Travel guide to Aruba
Aruba was the last stop of our island hoping tour within the ABC Islands (if you ask why ABC Islands, then read this), after Bonaire and Curaçao. As I’ve never heard of this island before, first thing I did was googling it. First picture I saw was of pink flamingos standing on the white sandy beach. I was flashed and started day dreaming immediately… Lying on a beach hidden by limestone formation and palms, listening to the waves of the crystal clear waters, my feet covered with sand and tasting the salt on my lips, while the flamingos fly around.
Did all this happen? Well, let’s put it that way; not exactly the way I dreamed of it.
We arrived around midday at the Queen Beatrix Airport and as we were already experienced from the other islands, we didn’t think long and decided to rent a car. When you go out from the terminal you’ll see the rental car offices directly in front of you. We rented an economy car by Budget. Besides the well known rental car companies, I saw rental cars of Amigo quite often. The rates are, like in other islands, around 40-60$ per day. You might get better rates if you book it in advance.
If you don’t want to drive a car, you can make use of Aruba Bus which drives pretty frequently from/to most of the attractions. One way ticket costs 2.30$.
We checked in the beautiful Wonders Boutique Hotel. It is super near to the city center and its garden with pool is a perfect place to start or end the day.
There is a good chance you see green colored parrots flying around and iguanas sunbathing on the trees, while breakfasting. Our host, Gaston gave us many good tips what to do, see, where to snorkel, etc. By the way, he can also help with renting a car.
With a simple map in our hand we started exploring the island.
Natural Bridge & Natural Pool
Gaston gave us a good tip to visit the Natural Pool either early in the morning till 10am or after 4pm. As it was already late afternnon we decide to visit the Natural Pool. We followed the alternative route to Natural Pool, as advised by Gaston, which is not via Arikok National Park, but from the “I forgot the name” Ranch. Unfortunately we were too stupid to find it so that we turned back without seeing the natural pool. It is supposed to be very nice if you manage to get there in non-touristic hours.
On our way back we saw the sign to Natural Bridge which is (well was) formed naturally out of coral limestone. The bridge has collapsed back in 2005. I’m sure it was beautiful back then, but today? There is nothing left but the signs. Next to the old collapsed bridge there is another one. Apparently not that beautiful like its sister bridge which maybe saved it from collapsing, as thousands of tourists were not jumping on it to take cool crazy pictures.
In Aruba all beaches are free and easily accessible for everyone. Even if the beach is located in front of luxury hotels. I mainly look for beaches with no crowds and if it is a spot where I can snorkel, even better.
- Arashi Beach in the northwest, just before the California Lighthouse is one of them. It is a place to relax and forget about the things. And with good luck you might see some starfish. I basically spent my day here watched the pelicans hunting while I was sunbathing and reading my book. Keep in mind there are no facilities around. So bring enough water and food.
- Baby Beach (my favorite) in the southwest is a beautiful half-moon shaped sandy beach with shallow crystal waters. You can snorkel in blue lagoon here but don’t expect to see much. Due to the strong currents it is not recommended to leave the lagoon. There is a beach restaurant where you can have lunch and rent chairs and umbrellas. There was a pretty strong wind blowing everything away. My ears were full of sand at the end of the day.
- Rogers Beach close to Baby Beach is also nice. It is also very close to the refinery which is for me still a big Caribbean paradox. Horrible looking industrial areas next to white sandy beaches. The beauty and the beast. Anyways, there is no doubt that this beach is a spot to get away of everything. But not at the weekends!
- Eagle Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Aruba. It is indeed a beautiful wide beach with soft white sand, however too crowded for my taste. Many low rise hotels are located near by, well actually just across the road and therefore it is the perfect spot for vacationers. Due to the crowds and the sandy bottom the water was not clear and honestly, swimming there was not the best Caribbean experience I had.
We went there late afternoon to film the sunset with these funny umbrella-like trees, called “fofoti“. But then I realized this tree is more famous than Kim Kardashian. It was the moment I faced the ugly reality of selfies. There was this couple climbing up the poor fragile tree to take the selfie of their lives. It took them more than 2 hours. Even our photo bombing tries did not stop them. I have no problem with selfies in general, on the contrary, if you believe you take a better picture of yourself, just do it. I also hate asking someone to take a picture of me grinning in a very silly way and then to see I don’t like it at all. Not only me looking bad, but also the whole composition of the photo is horrible. So I rather do it myself. But honestly guys! 2 hours on one spot for a stupid selfie? I’d say, go get a life. And next time check the mood of the people around. No one had fun waiting and watching your silly selfie look.
Anyways, I took a timelapse video (not with the famous fofoti though), hoping for most dramatic sunset with orange, yellow, pink and all that colours. Well, it was just not my day, I suppose.
- Palm beach: Didn’t see it and don’t regret it! It is supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches in Aruba. But it has a problem. It is located in front of the high-rise luxury hotels and I had no interest in getting near to it.
Well, here I have very mixed feelings. The down town of Oranjestad is way too westernized. I couldn’t find anything original left. There were shopping malls, Disneyland-like restaurant complexes, casinos decorated with shiny laser lights, chain cafe/restaurants such as Starbucks, Subway, etc.
