Just north of the coast of Venezuela sit the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Aruba, the most northwestern, is also the smallest of the three.
Aruba’s size, just 21 miles by six miles, makes it very easy to explore. Even better, it packs a surprising variety into that tiny area.
From amazing beaches to historic landmarks, here are some of the best things to do in Aruba. With everything within such easy reach, you may even be able to fit them all in.
Cast off for a Catamaran Cruise
Is there a better way of experiencing the Caribbean than sailing along one of its shores with the wind in your hair and a cocktail in hand? A catamaran trip along the picturesque and sheltered west coast of Aruba will tick both those boxes, and more.
Evening cruises are a popular way to take in the spectacular sunsets along this western coastline. A snorkeling expedition during the day is an equally enjoyable option.
Aruba is a snorkeler’s paradise and you don’t want to miss amazing sites such as the Antilla Wreck. This scuttled World War II German cargo ship is not just for scuba divers, as you can take in its colorful fish and coral from the surface.
The same cruise may also take you to Catalina Bay, where the fish are tame enough to swim all around you. The clear, shallow water is a great place to take photos as well as being perfect for less confident swimmers.
Photo the Fofotis on Eagle Beach
Eagle Beach is a perfect stretch of white sand and one of Aruba’s best beaches. It sits on the northwest coast, only a short hop and skip from the capital of Oranjestad.
The gnarled and photogenic fofoti trees in the sand on the water’s edge are a distinctive feature of Aruba. They are very similar to the divi divi trees that are native to the ABC Islands.
Looking like giant bonsai trees with their wind-twisted trunks, they’re a photographer’s dream at sunset.
Lapping the white sand of Eagle Beach is calm turquoise water, perfect for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. Bars and restaurants line the land side, but the beach is long enough to absorb plenty of visitors.
Enjoy a Quiet Moment at Alto Vista Chapel
The beautiful, bright yellow Alto Vista Chapel on the north shore of Aruba is picture perfect. It’s in regular use as a Catholic church but everyone is welcome.
This is the first chapel built on Aruba—and perhaps the Caribbean. It was founded in 1750 but this building replaced a former structure in 1952.
Surrounded by a low stone wall, the chapel has open-air pews for any overflow of worshippers who can’t fit inside the tiny interior. A small labyrinth nearby makes for another opportunity for contemplation.
The church stands in a scrubby area of sand and cactus. However, a local organization, Trees4Peace, has planted indigenous trees here to help restore the original island environment.
Take a Dip in the Natural Pool
On Aruba’s rugged eastern shoreline, this tranquil pool of clear blue water sits amid rough volcanic rock. Waves crash against the shoreline nearby to throw seawater and spray high into the air.
This contrast of surging Caribbean Sea and the calm waters of the pool makes for an amazing setting. Adding to the appeal of this photogenic natural wonder is its remoteness.
Known as Conchi (“Bowl”), the pool can only be reached by 4×4 vehicles, boat, horseback, or a tiring trek over rough terrain. It is also inside Arikok National Park, so most visitors discover it on organized tours, such as a jeep safari.
However you come, you’ll go away with a great memory. Don’t forget your water shoes for the rough rock and a snorkel to see the fish that inhabit the pool.
Never mind the best thing to do in Aruba; this might be one of the best things to do in the Caribbean.
Handle a Caterpillar at the Butterfly Farm
Remember the joy of seeing your first butterfly as a child? Recapture some of that innocent sense of wonder on a visit to Aruba’s wonderful Butterfly Farm.
Set up by eccentric Englishman William Slayter in 1999, the farm has hundreds of different species from around the world. You can see, photograph and carefully handle the butterflies and their equally colorful and varied caterpillars.
Go in the morning to see the butterflies at their most active. On the other hand, they start to slow down in the afternoon, making that a better time for photography.
A favorite for many visitors is the Blue Morpho, one of the largest butterflies in the world. Its iridescent scales reflect the light in an ever-changing display of color.
The black and orange-winged Monarch Butterfly is another striking and familiar species. It’s notable for its migration from the U.S. to Mexico every winter.
The farm holds regular 15-minute tours that you can join at any time during your visit. They also offer advice on making your own garden butterfly-friendly, so you can bring a little of the magic home.
Bar Hop on the Kukoo Kunuku Bus
Take an old school bus, redecorate it with hand-painted colors and bright lights. Fill it with good sounds and a crowd of people ready to party and you have the makings of a night to remember.
The Kukoo Kunuku bus will take you on a fun-filled tour of Aruba’s nightlife. Picking you up and dropping you off, all you have to do is go along for the ride.
The night starts with champagne on the beach while you watch the sunset. A typical Caribbean dinner follows to meet fellow guests and prepare for the evening ahead.
Then it’s off to visit three different bars and clubs. With a drink in each, a good time is pretty much guaranteed.
At the end of the evening, you’ll have enjoyed plenty of tropical cocktails, shaken a few maracas and made some new friends. You may have also found a new favorite bar.
Stroll Around Oranjestad
Aruba is known for its picturesque architecture. Its capital, Oranjestad, is full of ornate pastel-colored buildings, many with Dutch-style gables.
Take a walk through the downtown area to see buildings such as the green-shuttered Arends Building, now the City Hall. Equally lovely is the Hotel Colombia, Aruba’s first hotel and now the Population Registry.
