The Best Things to Do in Aruba

While it’s true that Aruba has some of the calmest waters and most stunning beaches in the Caribbean, it also boasts attractions like animal sanctuaries, museums, golf courses, casinos, and great shopping, making it hard to ever be bored on this magical island.

Noord, Aruba
Built in 1953 on the site of Aruba‘s first Roman Catholic church, this humble chapel, whose name means “high view” in Spanish, earns its moniker and then some. Make the winding trip up the hill to see the best sunset of your life, enjoy breathtaking vistas of the entire island, or sit and meditate in the stone pews. On your way up, be sure to note the white crosses dotting the path. They mark the 14 stations of the cross and are the reason locals make pilgrimages to this chapel every Good Friday.
Lagoville, San Nicolas, Aruba
A reflective site for Marian believers, these stone caverns function as a New World counterpart to the famous French shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes, where it’s said the Virgin Mary’s apparition once appeared. You’ll marvel at the naturally formed twin grottos, positioned across the road from each other, as well as the oversize statue of the Virgin Mary, which weighs in at 1,500 pounds. A priest named Erkamp and his parishioners placed the imposing icon here in 1958.
This former mill in the northern part of Aruba hints at the island’s relatively unknown gold rush. First discovered in 1824, gold remained an important Aruban industry until around 1916, with the island producing more than 3 million pounds in total. The precious metal is even reflected in Aruba’s name, which roughly translates to “there was gold.” At this historic site, windswept stone ruins stand in the middle of a wide expanse of untouched land.
History buffs and expert divers score big at this site just 10 minutes off the coast of Aruba. A German freighter during World War II, the 400-foot-long ship is one of the largest wrecks in the Caribbean. Today, its starboard side is blanketed in coral, serving as a home for sponges, anemones, lobsters, and a kaleidoscope of fish. Visibility at the ghost ship is generally 30 to 50 feet, and thanks to virtually zero currents, viewing is easy for both snorkelers and scuba divers. Still, it’s best to explore with a guide, who can lead you through the labyrinth to the most worthy points of interest.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd, Noord, Aruba
At this tranquil spot in Oranjestad, hundreds of species of butterflies flutter among tropical flowers, groomed gardens, and a Japanese pond, all set beneath gauzy netting. Docents lead tours past rushing waterfalls, crystal-clear pools, and native flowers, sharing their encyclopedic knowledge of the pretty critters. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness babies hatching—one of the farm’s biggest draws. For a perfect picture, wear bright colors like yellow and orange to attract the butterflies to your shoulders.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 330, Noord, Aruba
Positioned on Aruba’s west coast, this protected expanse of wetlands is a landing spot for migrating birds. Of the more than 80 species that come to feed, mate, or simply rest here, black-necked stilts are the most common—keep an eye out for their long red legs. Others include green herons, egrets, and Caribbean parakeets. For the best sightings, stop by when the sun is rising or setting. Note: The sanctuary isn’t the easiest place to find, which makes this stretch of marsh and mangroves delightfully void of tourists. There are no admission fees or set hours.
Eagle Beach, Aruba
It’s no wonder this pristine stretch of northwest coast is widely considered the best in the Caribbean—its powdery white sands and clear waters are the stuff of picture-perfect screen savers. Lined with a series of low-slung hotels, the beach is full of shaded palapas and water sports outfitters. In spring and early summer, it’s also a popular spot for nesting turtles. Keep your eyes peeled for the red or white markers indicating where they’ve laid their eggs. Note: Like the island itself, Eagle Beach tends to be a bit windy.
Andicuri Beach, Aruba
Some call this cove, positioned on the windward side of the island, Aruba’s most beautiful beach. It’s pristine and just the right amount of windswept, thanks to the towering limestone cliffs that surround the powdered sands and crystalline waters. If you’re looking for a true escape, the relatively inaccessible Andicuri is your spot—it’s reachable only by four-by-four or a strenuous hike. Once there, you’ll find mostly locals. Swimming isn’t encouraged, but surfers, boogie boarders, and kitesurfers still try to catch the impressive swells. Note: There are no beach facilities, though overhanging ledges provide some shade.
