I stood at the top of Aruba’s Boca Prims Beach in awe of Mother Nature as waves pummeled rocks protruding from the sand. The scene was a stark contrast to the day before on Baby Beach, where I spent the afternoon soaking up rays – beer in hand – while the water lapped gently at my feet.
The two distinctive beaches exemplify just how unique a vacation to Aruba can be. One day, you can find yourself sipping boat drinks on Palm Beach with the latest page-turner in hand, forgetting where in the world you are, and the next, death gripping the handlebars as you attempt kite surfing on windy Hadicurari Beach. Or, if you’re if you’re a foodie, you can easily eat your way around the island, sampling a cuisine that’s as varied as the many immigrants who call One Happy Island home.
Things to do in Aruba: Food, Beach, and Adventure
A Foodie’s Tropical Dream
We, as Caribbean tropic lovers, have become accustomed to restaurants that are more concerned with overly gimmicked themes than the gastronomic experience. Thankfully, this isn’t the case in Aruba. The metropolitan vibe of the island along with culinary influences that span Latin America, Holland, and the Caribbean serve up a dining scene that can only be described as world class.
Rise and Shine
To kickstart your day, head over to Linda’s Dutch Pancakes. Dutch pancakes are very similar to a crepe but bigger than your head. Try something sweet (you are on vacation, after all) or a savory pancake like the ham, gouda, and mushroom pancake. To eat, roll, top with syrup, and cut with your knife and fork.
If you’re looking for a lighter and quicker start to your day, seek out Eduardo’s Beach Shack on Palm Beach for acai bowls, pitaya bowls, and smoothies.
Midday Meal Break
No trip to Aruba is complete without dining on the pier at Zeerover’s. The no-frills restaurant accepts cash only and offers two menu choices – fresh shrimp or the catch of the day. Order family style, grab a bucket of Balashi Chill beer and spend a couple of hours enjoying the ocean views. It’s a little out of the way, but worth it.
Another popular, easier to access beachfront restaurant is The West Deck. Skip the entrees and order as many appetizers as you think your party can handle for a true taste of authentic Aruban cuisine. Local staples include fried funchi (polenta) with melted Dutch cheese and Keeshi Yena (a mound of shredded chicken, prunes, spices, and cashews topped with gouda cheese).
Looking for lunch on the go? Then grab some pastechis. The empanada-like turnovers are great for picnic beach lunches or for a snack while hiking in Arikok National Park. They can be found anywhere from grocery stores and gift shops to standalone restaurants, like the Pastechi House.
Dining on Island Time
For a true culinary experience, book seats at Carte Blanche. The exclusive prix fixe restaurant hosts only one seating a night for 16 diners. Chef Dennis greets each guest with a glass of bubbly. What follows is a five-course dinner with a cooking demonstration. As Chef Dennis prepares each dish, he explains what and how he’s cooking. Up the ante on the night with the optional wine pairing to properly complement each course.
Insider tip: you’ll need to book Carte Blanche several months in advance.
Papiamento Restaurant is a more casual fine-dining experience. Housed in the courtyard of a century-old house with a sparkling pool in the center of the al fresco dining space, the restaurant is described as one of the most authentic in Aruba. Of course, in Aruba, that authenticity is a fusion of flavors. Curries blend with local seafood, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The most fun entrees are served sizzling on a hot stone. Just be careful on how much you partake from the extensive wine and cocktail selections, or you might end up in the pool (my wife is still pissed at me).
Che Bar delivers a dining experience that falls more towards the budget-friendly side. The sidewalk kitchen serves up some of the most delicious Argentinian asado (mixed meat grill) you’ll find outside of Argentina. Gorge on blood sausage, chorizo, beef, and pork. Pair it with a bottle of malbec wine or Quilmes beer.
A Delicious Stay – There are two reasons to stay at Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort. First, the Dutch colonial hotel is located on Aruba’s most sought-after beach – Eagle Beach. Second, a true toes-in-the-sand dining experience at on-site Passions on the Beach – one of the highest-rated restaurants on the island. One bite of the ceviche mojito and you’ll understand why.View Hotel
A Beach Bum’s Paradise
For many, an ideal itinerary for a beach vacation includes a different beach for each day. Whether you’re visiting Aruba for a weekend or week, that’s entirely possible.
Start your beach exploring with Baby Beach. While it’s not the prettiest beach on Aruba, it’s one of the most popular. Located at the southern tip of the island (about 30 minutes from Oranjestad), the beach is protected by a lagoon that makes the waters safe for even the youngest snorkelers in your family.
Around the shore from Baby Beach is Rodger’s Beach. Rodger’s Beach enjoys the same tranquil waters with a quarter of the crowds on weekdays. On weekends, it’s popular among locals who often float up to the beach on their fishing boats.