I totally missed the feeling of being somewhere else, like a small town of a small Caribbean island which kept its own way of life. If I wanted to be in an US American or European sea town, I would have gone there. Why copying and adapting other life styles? Just so that the vacationers feel home and comfortable? Then the question goes to these kind of vacationers: Why do you fly to far far away countries to find the same you have at home? Is it so difficult to eat, drink and discover something different for a week or two?
Honestly, for me it sucked. I had no joy whatsoever walking around the down town of Oranjestad. It felt like a copy of an US American or European town, as if it was not real, as if it was an amusement park made for cruise tourist who won’t stay longer than a day.
Luckily, one evening we got lost in the back streets of Oranjestad while looking for a restaurant and this way I had the chance to see the authentic side of the Oranjestad. How the locals spend their evenings with their families in gardens/terraces in front of their Caribbean typical 1-2 stocks houses, how they all have dogs, wild dogs, to scare the pants of you when you pass by, how they clean the barber shop before closing, how they sit on bars to watch baseball. Or was it American football? Ok ok, I suck at sports.
Arikok National Park
Have you been to Bonaire’s National Park Washington Slagbaai? If yes, think twice before you decide to visit Arikok National Park. If not, then don’t think long. Just do it, because the park is one the best places where you can see the real flora and fauna of the island. The park is covers almost 20% of the whole island. You can spend 2-5 hours in the park where you can enjoy nice cliff landscapes, caves, dunes, blow holes and many more of the spectacular nature.
The entrance fee is 11$ per person and goes for the preservation of the park and the animals. The entrance is easy to find and in the Visitor’s Center there is a good exhibition which shows the endemic plants and animals, whiptail lizard (cododo), cat eye snake (santanero) and the rattle snake (cascabel) which is endangered. By the way, how these 3 animals were kept in a small aquarium for the exhibition, made me almost cry. The poor snakes.
Anyways, everyone told us it is fine to drive with a small economy car, except natural pool. Well, not only the way to natural pool, but also the road from entrance to the Sero Arikok (Arikok Hill) was not in a condition to drive through with a small car. So, don’t listen to anyone! For that day get a pick up or arrange a quad tour. We couldn’t drive up to the hill and kept on driving very slowly on easy roads. By the way, when you pick up the rental car, better check it carefully and take pictures of scratches and damages to avoid problems when you turn it back. I heard of some people who had problems when they turned the car back and didn’t get the deposit back as the rental car company blamed them to have damaged the car in the national park.
For me the highlights of the park were the Fontein and Quadirikiri caves. I like caves in general anyways because of their mystical and dark atmosphere… Plus, the bat colonies and authentic Arawak Indian drawings… I was quite impressed by the Quadirikiri Caves especially. The simpatico ranger showed and explained us that the whole cave system was under the ocean millions of years ago. Indeed, the fossils of corals were very easy to identify.
In Arikok, there are also several beaches, but not recommended to swim. Dos Playa and Boca Prins are the most popular ones where the sea turtles come to lay their eggs. The Dunes of Boca Prins are pretty cool too. But NOT the cafe/restaurant near Boca Prins! They allow only guests to use the bathroom which is the only one I’ve seen in the whole park. The waitress was unfriendly and rejected me immediately by saying “sorry only for guests”. Paying for the toilet is something to consider, but not forcing people to sit down and drink something, so that they can use the bathroom. Sorry but this is just stupid!
The exit road after Quadirikiri Caves goes to Baby Beach where you can cool down perfectly. Because in the park it will be HOT. Take enough water with you.
- Accommodation: The double room prices start from 70$ per night. Just check Booking.com. Maybe via Airbnb can also find a price worthy accommodation. Our stay at Wonders Boutique Hotel was spotless.
- Eating & Drinking: From all the restaurant we were at, Que Pasa is the only one I really liked. The food was super tasty and the service was super friendly and attentive. The main courses vary from 18-30$.
Stay away from Paddock which is located at the harbor, actually exactly there where the cruise ships park. And this is the audience they want to aim for, I guess. Because I don’t think many people would come here for a second time. The service was not around so that we were not even able to order our dinner. And the wine I got was simply awful. Yack!
The pizza at the Casa Tua Pizzeria was tasty and the Moroccan waiter was chatty and cheerful, which made our dinner even more enjoyable. Café The Plaza, just across the pizzeria was also okish. In the evenings there is live music… Well, if you like cheesy music it might not disturb you. I rather avoid it 🙂
My problem in general was that I wanted to eat local dishes which was in Aruba pretty difficult. There are some food / snack trucks spread around Oranjestad but I didn’t manage to catch one. They were either closed when I was around or I was in a car driving by when they were open. Such a bummer!
- Currency: The official currency is Aruban florin (Afl) but everywhere you can pay with US$.
- Language: Dutch and Papiamento (mix of Spanish, English, Dutch) are the official languages, but most of the locals can speak English, Spanish and Portuguese fluently.
- Weather: Heaven! Warm and sunny all year long and it is outside the hurricane belt.
- Getting there/away: You can fly from/to US, Europe, South America and other destinations in Caribbean with the usual suspects KLM and Delta. Insel Air is flying frequently between the Caribbean destinations.
To go or not to go?
The beaches in Aruba are the best of the so called ABC Islands. Aruba is a good choice if you look for wide white sandy beaches to lie down and do nothing. For my taste Aruba is badly influenced by all-inclusive tourism and it is way too expensive for what it offers overall.
For more insights I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Caribbean Islands.
For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
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