The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba sees more than a million visitors per year—and not just for the beachfront resorts and romantic Aruba hotels. Travelers from the U.S. and beyond know Aruba for its bright blue waters and white sand, but there’s also rugged outdoor adventure and colorful Caribbean culture to break up your beach lounging.
The Best Things to Do in Aruba
Below are 10 of the best things to do in Aruba, including some lesser-known gems. And before you pack your bags, also consider these things you should know before traveling to Aruba.
Visit Arikok National Park
Did you know almost 20 percent of Aruba is a protected national park? Arikok National Park stretches from the island’s arid center to its eastern and northern coasts, where it meets tropical blue shores and steep ocean cliffs.
Inside Arikok you’ll see centuries-old cacti and rock-face paintings. Cooling off means heading to its breezy coastal inlets, like Boca Prins (pictured) for far-flung ocean views.
Opt for a hike of the trails to see bright quartz peeking through the desert soil and succulents like aloe flourishing; then head toward the wind turbines in the distance (which create a significant portion of the island’s electricity) to experience the nearby sea cliffs and swimming spots.
At the edge of Arikok National Park are shady caverns rife with ancient paintings, stalactites, skylights, and (only a few) bats that are sure to make you feel like a true explorer. Unlike Aruba’s beaches, these caverns rarely fill up with tourists—giving you a unique up-close experience with the island’s natural formations. Guadirikiri Cave is a favorite for its two large main caves connected by a “Tunnel of Love,” lit by skylights and dotted with thousand-year-old Arawak Indian cave paintings and hand prints.
Discover San Nicolas
Most Aruba visitors stay in the resort-saturated Palm Beach area on the north coast, but the opposite side of the island has some of the best local beaches and cultural things to do in Aruba.
The San Nicolas area is home to colorful street murals, local art galleries and artisan shops, and Baby Beach—which earned its name for its calm, clear bay that’s fit for babies to splash in. You’ll get equal parts nature and culture in San Nicolas.
The clear, calm waters of Aruba make snorkeling a can’t-miss activity, and there are plenty of animals to see outside the water as well. Head to Arashi Beach or Boca Catalina for pristine waters full of tropical fish, or pick one of the many hotels on the island that have their own snorkeling and wildlife areas.
The Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital) has its own private island complete with snorkeling, plus iguanas and vibrant flamingos that lounge on the beach with you.
Visitors can feed the flamingos the provided treats, although food isn’t necessary for the pink residents to walk right up to you on the soft sands. Colorful iguanas and blue lizards lounge on the beach next door as well, and a regular boat shuttle takes you back and forth from the hotel.
Caribbean destinations like Aruba celebrate traditional Carnival annually, taking to the streets in ornate costumes and masks. The colorful events go on for weeks in Aruba between early January and late February. Locals and visitors alike honor the tradition with music, food, dancing, and parades—just in time for spring-break season. It’s one of the best things to do in Aruba if you want to experience the island alongside locals.
Most Arubans speak the local language of Papiamento, plus Spanish, Dutch, and English. It’s a treat to hear all the languages co-exist on this one happy island, and the friendly Arubans are welcoming of visitors.
Taste Aruban Flavors
The Dutch-Caribbean food scene is a unique one that includes both rich European flavors from Holland as well as spicy Caribbean flavors like seasoned seafood and fried plantains. For the latter, Zeerovers’ seaside picnic tables and fried fish baskets are island-famous and perfect after a long day at the beach. Local coffee, beer, and quick bites are a favorite at Craft Aruba.
For romantic dinners, Wilhelmina in Oranjestad offers Dutch-influenced dishes, local seafood options, and international fare. Papiamento Restaurant also stays true to local and Dutch flavors, and is located at a historic local house with intimate tables both inside the home and on its open-air patio.
Don’t leave the island without trying fresh local fish like red snapper, mahi mahi, and Caribbean rock lobster.
Learn About Aruban History
Aruba might be tiny, but it has a long history that dates back beyond the Arawak Indians, who drew Arikok National Park’s cave paintings about 1,000 years ago. You can learn about the original Arubans and see 4,000-year-old pre-ceramic artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, or hear about the Dutch settlers and pirates that landed here in the 1700s at the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum.
Take to the Caribbean Sea with a sailing expedition that will give you the full view of the island and an opportunity to experience various swimming spots all in the same day. Try Tranquilo Tours for a locally led daytime cruise around the island, with onboard lunch and off-boat swimming included.
Hit the Beach
Aruba has over a dozen idyllic public beaches worth exploring, from Eagle Beach‘s white sand and Palm Beach‘s cabanas to Boca Prins‘ sea spray.
Locals and visitors alike take to Druif Beach for relaxation closer to downtown, while the calm waters of Baby Beach or watersports at Palm Beach might also be worth the trip for some water lovers.
Buy Local Goods
A haul of all your favorite Caribbean and Dutch goodies makes for great Aruban souvenirs, from European cheeses and chocolate to local spices and tropical jams—best found at local grocery stores. While retail shopping can be pricey on Aruba, especially near resorts, just strolling colorful Oranjested’s shopping district is worth the view.
Local crafts and goods made in the Netherlands or the greater Caribbean are worth getting since they’ll be cheaper than they are in the States. Look out for authentic items like Caribbean-made papaya hot sauces and Dutch sweets. Just be sure to declare cheeses and similar food items at customs if you do indulge.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The Cheapest Caribbean Islands to Find Your Paradise
- The 10 Best Caribbean Beaches for a Relaxing Escape
- Secret Caribbean Islands You’ve Never Heard Of
Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Aruba as a guest of Aruba Tourism Authority and JetBlue. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Search Aruba activities and where to stay on Aruba.com.
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