Bon Bini, Papiamento for welcome, is a phrase you’ll not just hear regularly in Aruba, but genuinely feel. When it comes to all of the best reasons to visit Aruba, it’s this friendly atmosphere that outshines them all. The nation promotes itself as ‘one happy island’ and unlike most marketing tag-lines, this one is certainly no overstatement.
I absolutely loved Aruba, and even though white-sand islands where relaxing is the main draw aren’t always my number one choice as I get fidgety, Aruba offers plenty of adventures and activities to more than fill a week thanks to the natural parks, water sports and cultural offerings, as you’ll see on my one week in Aruba travel guide.
For many of the following reasons, and plenty more, I actually nominated and wrote about Aruba as one of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel destinations for 2020. While sadly 2020 meant anything but travel for most of us, all these reasons still ring true and – given how the last year has played out – a visit to one of the happiest islands in the world is likely what we all need right now – so let’s dive right into some of the best reasons to visit Aruba!
The beautiful beaches
I’m going to take a guess that most visitors to Aruba are coming for the star attraction, the beaches – and boy are they beautiful.
Whether you want to lounge up with easy access to water-sports and beachside cafes or find a completely hidden spot surrounded by mangroves, you are covered on all bases in Aruba.
Having been to a few different Caribbean islands now, the beaches on Aruba have so far been my favourite. The sand is delightfully soft and white, beaches stretch in all directions, and (certainly, none that I visited) have an entry charge – something I noticed in other islands. This is also great as you can take long walks along the vast stretches, without having to come inland to get around a private resort.
Some of my favourites include Mangel Halto, a bit below the capital and devoid of others when I visited, and Arashi Beach, sitting in front of the sand-dunes which lead to the California Lighthouse. Even the main resort spot of Palm Beach felt pretty relaxing, and as the ‘high-rise’ section of the island is minimal and well managed, you never feel like you are lounging in front of a concrete jungle of resorts like you might in other places. Bottom line – the beaches are ace – some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Year round dreamy temperatures
Aruba sits below the hurricane belt making it a safe year-round destination and one of the best islands to visit – a very appealing offering in this part of the world.
Even though rainfall and some storms are common between September and December, the warm temperates stay for the whole year (except between mid-high 20c on average) and showers, in those months, are often short. It’s a destination you can be planning to visit anytime, and good weather is a pretty sure bet.
A warm welcome
As I mentioned above, the welcome in Aruba is super friendly (there was even a band playing at the airport when we arrived!) and it’s this relaxing welcome that you want when you are going on a proper holiday.
I’ve never been anywhere before where the locals pride themselves so much on their island slogan of ‘one happy island’ and while it would be naive to say any place is perfect, from a visitors point of view you’ll be made to feel it very much is. Big smiles, lots of laughter, plenty of rum and friendly service makes for a very relaxing slice of paradise.
One of the main reason I nominated Aruba for the Best In Travel award was it’s ongoing working and commitment to being more environmentally supportive. While sadly the current situation is seeing single-use products rise for health and safety reasons, Aruba has plenty of initiatives it’s working on including a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.
The islands total ban of single-use plastics (the tap water is drinkable) should have completed in 2020, but with the situation, this is likely now on hold, but a ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone has been introduced, as the protection of the reefs is paramount. There are plenty of eco-certified accommodation offerings on the island, and you can tell when there that people really take pride in the island and are collectively working towards being a fully green tourism destination.
Adventures in Arikok National Park
Inland, the landscape provides a stark contrast to the beaches, however. The arid inland part of Arikok National Park runs into rocky beaches and golden sands. Covering around 20% of the island, the national park is part eco-tourism destination and partly reserved for research.
Hiking and bike trails provide a sustainable alternative to exploring by 4WD, and you can easily spend a full day or more in the park. Visit the caves, where golden sunlight beams through holes in the ceiling and cave paintings from the islands earliest inhabitants, the Caquetio, can be found.
Outside, hike or bike through the craggy and cacti consumed scenery, and then relax on the remote Dos Playa beach. The cerulean-hued coastline isn’t just for admiring though, with natural swimming pools for bathing, and a turtle nesting spot nearby.
Water sports and diving
The islands famed white sands and lapping waves offer plenty of beachside relaxation, but watersport fanatics can indulge in a plethora of options, from SUP on calm waters to kitesurfing the windswept coast. Most popular beaches along the island have plenty of boards and equipment for hire, and the prices were pretty reasonable for the Caribbean, so you can just pay and pick up when you fancy heading out.
Along the coast, there are multiple shipwrecks which make Aruba a prime scuba diving certification destination, and there are plenty of trusted outlets with guides and dive-masters offering trips and lessons in various languages. It would actually be a great place to learn to scuba-dive I imagine, as the waters are warm and relatively calm, and you have unique spots such as the USS Antilla shipwreck, and even an underwater aircraft to enjoy when qualified.
Stargazing away from the resorts
Aruba offered some of the best star-gazing I’ve seen, and surprisingly the light-pollution of the resorts fades quite quickly when you move inland.
