A 70-square-mile island in the southern Caribbean with nearly perfect weather year round, Aruba has an air of escapism that’s easily reached from the United States. The beaches along the west coast are brochure perfect, while the rugged east coast and interior of the island provide visitors with endless opportunities for adventure. Add to that a rejuvenated capital city, a thriving arts scene, fusion dining, and legendary wellness offerings and you come to understand why Aruba is known as “one happy island.” Days here start with sunrise yoga or kitesurfing and end with sundowners on popular Palm Beach—a quintessential Aruba experience. The diverse, multilingual residents are famous for their friendly hospitality and are ready to welcome visitors to their dushi tera (“beloved land” in Papiamento).
When’s the best time to go to Aruba?
Because Aruba receives more consistent sunshine than most Caribbean islands, weather is rarely a factor in deciding when to visit. The island lies outside the main hurricane belt and enjoys a hot, dry climate, with temperatures regularly in the low 80s Fahrenheit (though trade winds keep things breezy). Prices are high during the peak season of December through April, especially in February during annual Carnival celebrations. Low season is a lot less expensive but can also be busy with Europeans and South Americans on family vacations, so you’ll save money but may still face crowds.
How to get around Aruba
Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport in the capital city of Oranjestad is modern and well-organized. Most major carriers offer daily nonstop flights to and from the United States and other international destinations. Note that it can take a long time to clear customs at the airport, but fixed-price taxi services are readily available when you’re ready to leave for your hotel.
Traffic in Aruba’s towns can be maddening at rush hour, when it may seem like there are more cars on the roads than people on the island. Get away from the main thoroughfares, however, and you’ll feel like you have the entire island to yourself. There’s no need for a car when visiting, especially if you’re staying on the main beaches of Palm or Eagle, but it’s worth renting one for a day to experience the wilder, more rural sides of the island. Just be sure to get a vehicle with four-wheel drive if you plan to visit Arikok National Park, and be cautious while driving around when a cruise ship is in port (visitors often wander the streets without paying attention to traffic).
Bicycles and electric scooters are also an enjoyable way to explore the island, and many hotels can arrange rentals for you. Additionally, the public bus system is excellent and economical; the main terminal is in downtown Oranjestad and routes hit all the major resort areas. If you’re spending the day in Oranjestad, take advantage of the free electric trolleys that begin at the cruise terminal and cover the city’s interior with nine separate stops.
Can’t miss things to do in Aruba
- Aruba’s calm, clear waters full of colorful fish are ideal for snorkeling, but some sites can get crowded with big party boats. Avoid the masses by booking a tour aboard the Tranquilo, which sails to the more remote southern side of the island, for snorkeling along a secluded reef.
- No trip to Aruba is complete without a visit to Arikok National Park. Go on a guided hike of the area with Aruba Nature Explorers to get the most out of its wild, almost Jurassic Park–like beauty.
- Witness how outdoor murals and modern art installations have transformed San Nicolas from an old refinery city into an arts and culture hub with help from Aruba Mural Tours.
- Experience authentic Aruban culture on a historical tour of Oranjestad with Aruba Walking Tours, during which you’ll learn fascinating facts about the capital city, sample local snacks, and learn to make traditional pan bati (thin cornmeal bread).
Food and drink to try in Aruba
- Aruba’s traditional food scene—informed by Spanish and Dutch colonialism alongside Indigenous Carib and South American traditions—is remarkable. Delicious staples include sopi di pisca (fish soup), stoba di cabrito (goat stew), and keshi yena (a hearty casserole of spiced meat, raisins, cashews, and olives topped with melted Dutch cheese). For a taste of Dutch tradition, try bitterballen (deep-fried balls of meat) or pannekoeken (pancakes).
- “Monumental dining” is a trend here and refers to restored colonial homes that now serve as restaurants and bars. Landmarks like the California Lighthouse and the Old Dutch Windmill also offer dining on their top floors.
- Be sure to try locally brewed Balashi beer (made with desalinated sea water) and the new Papiamento rum (which has already won several prestigious awards). Other local drinks to sample include ponche crema (like eggnog) and coecoei (a syrupy, licorice-flavored liqueur that features in Aruba’s national drink, the Aruba Ariba). For the island’s most talented bartenders, seek out Apotek Speakeasy in downtown Oranjestad.
- Restaurant reservations are highly recommended. Some places add a service charge of 10 to 15 percent to your bill, but it goes to the entire staff, so if your service is good, tip your server individually.
Culture in Aruba
Before the Spanish arrived in 1499, Aruba was inhabited by Arawak peoples for centuries, evidence of which can still be seen in the form of carvings on cave walls. Ceded to the Dutch in 1636, the island remains a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Some 106,000 people from more than 90 different ethnic backgrounds now call the island home, and the festivals, cuisine, dress, and language (most of the residents you’ll meet speak four or more languages) have been shaped by 500 years of colonial rule, trade, and tourism. Aruba is one of the friendliest and safest places in the Caribbean, and it hosts nearly 100,000 guests at any one time.
For unique souvenirs like lionfish-skin jewelry and home decor carved from local calabash gourds, skip the harbor stalls and go instead to the craft fairs at Paseo Herencia on Tuesdays and Thursday nights and at the Renaissance Mall & Marketplace on Friday nights. The amphitheater in the Paseo Herencia courtyard also regularly hosts free folkloric music and dance shows and, during the holidays, is where most cultural events take place. On Friday nights, join the “old timers” at Djiespie’s Place in downtown Oranjestad for an outdoor party with live music and dancing in the streets.
Local travel tips for Aruba
- The water in Aruba is not only safe to drink, but it also tastes great. Bottled water is never needed, just refillable flasks.
- Heed the advice not to swim on the north coast beaches. The currents and undertow are wicked.
- Locals like to dress up to dine out and hit the town. Visitors should do the same, especially at fancier restaurants and bars.
- In the Spanish Creole language of Papiamento, bon dia means good day, danki means thank you, and dushi is used to describe anything good, sweet, or dear. Locals will appreciate you trying out a few phrases.
- Aruba’s wild donkeys, goats, and iguanas still have the right of way by law, so keep an eye out for them when driving in the island’s more rural regions.
Essentials, Required Eating, and Best Beaches by travel writer Susan Campbell (@suectravel). Adventure and culture coverage by freelance journalist Sheryl Nance-Nash (@NanceNash).