Last updated on 14-Aug-2019
Hello, everyone! I’m super excited to tell you about an amazing vacation. The destination was Aruba and we had a great time there. Here are some highlights of our adventures and moments on the Happy Island!
Aruba is a tiny island in the south Caribbean (off the coast of Venezuela) and, along with Bonaire and Curaçao, form the “ABC” Islands or the Dutch Caribbean islands. You can see the Dutch influence everywhere, be it in the architecture, food, language, and the many Dutch who choose to live in the country.
We had been checking some options to visit the ABC area for some time, and while looking online for flights options going south (to escape the Canadian winter), we came across some good prices on flights to Aruba. We knew the island was small and considered very safe, and we also knew that all-inclusive packages usually mean visitors spend most of their time at the resorts instead of exploring more of the destination. For this trip, we wanted to have the flexibility to visit different beaches, attractions, sample the local restaurants, etc., so we researched the costs of short-term rentals, car rental, food/restaurants, etc., and decided to make our own package!
We booked our plane tickets and rental car, found plenty of accommodation options on AirBnB, and settled on a studio (comfortable room with a private bathroom and a small kitchen) in the Seroe Blanco neighbourhood of Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital). The location was not walking distance to a beach, but since we wanted to explore as many of the beaches in the area as possible and would have a rental car for the whole time, that worked out well for us. The studio was very close to other amenities, like restaurants, grocery stores, and 5 minutes to the city centre, etc. The small kitchen also gave us the option to get some groceries and have breakfast/snacks/drinks handy, and then be able to leave the room straight to the beach most mornings.
The island has public transit (Arubus), but we didn’t use it and can’t say how well it works.
The ocean is such an amazing colour in Aruba, that even peek-a-boo views on quick drives are breathtaking! These are the beaches we visited on this trip:
- Arashi Beach – Furthest beach on the West side. Beautiful spot, but it was very windy on the day we went there, with whipping sand and waves. Many tour groups stop there throughout the day. Beach has a parking lot (free), snack bar ($), washrooms ($), a few straw umbrellas for shade. Accessible by Arubus from Oranjestad. Near the California Lighthouse.
- Catalina Cove and Boca Catalina Beach – Beach is a small stretch of sand adjacent to a nice shallow cove surrounded by rocks, beautiful setting for snorkelling with plenty of sea life. A few straw umbrellas on the beach, but no other amenities. No parking lot, but room for parking along the shoulder on the main road. Many catamaran snorkelling tours stop at the cove. Accessible by Arubus from Oranjestad. The Antilla shipwreck is nearby.
- Malmok Beach – Shallow and rocky, another good spot for snorkelling. Plenty of space for parking and a few straw umbrellas on the beach. No amenities. We also saw kitesurfers there. Accessible by Arubus.
- Palm Beach – This is where the large (high-rise) hotels are located, plus there are many restaurants/bars/amenities in the area. The hotels are beach-front and the city road runs behind them. Wide stretch of powdery sand. Beach rentals (chairs/umbrellas) and activities/tour operators right on the beach. Long pier with a bar/restaurant (Bugaloe) and other shops. Even though the beach is beautiful and offers great sunset views, it can be quite windy and is usually very busy/more crowded. Parking available by the road behind the hotels (J.E. Irausquin Blvd) or paid parking near the restaurants. Access the beach through one of the public walkways (there’s one between the Riu and the Hilton that connects directly to the pier). Accessible by Arubus, with several stops along the beach.
- Eagle Beach – Where the smaller (low-rise) hotels and condominiums are located. A good number of parking spaces (free) on the beach, plus trees and straw umbrellas for shade. Rentals available too. The road (J.E. Irausquin Blvd) runs along the beach and hotels, condominiums and amenities are across the street. Accessible by Arubus, several stops along the beach.
- Divi Beach – Stretch in front of the Divi Aruba Resort. A few (free) parking spots. Straw umbrellas are free. Beach loungers can be rented. On the day we were there, it had some high waves and the water gets deep really quickly, so it was a bit dangerous to swim. Accessible by Arubus.
