No worries if you’re only on One Happy Island for a short time, Aruba is a compact treasure trove of pleasurable pastimes and awesome adventures to discover on land and sea. Find out the best things to do in Aruba with this ultimate self-care guide for your Aruba vacation.
Do-it-yourself downtown tour
Hop on and hop off the free eco-trolley that loops the downtown core to get a sense of what there is to enjoy in colorful and cosmopolitan capital city, Oranjestad. Modern high-end shopping emporiums like the multilevel indoor/outdoor Renaissance Mall beckon with upscale jewelry, designer clothing, and more. There are also colorful arcades like the Royal Plaza Mall in beautifully restored Dutch colonial buildings for unique gifts and souvenirs. Downtown is also dotted with international eateries surrounding the port and a bit farther up at the Renaissance Marketplace as well as exciting casinos and some interesting museums. And don’t forget to take home some of Aruba’s famous aloe products; this island exports some of the absolute best quality aloe in the world! If you’d rather learn more about Oranjestad’s interesting history, book a guided walking adventure with Aruba Walking Tours, they also do foodie fusion tours around local downtown restaurants at night.
Want to make it double-duty day? Shop and sunbathe? No problem. You can drive or grab an inexpensive taxi to Surfside Beach, just a few minutes from downtown toward the airport; it’s perfect for a refreshing dip in the sea. You’ll find great drinks and food there as well as umbrella and chair rentals. If you only have a few hours, downtown Oranjestad has lots to offer by way of a perfect Aruba day.
Easy beach hopping
For those who take their beach bumming seriously, Aruba is awash with spectacular stretches of sand that are all linked together by one major thoroughfare, and they are all open to the public! You can drive, grab a cab, or take Aruba’s public transit from the main terminal right downtown or at one of the many stops along the coast. The air-conditioned buses are modern and affordable and stop at every major resort along all the most popular beaches. Eagle Beach is the first, it’s laid back and relaxed, lining the lowrise resort stretch, while Palm Beach is the more active surfside playground cresting the highrise stretch chock full of watersports, activities, beach bars, and dining spots. Everything is within an easy walk back to a bus stop or a taxi stand.
Surreal surf and turf trips
Aruba’s tour operators and activity directors are first rate, and some adventures combine the best of both worlds with snorkeling or swimming at locations like the unique Natural Pool or beautiful Baby Beach. There are all kinds of terrestrial oddities to discover on this island such as bizarre rock formations and ancient bat-filled caves. And Aruba’s interior is very arid, cacti-studded, desert-like, and dotted with gnarled trees, lounging lizards, feral goats, and even wild donkeys. Easy going tours include air-conditioned motor coaches to famous landmarks like the lovely Alto Vista Chapel, the California lighthouse, the Gold Mill ruins, and the wildly, romantic North Coast. But if you really want to tour the rugged outback and get the authentic “shake and bake” experience as locals call it, then a tougher form of transport is required like an ATV, a jeep, or even a monster truck. But no worries, there are tour operators that offer those options too.
If you’d rather take it slower, there are horseback tours, cycle and swim tours, or guided walks and hikes. Or stop in to the visitor center at Arikok National Park for maps and information about the island’s inherently elusive nature. It all depends on your interests, but it’s easy to mix and match adventures all in one day.
Sensational sea escapades
To really enjoy Aruba’s seas, you have to get closer to the waves, or even under them! This island has some of the best diving in the Caribbean and there are many dive operators eager to take you out, but even if you’re not certified to dive, you can still witness an underwater shipwreck just by snorkeling as the sunken Antilla is very close to the shore and in very shallow waters. Most of the snorkeling trips include this site and also stop at two other fish-filled spots. Or if you don’t snorkel, there are party boats and dinner/sunset sails available as well. You can also get close to Aruba’s resplendent reefs without even getting wet via a semi-submarine or a real submarine tour under the sea. And you can enjoy the island sights riding the waves with serene sea kayak tours.
Creature and critter encounters
The Butterfly Farm is a must for nature lovers with hundreds of winged wonders to admire, or get up close and personal with some funny, flightless birds at the Aruba Ostrich Farm. A visit to the nonprofit Donkey Sanctuary that makes a forever home for donkeys that can no longer live in the wild is also enlightening, and their residents always appreciate a visit especially if you bring snacks likes apples and carrots. Philip’s Animal Garden is another wonderful refuge for unwanted creatures and critters, and they offer interactive and educational tours with over 50 species of exotic animals.
Please be an eco-responsible visitor
Even if your visit to Aruba is brief, your impact on the environment can be felt. But there are many ways to lesson your footprint. Aruba has passed environmental laws including a ban of plastic bags, cups, straws, and Styrofoam take-out containers. The island has also banned environmentally harmful sunscreens, but there are many spots to purchase the reef-friendly kind here. So please abide by the new rules to help keep our island paradise clean and pristine. Take only photographs and leave only ripples.
As you can see, there are lots of great things to do on Aruba if you only have a short stay here, but chances are good, once you get a preview of this island’s appeal, you’ll want to return for a much longer visit. We’ll be waiting.
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