Things to Do in Aruba

Image courtesy of Pixabay


Part of the Netherlands Antilles group of Caribbean islands — the “A” in the “ABC” (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) — Aruba is surprisingly affordable. It lacks the hype of the major tourist islands like Jamaica, Barbados and The Bahamas, so if you plan your vacation appropriately, it can be one of the most affordable tropical island getaways.

Because it is part of the Netherlands, you’ll find Aruba to be neat and clean, with Dutch Colonial architecture, and much more affluent in terms of the median wealth of the general population. Some other Caribbean islands show off as all glitz to the tourists, but have a dark side of poverty. Aruba’s combination of English, Dutch and Venezuelan inhabitants are not fractionalized (the island is quite small, so best everyone gets along).

But Aruba is large enough to boast al wide range of accommodations and dining, from very upscale to modest, all of them operated by tourist-friendly people. On top of that, the island is located directly in the path of the tradewinds, blowing west to east, so consistent that not only is there always a refreshing breeze, but the trees bend permanently in the direction of the wind.

While Dutch is the formal language of the island, native patois “Papiamento” is the most spoken tongue, but virtually everyone speaks English given that 75% of the island’s business is tourism. About one-third of Aruba’s residents are of European extraction, many of the balance from South America as Aruba lies 29km (18mi) north of the coats of Venezuela.

Aruba boasts a duty-free (great bargains on luxury goods!) port (Oranjestad) as its capital, a secondary smaller town (San Nicolaas) that welcomes locals and tourists alike, and is home to a world-class bar named Charlie’s (customers from afar bring trinkets and car licence plates to hang on the crowded walls!), stunning white-sand beaches, caves to explore, even fences made entirely of cacti in the large desert portion of the island. Aruba has it all!

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Things to Do in Aruba

Jolly Pirates Sailing Cruises

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What could be better than a fun half day or evening on a traditional pirate ship with excellent BBQ food and an open bar? Not much! Jolly Pirates Sailing Cruises, Aruba, guarantees a fun time, without any sign of eye-patches, wooden legs or pilfered gold coins!

There are three cruises to choose from, all of them highly popular, so book in advance. The most requested one leaves Moomba beach in the morning and runs for four hours, including lunch and copious drinking (rum punch, anyone?). The teak pirate ship replicas tour the areas of Aruba with renowned snorkelling thanks to abundant fish and corals; they also stop at the WWII shipwreck, Antilla, for the ultimate in ocean mystery and fun. Those less inclined to commune underwater can swim in the turquoise waters nearby the anchored ship, or swing out on the rope, pirate-style, and drop into the warm ocean.

The afternoon cruise focusses on snorkelling locations for three hours, and the two-hour sunset cruise... well, bring your lover. Spectacular!

One bit of advice: since the alcohol flows freely on the Jolly Pirates Sailing Cruises, be sure to drink enough water, too, to avoid dehydration and sickness, and please, walk, take a cab or get a ride from your hotel to the departure location and back again when your cruise is done. Keep your pirate day a fun one!

Downtown Oranjestad

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Not only is Oranjestad the capital city of Aruba, it’s the centre of “town” activities. With its stunning Dutch Colonial architecture, busy harbour and bustling shops, Oranjestad is a must-see, even if your plan in visiting Aruba was to just park on a beach and read; don’t miss this lovely town!

When you hear locals say “OJ”, they don’t mean orange juice; they mean, affectionately, Oranjestad. Resplendent with colourfully-painted houses and a glorious outdoor shopping mall at Royal Plaza, Oranjestad has the best of urban life without the usual problems. Its population of roughly 35,000 isn’t enough to clog the streets with cars and people, so its open, airy sensibility is stark.

The downtown area of Oranjestad is walkable and picturesque (be certain to bring your camera). Great care has been taken to preserve the Dutch heritage of the island of Aruba, and buildings in its capital are no exception; they are in excellent condition, a reflection of the overall prosperity of this Netherlands-owned island in the Caribbean (together with Bonaire, Curaçao and Sint Maarten). Holland clearly ensures things are picture-perfect in its treasured Aruba.

A walking tour will enable tourists to view the pretty, unique structures in the form of the court house, various churches, the archaeological museum, a range of plazas, and the university. Statues abound, as Aruba has a grand, long and varied history.

The port area is endlessly busy, and markets sell a selection of wares and foodstuffs, some of them directly off the ships. The city is lined with eating establishments of all tastes and varieties; try local dishes or international fare.

Although Oranjestad is situated, technically, on the south coast, the island is not on a north-south/east-west grid, so Oranjestad appears to be more on the west side slant of the south shore. A portion of the land — the section with Renaissance Marketplace and Queen Wilhelmina Park — is reclaimed fro the sea, in grand old Dutch tradition.

