Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Located in the southern Caribbean Sea just off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is the most popular of the ABC islands (which also include Curacao and Bonaire.) Aruba may not be a stereotypical tropical paradise—it has an arid desert-like landscape that is wondrous to explore via ATV or hot air balloons—but its mix of predictable year-round weather (located outside the hurricane zone), friendly people, and ample resort offerings have made this island one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean. Although the island is only 21 miles long, there is no shortage of things to do while visiting this Dutch Caribbean nation. And whether you're interested in rest and relaxation or exploration and adventure, there's something for everyone on the island of Aruba. Read on for your ultimate guide to your next trip to Aruba, and find out why this nation in the West Indies is known as the "Happy Island."
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Aruba is in the early fall: After the hotter temperatures of the summer months have subsided and before the peak tourist season begins (and prices correspondingly begin to inflate) in November.
- Language: Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish
- Currency: Aruban florin; U.S. dollar is also widely accepted
- Getting Around: Ride-sharing apps aren't available on the island, but taxis are plentiful in most locations (particularly in areas frequented by tourists.) Additionally, you can rent your own wheels once you land at Queen Beatrix International Airport. Car rental agencies and taxi stands await international passengers once they arrive at the island nation's airport (located in the capital of Oranjestad).
- Travel Tip: Research to check if any free parades or festivals are taking place on the island when you visit, and this applies not only to Aruba but throughout the Caribbean as well. (Consult our monthly Caribbean event calendar for more details.)
Things to Do
Aruba has some fascinating natural wonders, including caves, rugged seashores, and sunken reefs; horseback riding, desert ATV tours, and scuba and snorkeling are popular diversions. But many of Aruba's top attractions are of the human-made variety, including the charms of the capital city of Oranjestad and Fort Zoutman, Aruba's best restaurants, and of course the many nightlife options, from casinos to hip nightclubs, and even a glow-in-the-dark bowling alley, and arcade at the Palm Beach Plaza Mall. Aruba is world-renowned for its flat, white sand beaches. The wind-bent divi-divi tree is the most recognizable national symbol of Aruba, so it's no surprise that the beaches tend to be quite breezy, a boon for windsurfers.
- When it comes to Aruba's famous beaches, Eagle Beach and Palm Beach, home to many of the island's big resorts, are among the most popular. You'll find more privacy at Rodger's Beach in San Nicholas or Andicuri Beach near the former Natural Bridge on the island's rugged northeast side.
- Check out the local festivals! Aruba's annual Carnival is the highlight of the social season, running from late January to early February. Islanders' love of the sea is reflected in the yearly Hi-Winds windsurfing competition in mid-summer and the Aruba Heineken Catamaran Regatta in November. The Tierra del Sol resort holds an annual Pro-Am golf tournament, and audiophiles flock to the Soul Beach Music Festival and the Aruba Music Festival.
What to Eat and Drink
Aruba has the most extensive variety of dining options in the Caribbean outside of Puerto Rico, from familiar fast-food outlets (McDonald's, KFC, Wendy's, and Sbarro, to name a few) to fine-dining restaurants serving traditional Aruban dishes (like shrimp en cacao) in historic country homes. You'll also find an abundance of steakhouses, many serving wood-grilled churrasco-style dishes. Overall, Aruba has as an excellent selection of restaurants.
As for where to drink, Aruba after dark features a little bit of everything. Party at the Sky Lounge or take a ride on the Kukoo Kunuku, the wildest and crazy bus there ever was. Or attend one of the Vegas-style shows, go salsa dancing, or gamble at the casinos. Hotels have beach barbecues and cocktail hours. Or just grab a tropical drink and stroll along the beach or enjoy some nighttime shopping.
Where to Stay
Aruba is primarily known for its big resorts, notably the high-rise hotels along Palm Beach. Here you'll find familiar brands like Marriott and Hyatt, plus three all-inclusive Divi resorts that boast brand new spas, 60 new rooms, and the new PureBeach restaurant. Other options include private villas and homes and, for the budget-minded, apartment rentals. For a slightly more unique travel experience (while still staying in a hotel), check out some of the island's more unique offerings, including Aruba's hotel within a hotel accommodation, as well as its overwater bungalows.
Explore our feature on where to stay in Aruba, and check out our recommendations on the island's top hotels and the best all-inclusive resorts. For additional reading (and hotel-stay considerations), read our overview of the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort.
Getting There and Around
There is only one airport to be found on the island of Aruba. Queen Beatrix International Airport is located in the capital city of Oranjestad. It provides some of the most reliable and regular airlift throughout the West Indies and is the primary hub of Aruba Airlines, but also has service from other airlines, such as Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit, United, WestJet, and many more.
Once you arrive, Aruba is relatively easy to navigate. Aruba is 70 square miles (nearly 20 miles long and six miles wide) and is therefore very easy to explore via car; rent a vehicle once you land at Queen Beatrix International Airport. Having your own set of wheels is particularly helpful if you want to explore more remote areas of the island. But if you don't have your own vehicle, don't fear: Taxis are plentiful throughout the country. (Ride-sharing apps are not available on the island.)
Explore our guide to picking what island to choose in the Caribbean, as well as our full-length article on Queen Beatrix International Airport.
Aruba Culture and History
The island was first inhabited by the Arawak indigenous people and later colonized by the Dutch. Aruba declared its independence from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986, and while the Dutch influence remains, Aruba is a cultural melting pot, as evidenced by its native language, Papiamento, a creole language with Portuguese and Spanish influences.
- To avoid increased costs for accommodations and airfare, visitors should look to visit Aruba in the off-season. Peak tourist season on the island occurs from November through March, so if you are planning your trip for the colder months (and who can blame you?), just be sure to book as far in advance as possible to score hotel and airline deals.
- Check to see if the service fee is included in your hotel or restaurant bill; otherwise, a 10 to 15 percent tip is customary.
- Cost-conscious travelers should consider booking an all-inclusive resort in Aruba. Staying at an all-inclusive resort is especially helpful for people traveling with families or larger groups.
- Consider staying in less-populated areas (easy to find on the desert island of Aruba). While the capital of Oranjestad is the most famous tourist destination, there are smaller towns as well where visitors can stay during their island vacation.
Learn more about the cheapest ways to have fun while exploring the West Indies with our article on Caribbean budget travel tips and destinations.