Aruba's most famous landmark, the Natural Bridge, was reclaimed by the sea in 2005. But this desert island has plenty of other great natural and manmade wonders to visit and explore, including tours of the islands' s vast parklands, historic churches, windswept ruins, and even an offshore playground.
At the Aruba Butterfly Farm, hundreds of fascinating, gorgeous butterflies flutter freely in a mesh, richly vegetated enclosure you walk through. Bring a camera and be patient, because the shots you can get are amazing.
A museum dedicated to all-things aloe? Yup, and if you’re into the manufacture and history of things, this isn’t a bad option on a rare rainy day in Aruba. Plus, the aloe makes your skin feel oh-so-good ... especially if you've been out in the Caribbean sun too long.
Book an Aruba Island Tour that Includes a Visit to the Aloe Factory
A path lined with white crosses -- markers for the traditional Stations of the Cross -- leads uphill to the picturesque Chapel of Alto Vista, the first church built in Aruba. The tiny, gaily painted neo-Gothic chapel was built in the 1750s and still holds special meaning for Arubans, who call it the Pilgrim's Church.
National Archaeological Museum
The Aruba Archaeological Museum is unusual for a couple of reasons. It was the first museum of it's kind in the Caribbean and, unlike many other Caribbean museums (which tend to be a little, um, ad hoc), this Oranjestad museum is a modern facility worthy of any big city in the world.
The museum tracks the human history of Aruba, which dates back as far as 2,500 BC, when the first Amerindians arrived from Central and South America. Artifacts from this early period as well as the time of the Caquito Indian habitation, which ended in 1515, when the island was conquered and the inhabitants enslaved by the Spanish. The colonial period also is detailed through artifact exhibits.
A bonus of visiting the museum is that it is located in a historic 'cunucu' (or plantation) house, built in 1870 as a private home, and lovingly restored.
Arawak indian drawings, desert landscapes and giant lizards are some of the highlights of this national treasure, which makes up about 20 percent of Aruba. The park has more than 20 miles of walking trails and amazing indigenous flora and fauna. Park rangers are available throughout the park to answer questions and lead hiking tours.
Book a Baby Beach Jeep Adventure that includes stops in Arikok National Park.
The old stone California Point Lighthouse has nothing to do with the Golden State; rather, it is named for an offshore wreck, the 100-year-old, 250-foot California, which sits upright on the bottom of the ocean just offshore. From its lofty perch, the lighthouse has become one of Aruba's scenic trademarks and offers sweeping views of the island's western coast and beaches.
The brightly-painted landmark Fort Zoutman tower marks the Oranjestad locale of Aruba's Historical Museum. Aruba's oldest building, the fort was constructed in 1798 to protect the Dutch colony from the English and other rivals; the tower was added in 1868, serving as both a lighthouse and clock tower. The museum, housed in the tower, traces Aruba's development from prehistory through the 1920s. It's open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed from noon to 1:30 for lunch), and also hosts a weekly Bon Bini ("welcome" in Papiamento) festival on Tuesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. -- a great time to learn a little about Aruba's colorful past through its music and folklore.
Petroglyphs and pirates' tales are part of the history of Guadiriki Caves, located on the island's south coast and -- like the rest of Arikok National Park -- open to visitors. Come at the right time of day and you'll be bathed in sunlight in special chambers, or venture into the dark through a 100-foot tunnel to visit an active bat cave.
Bushiribana Gold Mine Ruins
Aruba means "red gold," and the island was indeed the site of a mini Gold Rush in the early 19th century. When gold was discovered in 1824, mines sprung up along the island's northern coast, eventually producing more than 3 million pounds of ore. The seaside remains of these mines can be explored today near another popular ruin -- Aruba's famed Natural Bridge, now collapsed into the sea.
Book a Baby Beach Jeep Adventure that includes stops at the gold mines and natural bridge.
Aruba visitors often overlook the rugged north shore of Aruba, where the pounding waves and jagged coastline provide a sharp contrast to the mild Caribbean beaches and waters found on the south side of the island. One oasis of calm on the north shore is Aruba's famous natural pool, hollowed out by the sea from volcanic rock and a great place to spend an afternoon splashing around in relative serenity. Locally known as "conchi" or the "Cura di Tortuga," the natural pool is accessible only over rough terrain, making a jeep rental or tour essential for a visit.
DePalm Tours is the biggest tour operator on Aruba -- so big, in fact, that they've even got a private island of their own. DePalm Island, depending on your perspective, is either a cheesy tourist trap or a convenient one-stop destination where you can experience all of the best watersports activities in a day full of fun. Taking the more generous view, it's a pretty good deal: for about $100 or so you'll get an unlimited buffet and open bar, snorkeling, access to a private beach and water park, banana boat rides, and free activities like beach volleyball and salsa lessons. Also available for an additional fee are Snuba and Sea Trek, plus on-the-beach massages.
Rum is the drink most commonly associated with the Caribbean, but Aruba seems more of a beer place, and the popular local beer (besides the Dutch import, Heineken) is Balashi, which has its brewery in the Aruba countryside. Tours and tastings are offered Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and there's an open-air bar/restaurant called Balashi Gardens where you can relax over a couple of cold ones after the tour. Friday Happy Hour is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Book an 'Essence of Aruba' Tour, Including a Visit to the Balashi Brewery