesting sunken wrecks to seek out include oil tankers, freighters and even airplanes.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    Where is the best nightlife in Aruba?

    After sunset, some surfside spots like MooMba and Bugaloe keep on rocking in Aruba, and the main tourist strip in front of the high-rise resorts is liberally lined with nightspots — no car required.

    Downtown Oranjestad is also hot, especially around the Renaissance Marketplace, where you’ll find lots of live music in the collection of cafés, bars and dining emporiums side-by-side.

    But if you really want to hit some out-of-the-way local watering holes, take a late-night party bus tour with Kukoo Kunuku. It’s crazy fun. And of course, all the casinos stay open until the wee hours as well. In fact, some never close.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    What are the best Aruba food experiences?

    When you visit the island, don’t miss these must-have Aruba food experiences:

    Zeerovers
    The little fishing pier out in Savaneta named after the Dutch word for “pirates” is the spot to get the freshest catch of the day served in the local style. In fact, you can often watch the fishermen bring in the catch and sometimes even choose your own fish.

    Then it’s grilled or fried in front of you and served with typical Aruban sides like funchi, rice and fried plantains. It’s best enjoyed with a splash of their famous hot sauce and an icy locally brewed Balashi — said to be the only beer in the world made from desalinated sea water.

    Local Treats
    The choices of snacks and local fare spans an interesting mix of influences — Latin American, Aruban and Dutch. Pastechis, deep-fried dough pockets full of meat, cheese or seafood, are Aruba’s answer to South America’s arepas. Dutch snacks of meat and cheese called bitterballen, krokets and frikandel are also deep-fried.

    Distinctly Aruban is keshi yena, a hollowed-out Gouda cheese filled with a savory spiced mix of meat or seafood. Also Aruban are bolos, which are cakes, typically cashew- or rum-filled. The bolo preto (black cake) is one of the most liquor-laden Christmas fruitcakes in the world.

    Stobas and Soups
    Since the Spanish brought the goats and then left them to fend for themselves, they have become a problem on a small arid island where little grows as the animals tend to eat everything is sight.

    That’s probably why cobrita stoba, goat stew, is so big on Aruba. Also big is pumpkin soup and fish soup. And most dishes are served with pan bati (flatbread), funchi (a polenta-style cornmeal mash) and fried plantains. 

    Kitchen Table by White
    Local chef Urvin Croes made a big splash with his creative cuisine and penchant for deconstructing fare at his flagship restaurant White Modern Seafood and now has brought his imitable style of creating modern twists on classic Aruban dishes to an intimate open kitchen venue.

    Located at Blue Residences on Eagle Beach, the restaurant requires reservations since it only seats 16. The chef changes the menu to fit the season, and each seating includes a seven- or eight-course Aruban/Caribbean feast paired with wines. Reserve as far ahead as possible; the eatery is often booked months in advance.

    Screaming Eagle
    Aruba has many fine-dining experiences and many romantic toes-in-the-sand dining options, but it doesn’t get more romantic than dining in bed.

    The gourmet fare at Screaming Eagle alone is well worth going for, and it makes some of the island’s best creative signature cocktails, but the opportunity to enjoy it all in a canopied bed — cuddled up with your sweetheart or eating slumber party style with a friend — is definitely a unique experience.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    What are the five best restaurants in Aruba?

    A potpourri of more than 90 nationalities along with influences from all over the globe have permeated into the Aruba dining scene, and now with more than 200 fine-dining establishments, the choices are endless.

    A great way to discover many of them is through the Aruba Gastronomic Association. The group offers a dine-around program that represents more than 30 of the island’s very best spots.

    Quinta del Carmen
    One of the island’s newest dining emporiums is set in a gloriously restored 100- year-old mansion with a grand courtyard. It’s the creative choice of cuisines that makes for return diners.

    Many dishes of Dutch comfort food (dedicated to one of the owner’s grandmothers) sidle up to avant-garde creations like shrimp piña colada, and choices also often leave Aruba’s shores to include surprises like herb-crusted Canadian salmon and pork roast Tennessee. Though the menu is often playful, the restaurant takes quality seriously, and it shows.