L.G. Smith Boulevard 101, Noord, Aruba
In addition to its beaches, Aruba’s gambling culture is one of the island’s biggest draws, with most casinos located in the large hotels of Palm Beach and downtown Oranjestad. Stellaris, in the Aruba Marriott Resort, is one of several glittering options that stay open 24 hours a day. The sprawling floor boasts rows of slot machines and 26 tables, offering all manner of poker, craps, and blackjack games. Visitors can also look forward to bingo, sports kiosks, and a VIP club for high rollers. Note: Aruba’s casinos are restricted to those 18 and older.
Bringamosa 2-Z Sta Cruz, Santa Cruz, Aruba
Donkeys were once the main mode of transportation on Aruba, but after cars arrived, they were left to wander the island without purpose. To give the abandoned animals a permanent home, the island founded this sanctuary in 1997. Free and family-friendly, the not-oft-visited site features more than 130 rescued donkeys, which guests can pet, groom, and feed (bags of food are available at a charge). There’s also a visitor center where you can find human refreshments, donkey-themed souvenirs, and screenings of educational videos.
Natural Pool, Santa Cruz, Aruba
Pass over limestone rocks and through a protected landscape and you’ll arrive at this enchanting pool, which gets up to eight feet deep at times. Surrounded by volcanic outcroppings, it’s so removed from other island attractions that it feels undiscovered and romantic. The water is warm and bubbly and there are some ledges for sitting, all of which make you feel as if you’re in a natural Jacuzzi. Whether you arrive by foot, mountain bike, or jeep, the journey is as exciting as the destination itself. For a dose of adventure, opt for the half-hour guided horseback tour, which winds past caverns and other rock formations on its way to the pool.
Tanki Leendert 158-G, Rococo Plaza, Oranjestad, Aruba
With its two bubble-topped towers and picturesque roof, the building that houses the Museum of Antiquities is as interesting as the curiosities inside. Constructed using 17th-century techniques and materials, the museum boasts 23 separate galleries, filled with everything from fine jewelry and porcelain to antique rugs, wood carvings, oil paintings, and bronze items. Directly outside in the Rococo Plaza, you’ll find a charming flea market. It’s only held one Sunday per month, though, so ask a local for exact dates and times.
San Fuego 70, Santa Cruz, Aruba
Among the 20 percent of Aruba that’s protected land, Arikok National Park boasts lava fields, limestone terrain, and a small beach, all crisscrossed with picturesque hiking trails. Paths lead to gold mine ruins, former plantations, and paintings by the island’s native Arawak people, making for an exciting place to visit. Explore the park by mountain bike, horseback, or car, or take a free walking tour with a park ranger (reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance). You’re likely to see snakes, owls, bats, lizards, and myriad birds, as well as goats and the local donkeys.
Featuring a series of boulders that appear to have been gathered, piled, and deliberately set across a few square miles of desert, this site carries a certain air of mystery. Scientists remain baffled about the geological event that could have created the formations, while archaeologists and historians are fascinated by the petroglyphs and paintings drawn by the native Arawak people. Trails weave around the enormous stones, many of which have been named for the animals they resemble. Speaking of which, all sorts of creatures inhabit the area, from iguanas to burrowing owls.
L.G. Smith Blvd, Noord, Aruba
Built between 1914 and 1916 on an octagonal base, this stone, double-lens lighthouse is Aruba’s marquee landmark. Standing tall at 98 feet, it’s the highest structure on the island and offers the best views in its respective area. It gets its name from the SS California, a British steamship that sank in nearby waters in 1891 and now functions as a fantastic dive site. Adjacent to the lighthouse, visitors will find a beloved Italian restaurant and the California White Sand Dunes, a hot spot for dune surfing.
Schelpstraat 42, Oranjestad, Aruba
Located in a former mansion, this interactive museum is full of ancient artifacts. Culled from three distinct periods of indigenous history, the collection includes more than 10,000 pieces from Pre-Ceramic (2500 B.C.E.–1000 C.E.), Ceramic (900–1515), and History Cultural (1515–1880) times. Visitors will find shell and stone tools, decorative items, and food vessels, along with vestiges of Aruba’s gold rush. Of particular note is a limestone family burial cave, which, at 4,000 years old, is one of the most ancient pieces in the museum. With its Dutch Colonial architectural details, the building itself is also worth admiring. Note: The museum is closed on Mondays.
Avenida Milio Croes 26, Oranjestad, Aruba
This pretty green building, with its intricate white trim, is an architectural jewel in central Oranjestad. Constructed from 1922 to 1925, it was designed by Merardo “Dada” Picus for Aruba’s first general practitioner, Dr. Eloy Arends, who presented it to his bride, Maria Monica, upon return from their honeymoon. Over time, it became something of an open house—the design included folding walls that made the space very flexible, allowing the Arendses to host many social gatherings and guests. After falling into disrepair in the 1980s, the home was eventually restored and now functions as a civic building.