You can join a guided tour with the Aruba Tourism Authority or wander around on your own. Find out more about Aruba in the Historical Museum in Fort Zoutman and the National Archeological Museum, the building of which dates to 1929.
In between, you should pop into some of the many interesting shops. The Local Market is a great stop for Aruba souvenirs, from handicrafts to cigars, brightly decorated mopa mopa art, and Dutch cheeses.
Enjoy Two Miles of Sand at Palm Beach
Two miles of soft, white sand shaded by palm trees make for one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Add in the coral gardens offshore, a snorkeling paradise, and you have something very special.
No wonder it’s lined with luxury hotels, restaurants and beach bars. You’ll also find water sports vendors and plenty of shops, including two malls.
In the evening, Palm Beach is a place to stroll and take in the sunset. Afterwards, there are diversions such as a casino, bowling, cinema and nightclubs.
Together with nearby Eagle Beach, this is the heart of Aruba beachlife. Palm Beach is the quieter option, with plenty of room to find a stretch of sand to yourself.
The landscape of Aruba, especially outside the rainy season, looks too arid to support much wildlife. However, it actually has more than 200 recorded bird species.
One reason is the number of different environments, from coral reefs and rock pools to mangroves and suburban gardens. In the last national bird count, some 25,000 individual birds were seen.
Along the shore you can spot pelicans, plovers, sandpipers and frigate-birds. You’ve probably heard of Aruba’s imported flamingoes, but ten species of tern actually breed here, including a third of the world’s Cayenne Terns.
Freshwater species include cormorants, egrets, herons, grebes and ducks. Elsewhere, you will see hummingbirds, parakeets and the multi-colored Prikichi, Aruba’s national bird.
Other interesting species include the orange and black troupial and the long-legged burrowing owl. The most common bird is the noisy tropical mockingbird, while the rarest is the ground-dwelling crested bobwhite.
Take in the View From the California Lighthouse
The California Lighthouse is a landmark on Aruba’s northwest point. The high white tower, standing on a small hill, makes for an imposing sight against the blue of sea and sky.
Dating to 1916, it is named for a wooden steamship that foundered on the rocks below in 1891. The 123 spiral steps will take you to the top where you can enjoy fantastic—and often windswept—views all around.
The panorama takes in much of the eastern and western shores of Aruba. Inland sights such as the scenic Tierra del Sol golf course and Oranjestad are also visible.
The area around the lighthouse is also well worth exploring for a taste of Caribbean nature. The landscape is rugged and rocky, with strong winds, so take care if you stray too far.
Go Wild in Arikok National Park
Almost a fifth of Aruba’s land area, and almost all its wilderness, is preserved in Arikok’s National Park. The roads here are rough, so an all-terrain vehicle is the best way to go.
Take a tour with a guide who will tell you about the park’s flora and fauna, as well as its history. Rock paintings by the Caquetío have been found in Cunucu Arikok and Fontein Cave.
At a former plantation site, two adobe buildings have been restored to show how early settlers lived. Known as Cunucu (“countryside”) houses, they were built with indigenous materials.
Tours end at Conchi, better known as the Natural Pool, where you can swim to cool off. The sea offshore is also part of the park, where coral, sea life and birds are protected.
Snorkel with the Fish at Arashi Beach
Near the northwest tip of Aruba, overlooked by the California Lighthouse, Arashi Beach is a swimmer’s paradise. With white sand, clear water and mild currents, it also offers gentle surf, perfect for beginners.
Swim along the beach, particularly on the left side, to see the abundant sea life, including brightly colored corals and sponges, sea stars, eels, squid, and with luck, sea turtles. Then relax in a sun lounger to soak up some Caribbean rays.
With no major hotels nearby, and only a few palm trees for natural shade, the beach is one of the quietest on Aruba. No surprise it’s popular with Arubans themselves.
Facilities include showers and “palapa” palm-thatched beach huts. You also might be lucky enough to hear some live music.
Eat Your Fill of Dutch Pancakes
What’s the difference between Dutch pancakes and American pancakes? If you don’t know, it’s worth finding out for yourself.
With its Dutch heritage, Aruba is a great place to start researching. These thin pancakes are served with fresh fruits such as bananas and rum-soaked raisins or in a savory version with bacon.
You can find a number of pancake outlets, while many restaurants have them on their menu. There is even a street food van specializing in “poffertjes”, a Dutch mini pancake.
You make up for the small size of poffertjes by eating a large batch, covered with sugar and butter. The Dutch Pancakehouse in Oranjestad’s Renaissance Marketplace is a great place to find all sizes and types.
Read: Best Food in Aruba
Discover the Health Benefits of Aloe
After logging and goats robbed Aruba of its tree cover, it became difficult to make a living from the arid soil. Crops such as tobacco and peanuts were tried and failed.
Then, in the 1840s, aloes imported from Africa to several parts of the Caribbean reached the ABC Islands. The plant did so well in Aruba that, by the early 1900s, it was the world’s leading exporter of aloe gum.
The family-owned Aruba Aloe is now the world’s oldest aloe company. It grows its own supply on the island and makes everything from shower gels and soap to lip balm and deodorants.
Visit their shop for a full range of island-made products or find them in outlets around the island. They make a great souvenir from Aruba for yourself or a loved one—and aloe is a great natural remedy for sunburn, should you have overdone it.
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