Arashi Beach, near the California Lighthouse, is another beach popular with snorkelers (and my personal favorite). Its location on the northern end of the island makes it a quieter beach than Baby Beach. The surf here is a little stronger for those looking to catch a wave to help swim ashore.
The Secluded Beach Experience You Dreamed About
Accessed by a narrow set of stairs, Boca Catalina is one of the most secluded on the island. It’s a great spot to stop for a picnic lunch on your way to or from the California Lighthouse. For extra beach credit, visit nearby Malmok Beach to up your Aruba beach visit count. The short and narrow strip of sand is a great spot to watch sailboats from.
Another option for those looking for their own personal piece of paradise is Mangel Halto Beach in southeast Aruba. While you’ll find a few snorkelers bobbing about in the water, there’s no need to don a facemask and breathing tube. Instead, you can simply walk out to the reef and peer down at parrotfish, yellowtail snapper, sergeant majors, and blue tangs.
The Postcard Perfect Beach
Lastly, there’s the aforementioned Eagle Beach. The beach is one of the widest in Aruba. It’s the perfect place to waste away a day with a cooler of Amstel Bright and a good book. When you need a break from sitting, find one of the famous fofoti trees for an Instagramable moment to make your friends at home jealous.
Insider tip: Many of these beaches are difficult or expensive to reach via bus or taxi. Don’t be afraid to rent a car. The island is flat, and the drivers drive like they’re on island time, not like they’re moving to the manic beat of a calypso tune.
Your Own Private Island – You can’t get any closer to the beach than a room at Ocean Villas Aruba – the island’s only overwater bungalows. Six thatched huts sit on tiny islands accessed by wooden bridges. It’s easy to waste away a day enjoying the unobstructed ocean views on your bungalow’s deck, jumping into the water when you need a cool down. Each of the rooms also comes with a private jacuzzi with the same views of paradise.
A Place for Rugged Adventure
Aruba’s desert-like climate, plentiful trade winds, and clear waters make it an adventure lover’s paradise unlike any other in the Caribbean.
Harness the Winds
Some of Aruba’s strongest trade winds can be found off the shore Hadicurari Beach –north of the high-rise hotel district and easily walkable from hotels at the district’s northern end. Along the beach are vendors renting equipment for kite and windsurfing for experienced surfers and offering lessons for beginners to the sports.
If you’re not feeling brave enough to tame the winds, it’s fun to stroll along the beach and watch others get their adrenaline fix. I guarantee you’ll find yourself inquiring about lessons, though.
Explore the Waters
Aruba’s year-round warm, crystal clear waters make it a scuba diver’s paradise. However, water alone isn’t enough to attract divers. Let’s start with wreck diving.
Most scuba divers can’t leave Aruba without diving the SS Antilla, a German WWII freighter sunk just off Aruba’s northwest shore. The boat itself sits only 50-feet below the surface, making it accessible to even the most novice of scuba divers. Other fun wreck dives include a WW II tanker sunk by Germany and two airplanes intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef. More experienced divers enjoy the Jane Sea freighter. The boat is wide open for exploring but the currents can be strong.
Aruba also offers divers several reefs to explore. Advanced divers enjoy the challenge of the strong currents along the reefs of the northern end of the island, while beginners can swim out to the reefs off the shore from Baby and Rodger Beaches. In reality, there’s great reef diving all along the southern coast of the island, offering incredible coral and sea life to experience.
Tame the Desert
One of Aruba’s most unique selling points is the island’s arid, desert terrain. To explore this wilder side of the island, access the northern coast via Arikok National Park. The island nation’s natural reserve offers untamed beaches like Boca Prims and Dos Playas, sand dunes, and the Conchi natural pool tucked into the coast’s ancient lava stones. History buffs enjoy exploring the ruins of the Miralamar gold mine complex and Indian pictographs dating back a thousand years inside Fontein Cave.
There are multiple ways to explore the many sites of Arikok. The more adventurous sort wake up early and take to the hiking trails before the afternoon sun zaps the fun out of the craggy landscape. Tour operators offer everything from horseback tours to ATV and Land Rover experiences. Most of the sites can also be accessed by a 4×4 vehicle (some with a short walk from the parking lot). You can drive a standard rental car to select sites accessed by a paved road, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The drainage ditches wiped the front bumper of a few cars when we visited the park.
Wellness Retreat — What better way to rest your weary feet after a hard day of adventure than at Manchebo Beach Resort, ideally located on Eagle Beach. The boutique resort incorporates their surroundings on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches into everything from free beachfront yoga and Pilates to massages in thatched huts that overlook the water Imagine taking in endless beach views while getting the kinks worked out from a day of adventure.
Feature photo courtesy of Aruba Tourism Authority