    Amuse Bistro
    Creativity and an intimate easygoing vibe are the keys to the success of this tiny indoor/outdoor escape just outside of Playa Linda Resort. Chef Patrick van der Donk is a true artist who delights in creating French inspired amuse-bouche types of dishes and pairing each bite with the best wines possible.

    The most popular experiences are the three- and five-course “Carte Blanche” food-and-wine pairings in which the chef has carte blanche on what he serves. But no worries about this type of chef’s “surprise,” you have the option to list any ingredients needed to be left out due to dietary restrictions.

    Papiamento
    Set in a century-old family home full of antiques and art, the interior is like a mini-museum while the exterior is set upon a lovely pool surrounded by tropical foliage.

    It’s run by the Ellis family, second-generation Aruban restaurateurs. Chef Edward Ellis plunders his own organic garden plantation nearby for fresh ingredients. His sister Annelotte makes magic as a noted pastry chef.

    Local dishes include keshi yena (chicken-stuffed cheese), and a bouillabaisse using fresh catch and local hot peppers. But for a real treat, order the chef’s daily special and enjoy whatever has been invented as the cocktail of the day.

    Cuba’s Cookin’
    The Old Havana-style vibe lives at the Renaissance Marketplace Marina, where you can eat inside or out in a lively atmosphere. It’s actually not surprising to Arubans that some of the best Cuban food can be found there since Aruba’s ties to the “Big Island” run deep — decades ago local men would go there for work and return with Cuban wives.

    Sultry live Latin music and nightly dancing, killer mojitos, plus seriously authentic Cuban dishes like ropa vieja and mofongo all make this a very popular haunt for both locals and visitors alike.

    Windows on Aruba
    This gorgeous glassed-in emporium located at Divi Golf Village was already a well-established landmark, but now the menu has evolved. It was totally refreshed by executive chef Matt Boland, who was also responsible for recently amping up all of Divi Resort’s culinary offerings. His preference for pure, fresh ingredients and supporting local interests has ensured that there are as many fresh farm and sea dishes as possible.

    The Aruba restaurant also hosts an incredible Sunday champagne brunch with live music, and the set price includes far more than egg dishes — there are many surprisingly upscale meat and seafood mains as well.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    What are the best hotels in Aruba?

    Aruba really has accommodations suited for all styles and budgets, and since all beaches are open to the public, finding a sweet spot on the sand, even if your hotel is not totally surfside, is a breeze.

    Where you stay all depends on your needs and holiday style, but across the board, service is typically first-rate and rooms are clean, modern and well appointed. Here are the five best Aruba hotels:

    The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba
    This glamorous beach resort opened in Palm Beach in 2013 and it has been a popular spot ever since. All rooms have at least a limited view of the Caribbean, and top-of-the line accommodations are large, oceanfront rooms with outdoor showers and private decks.

    Four restaurants and a large spa mean you don’t have to travel for good food and pampering; two pools compliment the expansive beachfront. Spring for a private cabana and get food and drink service all day long.

    Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort
    Sitting along Palm Beach yet facing away from the frenzy, the rooms look toward their own slice of sand with a manmade breakwater, private pier and a marshy bird sanctuary.

    But beyond the prime location, it’s the suite options that set the resort apart. From studio suites to three-bedroom and even split-level affairs, all rooms have complete kitchens, whirlpool baths and gorgeous views. Some even have in-room laundry facilities.

    A trendy beach lounge and a classic surfside dining option, two large pools, a seaside whirlpool, and a brand-new spa with sea views also add to its allure.

    Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort
    As true pioneers in the eco-friendly hotel operation movement, this is not only the greenest resort on Aruba but perhaps in the entire Caribbean. Located on a prime and pristine stretch of beautiful Eagle Beach, it’s also well known as one of Aruba’s most romantic hotels.

    Expect an elite luxury boutique style stay with a strict adults-only policy. Onsite dining includes private romantic dinners for two in the sand, and the new dining spot Elements (also adults-only) is one of the first to strive to provide creative vegetarian, gluten-free and organic dishes, and to source locally as much as possible.

    Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino
    An original grand dame of the Palm Beach strip, Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort was beginning to show her age until recently. Now, after total room refreshment and a new posh club level with sumptuous suites, the old magic of this 357-room landmark has resurfaced.

