The Perfect Week in Aruba

Looking for a week in paradise? Then Aruba is the island of your dreams, where the calm waters of the impossibly blue Caribbean Sea lap against white-sand beaches. But tear yourself away from your beach chair and you’ll find an island brimming with other discoveries, like fascinating museums, fabulous shopping, and standout restaurants.

Bakval 20, Noord, Aruba
Aruba’s Palm Beach is known for its powdery white sand, tranquil blue waters—and sprawling full-service luxury resorts. Just steps away, the intimate Boardwalk Small Hotel is a laid-back alternative. Owned and operated by Belgian twin sisters Stephanie and Kimberly Rooijakkers, who were born on the island and spent their childhoods here, 14 casitas are scattered on the grounds of a former coconut plantation and individually decorated: studio, one-, and two-bedroom spaces are outfitted with bright pinks, yellows, and aquas, fully equipped kitchens, air-conditioning, and private patios with their own charcoal barbecues and hammocks. Breakfast offerings range from the local (think tropical fruit and house-made arepas) to the luxe (bottles of champagne), and can be delivered to your casita or beachside palapa, but with no restaurant on site lunch and dinner is up to you.
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.
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.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 230, Noord, Aruba
Dream about a Caribbean beach bar and chances are you’ll imagine someplace like MooMba, just south of Palm Beach. Here, you’ll find oversize palapas, tiki torches at night, and a crowd looking for fun with their feet in the sand. From its lounge chairs positioned under swaying palms to its extensive list of tropical cocktails, the watering hole is really what an island vacation is all about. To eat, there’s a buffet, with Sunday’s beach barbecue theme being your best bet. Go at happy hour, which is timed to coincide with the sunset, then stay into the evening for live music and DJs.
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.
L.G. Smith Blvd 55B, Oranjestad, Aruba
It’s easy to see why Eagle Beach is touted as one of the world’s best shorelines. Studded with iconic fofoti trees and backed by sparkling waters, the powderlike sand hosts sunworshippers and, a few months out of the year, the highest concentration of nesting turtles on the island. The eco-pioneering Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is especially mindful of its unique setting, supporting local wildlife initiatives and ensuring it has the lowest electricity usage (per occupied room) of any hotel in Aruba. A focus on health pervades the property, which has its own certified wellness specialist; yoga, Pilates, and meditation classes; a restaurant that sources organic produce; and air dehumidifiers and purifiers in each of its 104 rooms. Yet guests can still expect traditional island-style pampering: romantic offerings include beachside dining in a private, candlelit cabana under the rustle of swaying palm fronds. The resort is adults-only.
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.
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.
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.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 370, Noord, Aruba
Go Dutch with breakfast at this beachfront spot, located next to Aruba’s iconic red windmill. Here, the menu is written on a chalkboard and features all manner of sweet and savory pancakes, from apple-cinnamon-banana to Norwegian and Dutch cheese with ham. There are even some gluten-free options. Just don’t expect American-style flapjacks—the house specialty is more of a thick crepe. Whatever you choose, pair it with preservative-free syrup from Holland and your pick from the never-ending coffee list.
Havenstraat 36, Oranjestad, Aruba
It’s all about the fruits of the sea at the Old Fisherman, a local favorite in the center of town. Although the decor is nautical and the dishes are named for seafaring icons, the atmosphere isn’t exactly what you’d expect on vacation. No matter, you—and the locals who pack the place at lunchtime—came for the food anyway. Among the must-try dishes are the Charlie Brouns (fried fish roe in garlic sauce), Juan Henriquez (grilled catch of the day in a mango-coconut-wine reduction), and the Jan Semeleer (conch). Pair your order with an ice-cold Balashi (the local beer) or non-alcoholic awa di lamoenchi (house-made lemonade).
L.G. Smith Blvd 7, Oranjestad, Aruba
Instagrammers, take note: This open-air eatery is prime for watching—and snapping—the sunset. Every table is positioned on the pier, directly over Aruba’s shimmering waters. Come early to score a front-row seat for the evening spectacle, then stay late for the live music and light bites. The fish cakes are a must, but other popular dishes include pan-seared grouper with ginger and apricot sauce, and dark-rum-infused blue cheese tenderloin. If this chic lounge looks familiar, it’s because it made an appearance on The Bachelor.