- Surfside Beach – Nice and calm beach near the Plaza Turismo and one of the “Aruba” signs. Large (free) parking lot, bars/restaurants right on the sand (and one – Pinchos Bar – on the pier to the right). There’s a floating water park on the left side of the beach, and visitors can see planes taking off and landing at the airport just next to the beach. Accessible by Arubus.
- Mangel Halto – Clear, shallow water and mangrove vegetation. A unique spot. Great for relaxing or having a picnic. Free parking, a bar and a floating deck are located near the entrance. About 800m walk from Arubus stop.
- Baby Beach – Calm enclosed bay with shallow and clear water. About 1h drive from central Oranjestad, in the San Nicolas area. Free parking. Loungers and umbrellas are available for rent. Restaurant/amenities. It seems to be accessible by Arubus, but I’m not sure how friendly the bus schedule is.
- Rodgers Beach – Smaller beach just to the right of Baby Beach. Higher waves and local vibe. Fishing boats and views of some oil refinery chimneys on the right. No amenities besides a couple of sun shelters. Free parking. Not accessible by Arubus.
Access to these beaches is free. Most also had easy parking near the sand. Many had straw umbrellas which were also free, but some places had beach loungers and fabric umbrellas for rental. Some other Aruban beaches are within the Arikok National Park (which we didn’t visit this time) and only accessible by 4×4 vehicle, and others were on the “windward” side of the island (Northeast), with high waves and not suitable for leisurely swimming, so we skipped those as well.
Our favourite beaches were Boca Catalina (very small and feels somewhat secluded, and depending on the wind, good for snorkelling and swimming) and Surfside Beach (beautiful and very calm water, not as windy as some of the other beaches on the West side). Honourable mention to Mangel Halto for the shallow crystal clear water and beautiful combination of beach and mangrove. All the beaches we visited have something special about them, and I’m sure you will find more than one to fall in love with!
Now, to the food! For such a small island, Aruba has an impressive number of restaurants and cuisine options for every taste and budget. Here are some of the places we visited and recommend:
- Don Jacinto Colombian Restaurant,
- Linda’s Dutch Pancakes & Pizza and The Dutch Pancake House – Dutch pancake is a must – try both sweet and savoury toppings – and schenkstroop syrup!!
- Kamini’s Kitchen – good Trinidad food/curries
- Bugaloe Beach Bar & Grill – awesome views/sunset, on the Palm Beach pier
- MooMba Beach Bar & Restaurant – at the Northern side end of Palm Beach. Busy spot, day or night.
- Salt and Pepper Tapasbar & Restaurant – delicious tapas and relaxed vibe, in the busy Palm Beach area
- Jack’s Cafe – inside the Super Food, which is an awesome grocery store near Eagle Brach, this cafeteria-style cafe serves good food/good portions at great prices, and the coffee from the baristas by the entrance is the best we had on the island
- Zeerover – fresh fish/seafood ordered by weight and seasoned/fried to order, at a relaxed pier location in the Savaneta area, about 40 min drive from central Oranjestad – a MUST visit! Not accessible by Arubus.
Not to be missed: the cheese and bakery selection (sweet and savoury) at the Super Food and pastechi (delicious cheese or meat turnovers sold in many places around the island, including Jack’s Cafe and even McDonald’s)!
We are not big vacation shoppers, but noticed a good selection of high-end stores and local shops, especially near the centre of Oranjestad and the cruise ship port, and by the high-rise hotel area in Palm Beach.
Aruba is a beautiful island, safe, easy to explore, and full of helpful locals who say they are “friends you have not met yet”. English is widely spoken, plus the local mix of Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento. Their saying of “Biba Dushi” or “Live a sweet life” in Papiamento, reflects the country’s attitude perfectly! After a vacation that felt all too short, we left Aruba already missing it and planning to go back sometime soon!
If you are going there, I suggest downloading the “Aruba Travel Guide” and the “Visit Aruba” apps for lots of valuable information and interesting suggestions, maps and directions.
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