Opal, Noord, Aruba
Thanks to its position in the Lesser Antilles, Aruba has near constant wind—a fact that draws water sport fanatics for premier sailing, windsurfing, and, more recently, kiteboarding. Best described as a mix between surfing, wakeboarding, paragliding, and gymnastics, kiteboarding is not for the faint of heart. If you’re up for trying the extreme activity, turn to an outfitter like Red Sail Sports, which gives lessons in maneuvering your board while strapped to an oversize kite. It’s advisable to take a series of lessons over your stay to really get the hang of the sport.
Savaneta, Aruba
Located in the southeastern corner of the island, Savaneta was Aruba’s first settlement and former capital. Founded by the Dutch in 1816, it’s also home to the island’s oldest surviving home. A visit to the sleepy town offers the chance to explore some of the island’s most historic buildings far from the bustle of Oranjestad. At the end of mazelike streets, you’ll find two small beaches lined with a handful of low-slung hotels and restaurants. Blissfully remote, both stretches of sand offer excellent fishing and snorkeling. For something more adventurous, sign up for a kayaking or ATV excursion.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 55, Oranjestad, Aruba
There’s no better place to practice yoga than a tropical setting tempered by constant trade winds, and at Manchebo Beach Resort’s two open-air studios, you’ll find just that. Located right on pristine Eagle Beach, the idyllic spaces welcome both hotel guests and outside visitors for all levels of classes, from Morning Vinyasa Yoga to Sunset Stretch. The 72-room resort also hosts private retreats from time to time.
Zoutmanstraat Oranjestad, Oranjestad, Aruba
Located inside Aruba’s oldest surviving structure, this museum offers a fascinating look at the island’s evolution. Open weekdays, it boasts artifacts from the Caiquetio people and Dutch colonialists as well as items from modern-day Aruba. The complex itself, however, is the real draw. Dating from 1798, it was constructed to defend the island against pirates. The adjacent Willem III Tower was built in 1868 and served as Aruba’s first public clock and lighthouse.
Pitastraat 115, Aruba
First domesticated on this tiny island in 1840, the aloe plant is so important to Aruba that its image is emblazoned on the nation’s crest. Crops once extended over nearly two-thirds of the island and, to this day, remain Aruba’s largest export, explaining why the plant is a frequent motif in local art and architecture. For more information, visit the Aruba Aloe Factory, where you take a guided tour and learn about the manufacturing process. Then, head to the museum to browse a small collection of ancient aloe planting tools as well as books on the plant and its history.
Caya di Solo 10A, Malmok, Noord, Aruba
Located on the northwest point of the island, Aruba’s only golf course offers views across the ocean and desert. It’s also independent, meaning guests at any resort can use the championship greens, which were designed by Robert Trent Jones II. Visitors to the course have access to club rentals as well as a putting green, a chipping area, and swing tutorials with a high-tech simulator. Note: Aruba’s constant trade winds present a challenge to even the most experienced golfers, so prepare for a somewhat frustrating game.
Baby Beach, San Nicolas, Aruba
This is perhaps Aruba’s most famous beach, which is saying a lot for an island that boasts mile after mile of pristine sand. Baby Beach—thusly named because it’s perfect for families with small children—features a crescent of white sand and sparkling blue water that stays shallow enough to touch the bottom even as you wade far from the shore. There’s also a marked snorkel area where the bay gives way to the ocean, a refreshment stand, and complimentary cabanas when you want to get out of the sun (just arrive early to snag one, as Baby Beach is a must-stop on any Aruban vacation).
Bernard van de Veen Zeppenfeldstraat 14, San Nicolas, Aruba
About 30 minutes from Oranjestad at the southern tip of Aruba is San Nicolas, the island’s second-largest city. In 2016, it became home to Aruba’s only mural district following the now-annual Aruba Art Fair. As part of the fair, exhibiting artists created large, brightly colored paintings on more than two dozen of the city’s buildings, gracing structures with everything from multi-colored lionfish and staring flamingos to native Arubans and surreal optical illusions. Today, visitors to San Nicolas can take an organized tour to see the murals, or just wander the streets to discover them on their own.
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