    The exterior has always been a classic attraction — a waterfall and pools cascading through brilliant blooms leading down to the sea. The scene is punctuated by the romantic alfresco dining spot Ruinas del Mar with live signature black swans in the tableside pond. Unfortunately, the sparse beachfront here can become overcrowded.

    Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
    A lively self-contained hub of activity with a fabulous casino, onsite dining, full-service spa and large convention center, the Aruba Marriott welcomes families and groups with aplomb. All rooms are spacious, and the beachfront offers a multitude of watersport activities.

    It has recently begun catering more to romantics by turning the posh Tradewinds Club-level top floor into an adults-only enclave, and by adding a luxurious pool and bar to the comprehensive amenities. The recently refreshed surfside romantic dining spot Atardi has a locally inspired seafood menu to match its new look.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    What are the best souvenirs to buy in Aruba?

    Aruba is home to some of the highest-quality aloe in the world, and there are many products containing it for purchase. The Dutch influence also offers up good deals on quality cheeses, Delft Blue china and fine linens.

    Unique local Aruban spirits are also a good bet. Look for ponche crema, a fortified eggnog-type liqueur, and coecoei, a thick licorice-tasting red liquor.

    Aruba’s hot sauce made from fiery local Madame Janette peppers is also a great souvenir. And now Aruba’s artistic community has a new home for high-quality and only made-in-Aruba arts and crafts called Cosecha located in downtown Oranjestad.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    Where is the best shopping in Aruba?

    One of the main shopping districts in Aruba is downtown Oranjestad. Everything from flea-market-type stalls with handicrafts and cheap souvenirs to high-end jewelry and Swiss watches are found within steps of each other. Designer fashions, duty-free perfumes and Cuban cigars abound, too.

    No tax and low duty make for some excellent bargains. Take the new free eco trolley that loops through the main streets of downtown to see what is where.

    For night shopping, head to the thoroughly modern multi-story, indoor Palm Beach Plaza just off the main Palm Beach tourist strip.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    What's the best way to see Aruba in one day?

    It’s easy to cover Aruba in a day since it’s only 70 square miles total, and the most popular attractions fringe the coasts.

    You can rent a car, but signage can be sketchy, so take a tour first to get your bearings. Lots of reputable tour operators like De Palm offer tours via bus, jeep  and ATV, and some outfits offer private tours where you set your own itinerary. There are also specialty treks like Kukoo Kunuku’s Rocks & Beaches or Animal Lover’s tours. Always bring a bathing suit; you never know when a beach might beckon.
  • On April 22, 2016
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    What are the five best things to do with kids in Aruba?

    Chances are good your children will never tire of playing in pools and the sand and surf. When you need a break, most resorts have some kind of kids’ club to keep them busy in the sun. But there are many pleasurable pastimes for all ages away from the resorts that well worth exploring, and sometimes you just need a breather from the tropical heat as well.

    Visit De Palm Island
    Adults will have just as much fun as young ones at this private island escape. There are scads of cool activities for all ages. Take a full-day pass to ensure enough time to do everything included like the all-you-can-eat buffets and snacks, open bar, a giant waterpark, zip-lining, air jumping, fabulous snorkeling with giant neon blue parrotfish, banana boat rides, salsa lessons, beach sports and more. There’s even a mini seaside spa.

    Discover the Butterfly Farm
    A trip to this tropical sanctuary full of hundreds of species of butterflies and moths is a treat for all ages. Head there early in the morning when the butterflies are most active and you might even see the wonder of one emerging from its cocoon.

    Go early in your stay, as the initial admission cost is good for return visits, and wear bright colors so the little creatures will land on you. Watching the winged wonders fly free around the plant-filled enclosures is enchanting.

    Informative guided tours lasting about 20 minutes occur regularly.

    Take A Dive Without Getting Wet
    You need not even know how to swim to get up close to Aruba’s marine life and colorful coral reefs, just get the family on board the Atlantis for an incredible journey below to the deep. It’s a real submarine and dives to depths of 130 feet so you can witness the undersea magic surrounding this island.

    You’ll also see two shipwrecks, and sometimes, divers tag along beside the windows to join the fun.

    The entire journey takes about two hours. Children must be age four or older and at least 36 inches tall.

    Encounter Cool Critters
    Though Aruba doesn’t have many native animals, it does have sanctuaries for critters and creatures that ended up on island by human intervention.