In and around the Arikok national park you will find some of the best stargazing on the island – although parts are restricted entry at certain times. If you have a car, or ideally a 4WD though, you’ll be able to head off and find some fantastic vantage spots and see the night sky awash with stars.
The colourful capital of Oranjestad
Aruba’s capital city, Oranjestad, is sprinkled with splashy colonial buildings in various pastel and even almost neon shades.
It’s very much a walkable city to explore but even still, a colourful free tram service runs throughout the town so you can get around even easier, worth jumping on for the novelty alone.
It’s a safe city, and I enjoyed both coming here in the day but also at night for walking tours, and to enjoy local dishes. There’s plenty of evening entertainment, from live music in the restaurants to late-night bars, and also enough museums and historical attractions to fill a lazy day with.
While there are plenty of the shops you would expect at a popular cruise destination, such as high-end designer boutiques, there are still plenty of local stores, and artisan shops, just a little further away from the front-line ocean malls – the community art centre a great place to buy some local souvenirs.
Culture, carnival and creativity in San Nicolas
Carnival in Aruba is a big deal, and the carnival celebrations build up well over a month, with the biggest carnival taking place the week before Ash Wednesday in February.
If you aren’t lucky enough to time your visit to Aruba with the carnival, fear not, as the cultural hub city of San Nicolas provides plenty of colour and art instead.
In the south of the islands, San Nicolas has enjoyed a huge revitalisation in recent years. Street art, from both local and international artists, now decorates walls, buildings and squares, while a museum dedicated to Carnival, and an art-space can also be found here.
Take a walking tour around the city with a local guide, and try and visit for one of the pop-up ‘mini carnival’ events with live music, street dancing, and great local food.
Aloe Farms & Luxury Pampering
Aruba Aloe is a whole industry to itself, transporting the island’s population of this plant into luxury creams, gels and other products – the lip balm with a coconut flavour is always in my travel bag these days. Interestingly, Aruba Aloe is actually the oldest Aloe company in the world!
While a tour to the Aloe farm is possible and gives you a short and helpful introduction to this industry, it’s likely best enjoyed within a spa treatment and a bit of pampering – which there is no lack of in Aruba.
Most high-end and middle-range hotels have a Spa offering in Aruba, with options such as beach-side massages and treatments popular. It’s also possible to visit many of these Spas for day-passes or treatments, with Okeanos Spa at the Renassaince and Intermezzo Day Spas for their open-air treatments two sure bets.
Pocket-sized side trips
California Lighthouse, Alto Vista
I’ll be honest, when it’s warm I don’t always want to be trekking around all day in the heat ticking off lots of different attractions. Thanks to never being far from the beach in Aruba, and the bite-size nature of the popular tourist spots, you can easily do a half-day visiting sights, or combine them with a beach visit.
For example, the California Lighthouse stands above the California Sand dunes, alongside the beautiful Arashi Beach. You can enjoy some time on the sand and gently trek towards the lighthouse. From the top, you can admire some amazing views across the island and get great photos.
Likewise, the chapel of Alto Vista provides a popular photo-spot, or The Butterfly Farm and Donkey Sanctuary offer an animal-friendly attraction. There are plenty of pocket-size activities to fill your time with if you can pull yourself away from the beach!
An array of cuisine
Aruba is an island packed with various difference cuisines, ranging from typical American cooking to Dutch and Indonesian influenced cuisine due to the islands colonial past with The Netherlands. Whether it’s typical fast food, luxury resort dining, or picnic bowls on the beach, you can find pretty much anything ranging from cheap street-food to super expensive and exclusive options.
That said, there are still plenty of local dishes well worth sampling, from sweet flat-bread (Pan bati) to warming stews which may seem a bit out of place given the climate of the island, with goat stew (Kabrito Stoba) and fish (Keri Keri) two popular options.
To get a bite-size introduction to both the history of the island and the multi-cultural foodie offering, join one of the fantastic Aruba Walking Tours around the capital, which includes stops at local restaurants in the price for a sampling of various dishes. Oh, and don’t forget all the rum!
Ideal for everyone
Lastly, and often the most critical factor whether it’s a trip with your mates, as a couple, or a family, is that I just can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t like Aruba.
The climate is pleasant, but not too hot. The beaches are ideal for lazy days, while those who want to hike or have adventures can. You can easily stay in the most pristine hotel, or book a private apartment, and the food scene covers pretty much anything you could wish for.
As such, I really do think it’s a very safe bet as a holiday destination for everyone. There is literally nothing not to like, which is rare for me to say of a place, and while other islands in the Caribbean dazzled me in different ways, such as the lush green hiking in Dominica, or the seemingly never-ending beaches of Antigua and Barbuda, they didn’t seem to tick as many boxes or offer such a crowd-pleasing array of options.
So, if you are looking for an easy, relaxing and most importantly happy island escape, Aruba might be the perfect ticket!