L.G. Smith Blvd, Oranjestad, Aruba
A shopping mecca, this downtown street is lined with malls and flea markets. On Oranjestad’s main pier, across from one of the larger malls, you’ll find the site of Aruba’s first public market. Once a clearinghouse for local fruits, vegetables, and fish, the space now features open-air stalls hawking Aruban art, crafts, leather goods, and other souvenirs. Look out for hand-milled aloe soaps and creams as well as watercolors by local artists. Bargaining is expected, so don’t settle for the first price you hear.
Noord Cura Cabai 2a, Savaneta, Aruba
The Old Man and the Sea in Savaneta is an ideal place for a romantic island dining experience, amid the ‘clicking palms,’ overlooking the water. Feel the sand beneath your feet, and listen to the waves gently lapping the shoreline as you enjoy a sunset supper in an intimate setting.
Zoutmanstraat 1, Oranjestad, Aruba
Skip the tacky magnets this time around and instead visit Cosecha for a souvenir truly reflective of Aruban culture. The word ‘cosecha’ translates to ‘harvesting,’ and that’s just what the curators of this shop and design space have done, offering handicrafts such as jewelry, paintings on driftwood, textiles, sculptures, and more from a variety of Aruban artists. Everything for sale has been certified as locally produced with a national seal of craftsmanship, ensuring you’ll leave with something authentic. The store has two locations, Cosecha Oranjestad and Cosecha San Nicolas, the former of which is housed in the 100-year-old Zoutmanstraat 1. Built in 1910, the building emerged from a complete restoration in 2015, but once served as a government office and also housed Aruba’s archaeological museum for many years.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 75, Noord, Aruba
Families will find lots to love at this 241-room high-rise property on Palm Beach. Children under 12 stay and eat for free, and the Treasures of the Caribbean kids’ club—complimentary to guests—organizes supervised scavenger hunts and sand castle–building competitions by day and film screenings, complete with popcorn and Shirley Temples, in the evenings. There’s also loads of space for the whole gang to spread out: Even the lowest-tier studio suites are amply sized, featuring a full kitchen, a dining table, and a private deck or balcony. But Divi also offers plenty to keep adults occupied while the little ones play, including two pools (with a swim-up bar and cabanas), a full-service spa, and two beachside restaurants with tables situated just steps from the water’s edge.
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.
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.
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.
Lloyd G. Smith Blvd 9, Oranjestad, Aruba
At Mopa Mopa in Oranjestad, local handicrafts aren’t just souvenirs—they’re decorative art. The gallery specializes in carved wooden figures, crafted lovingly in the traditional mopa mopa, or barniz de Pasto, style. To finish each piece, artisans paint them with vegetable dyes and resin-based lacquer, making for one-of-a-kind keepsakes. Visit the gallery to shop and speak with the artisans themselves, who will gladly answer questions and demonstrate their intricate techniques.
San Nicolas
After visiting a Peruvian restaurant in Oranjestad recommended by an Afar traveler, we were advised to take a trip out to San Nicolas. Hopping on public transit we made our way to this town where we thought we would find Baby Beach however San Nicolas has no beach front (it’s a former oil refinery town). What we found was Charlie’s Bar (a true hoarder’s paradise brimming with character), a street music festival and very friendly locals. It was a great trip!
Wilhelminastraat 64, Oranjestad, Aruba
Located in a historic mansion on one of the oldest streets in Oranjestad, Bistro de Suikertuin is hard to miss. The building is painted a bright hue of yellow, reminiscent of the tropical birds that visit its namesake sugar garden, and the front porch features a blackboard with the daily menu. Tables are scattered inside and out, but the pretty garden is the preferred spot for savoring your morning coffee and Aruba’s traditional pancakes. Come lunch, the restaurant is all about salads, wraps, and broodjes (Dutch-style sandwiches with meat and/or cheese on baguettes). Note: Reservations are recommended for afternoon tea service.
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AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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