    The most comprehensive is Philip’s Animal Garden, a sprawling ranch full of all kinds of animals that needed rescue for whatever reason. Everything from kangaroos to monkeys to alligators and even deer are there, and there’s also a children’s playground.

    The Donkey Sanctuary Aruba is another great spot for families — the donkeys have been rescued from the challenges of the wild, and you can interact with them. Don’t forget to bring some treats like apples and carrots.

    Go to the Mall
    When you encounter a rare rainy day, or have simply had too much sun, head to Palm Beach Plaza mall with the kids for some indoor, air-conditioned fun. State-of-art cinemas, a big video game arcade floor, glow-in-the-dark bowling, a large food court and lots more will keep children entertained for hours. (And parents can sneak in some shopping while there as well.)

    Later, head to Paseo Herenica mall when the sun goes down to witness a lovely waltzing waters show set to music in the courtyard. It happens four times nightly and all ages will enjoy it.
  • On April 22, 2016
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best things to do in Aruba?

    Many first-time visitors are surprised to discover that Aruba is no typical tropical paradise. It’s rocky and flat. The island’s interior is a cacti-studded, desert-like outback full of meandering wild goats, donkeys, iguanas and twisted divi-divi trees.

    Its barren beauty is a stark contrast to its colorful Dutch colonial capital, but all sides of Aruba are well worth exploring to really get a sense of place. On both land and sea, there are plenty of interesting things to do beyond simply sunbathing on its beautiful beaches.

    Sail and Snorkel
    Aruba’s waters are teeming with marine life and the top snorkel spots are all close to shore. There’s also a sunken ship — the Antilla — to explore. The shipwreck is in such shallow water that snorkelers get to experience a scuba-like dive without descending into the depths.

    You’ll often spot sea turtles there, too. There are many snorkel sail operators, and most stop at the same three spots because that’s where all the fish are. Jolly Pirates’ wooden schooner often makes an additional stop to showcase rope swing acrobatics in deeper waters. Most operators also offer romantic dinner and sunset sails as well.

    Take a Jeep Safari
    There are many ways to explore Aruba’s arid outback, but taking a jeep safari to the natural pool is the best. The volcanic rock formations of the coast create a tranquil swimming spot well worth the trek.

    Hang on to your hats, however (and your sunglasses, too), as it’s a rough ride over tough terrain, especially when the driver shows off his off-roading skills. The scenery is stunning though, and you can snorkel in the natural wonder (equipment provided), but be forewarned there are steep stairs and the seaside rocks can be extremely slippery.

    Most safaris also take in some other famous landmarks en route like a fallen natural coral bridge.

    Explore Arikok Park
    You need not be a hardcore hiker to enjoy the island’s national Arikok National Park, which encompasses 20 percent of Aruba’s landmass. Drive through by rental car or take a guided tour with many outfits by road.

    But if you do want to hike, there are many options for all skill levels, including guided treks with nature experts.  The best place to start is at the large visitor center where you can learn all about the flora and fauna you will encounter, receive maps and info, and even take a complimentary mini-hike provided by the park’s rangers.

    Visit San Nicolas
    If you’re not on island during Carnival, then a visit out to San Nicolas for its weekly Carubbian Festival is the next best thing. Every Thursday night the oil-refinery-town-turned-cultural-gem hosts a major celebration with colorful parades, food stands, art and live music.

    Many resorts offer packages that include return bus transportation. You can also day trip out on your own. Plan to spend time at beautiful Baby Beach there, and then visit the new Carnival Village Museum and workshop.

    Lunch at legendary landmark Charlie’s Bar — a mini-museum in its own right — is also a must. 

    Learn a New Sport
    Did you know that Aruba is one of the world’s first pioneers of beach tennis? There are always games and instruction at MooMba Beach Bar and often upcoming tournaments.

    Aruba also boasts some of the best conditions on the planet to learn windsurfing and kite boarding. Constant trade winds and shallow waters at Fisherman’s Huts cove are ideal for beginners, and expert instruction and equipment rental is available. Then there’s the odd sport the Dutch call “blokarting.”

    Learn to drive a cart powered by a sail on land through Aruba Active Vacations, also located on Fisherman’s Huts Beach.