And while on Aruba, be sure to visit one of its other towns, San Nicolass; here the locals hang out with the tourists at some of the best “character” and themed bars in the Caribbean. Beach, town or city, Aruba manages to be both laid back and sophisticated at once.

Eagle Beach

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Ranked one of the best beaches in the world, Eagle Beach, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, is both beach and neighbourhood, a part of the capital, Oranjestad. The city and its neighbourhoods are situated on the west coast of the island, tucked in under the arm of the top one-third of the island, and bathed in tropical tradewinds.

It’s the pure white soft sand that has made Eagle Beach so popular; its width is vast and accommodates thousands of beachgoers on a daily basis.

Wisely, the island’s government has ensured that the resorts and residences in the Eagle Beach area are built single-story only to ensure that no structures obstruct the view of the beach and turquoise ocean beyond.

On Aruba, some resorts allow topless sunbathing on their privately-owned beaches, but Eagle Beach is a public beach, free to access for all, and no nudity or partial nudity is permitted. It’s a perfect spot to catch a few rays and have a saltwater swim or paddle.

California Lighthouse

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Situated strategically on the northwest tip (near Arashi Beach) of the Caribbean Lesser Antilles island of Aruba, a Netherlands possession, the California Lighthouse was named in honour of the ship of the same name that was tragically wrecked just off shore in September 1891.

The lighthouse was erected in 1916 to help prevent future disasters, and enjoyed a full refurbishment 100 years later, in 2016. The building stands 30 metres (98 feet) tall and has an octagonal base that tapers as it rises.

Aruba is largely desert, and as such the terrain around the lighthouse, given the prevailing winds, is sparse, sandy and very rocky. It is recommended that explores of the area wear hiking boots or thick-soled shoes rather than typical tropical sandals.

Given that Aruba is a small island, and attractions and activities are fairly contained, the California Lighthouse makes for a fine day’s outing. Adjacent to the lighthouse, visitors will find a very good place to eat, the White Lighthouse Restaurant. And nearby is situated the popular Tierra del Sol Resort, Spa and Country Club. Make a day of it!

The Butterfly Farm

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Colourful tropical island, colourful tropical butterflies! The Butterfly Farm, Aruba, is located near Palm Beach and like everything in Aruba, a fairly short drive from all other attractions and the capital city.

Set in a tropical garden with trees, flowers and ponds (with goldfish), the Butterfly Farm is a spectacle of colour and diversity, an idyllic spot for a family to spend a day together communing with nature at its most beautiful. Early-day visitors are almost invariably rewarded with the magic of seeing a new butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and spread its wings, ready for flight. In fact, visitors will be able to observe the life stages of butterflies in real time.

Knowledgeable guides offer information and commentary to ensure a fascinating, fact-filled visit. A purchased pass is good for the duration of your stay on Aruba, so it’s an affordable attraction, too. Be swept away!

Quadirikiri Cave

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Aruba’s terrain is significantly different from other islands to the north in the Caribbean Sea; it is largely desert and parts of it are supported by a limestone base. Limestone is also what forms Aruba’s Quadiriki Caves, located in Arikok National Park, just inland from the east coast in the southern third of the Dutch-owned island.

The Quadiriki Caves makes for excellent spelunking for people who are uncomfortable in enclosed spaces. Two of the three main caves are very long, spacious, and fairly well lit due to holes in the limestone canopy above. The third is a more typically scary” cave, dark, damp and with copious bats. The gallery of stalactites and stalagmites is impressive.

The name Quadiriki is Arawak in original; all of these caves contain examples of Amer-Indian petroglyphs. Their stories are accordingly spun of native legend. Tour the caves and see if you feel the mystery of the ages; what might have escaped through those natural holes in the limestone ceiling?

Ayo Rock Formations

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Formed millennia ago likely the result of volcanic activity on Aruba, the Ayo Rock Formations are a fascinating place to explore when visiting the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba. Given the relative flatness and sandy soil of Aruba, the Ayo Rock Formations stand out prominently on the landscape.

Situated near Ayo Village, not far from the island’s capital, Oranjestad, on the western shore, these rock formations are a bit like cloud-gazing; the more you star, the more varied shapes you see. Many visitors say the layered, monolithic rocks resemble birds or dragons. There is a cluster of them that looks very much like a stack of pancakes that has slipped.

The walking trails take tourists around and through the rocks, and even through a series of tunnels, some of them quite tight, but from the rocks, on a sunny day, it is possible to see Venezuela, about 29 km (18mi) away across the water.

Say hello to the lizards (harmless) and cacti (don’t touch!) as you stroll through these unique rocks; pause to study the ancient Arawak petroglyphs, thought to be depictions of religious rites, among the Casibari Boulders, comprised partly of tonalite, at least 20% quartz, more commonly found in the European Alps.

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