Aruba: One Happy Island!

Our Thoughts

Aruba is a great destination year-round. If you’re looking for your next tropical vacation, you can’t go wrong visiting the One Happy Island!

We’ve traveled all over the Caribbean and crave the tropical vibe you find there. If you asked us to pick one island, it would be an easy choice: Aruba.  

Special thanks to Phil at The Exceptional Traveler for this guest post.

We’ve traveled all over the Caribbean and crave the tropical vibe you find there. If you asked us to pick one island, it would be an easy choice: Aruba.

The country calls itself ‘One Happy Island’, and we’ve found it to be true. If you like scenic beaches, watersports, sumptuous food and fun outdoor adventures on a safe desert island hosted by some of the friendliest people in the world, this is the place for you! Since Aruba is outside the hurricane belt, you can plan your visit any time of the year with the confidence that the weather will not interfere with your fun. The weather forecast is just about the same all year round: sunny, highs in the 80s, breezy and very little chance of rain (only about six inches a year).

Several US airlines fly to Aruba directly from multiple US airports. There is direct service from New York, Newark, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Houston and many more. Shop around. . .airfares range from $400 – $800. If you can be flexible and fly during the week, you should be able to find a route at the lower end of that scale.

Marriott’s Surf Club, Palm Beach, Aruba.

There are three main areas where you can stay in Aruba, with accommodations ranging from decent to deluxe in each one. The biggest and busiest area is Palm Beach, which features over a dozen hotels and timeshares lining a beautiful strip of sand about a mile and a half long. We like to stay at the Marriott Surf Club, located at the northern end of Palm Beach, where you can book anything from a studio to a three bedroom villa with an ocean and/or pool view. Although it’s part of the Marriott Vacation Club, anyone can book accommodations through the Marriott website. Rates range from $256 to over $500 per night through the website, but if you’re staying for at least a week, you can get a better rate in several ways. Within ten minutes’ drive, you’ll find plenty of Airbnb’s and other rental properties. There are tons of great restaurants up and down the price scale along with a shopping mall and several casinos within easy walking distance. This is also called the High Rise area, as opposed to the Low Rise area, which borders it to the south.

The Low Rise area is based on Eagle Beach, which you will typically find in listings of great beaches in the Caribbean and the world. It’s quieter and more laid back but offers just as many great lodging and dining choices. Some of the smaller boutique hotels on Eagle Beach are spectacular.

You can also stay in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, at one of the Renaissance hotels, either on the beach or in the city itself. Either way, you’ll have access to their private island, which is a lovely oasis shared with wild pink flamingos. Oranjestad is in the middle of the action for dining and nightlife, and if you happen to be shopping for jewelry or watches, this is where you’ll find the best stores with the widest selections.

Aruba is a relatively small island (only ten miles long and about six miles wide), but there’s still plenty to explore. We recommend renting a car for at least three or four days so you can venture out and see beyond the typical tourist areas. There are several car rental agencies at the airport and just as many offsite. If you’ll be returning the car before you head back home, make sure you select an agency that allows you to drop the car off near your hotel. That will save you a few precious vacation hours.

Those are the basics: flights, lodging and rental car. Beyond that, there’s plenty to do and plenty of time to not do anything. Here’s how we spend a week in Aruba:

  • Fly in as early in the day as possible. While this might mean you’re getting up at an ungodly hour to catch your flight, it’s worth being able to get on the beach that day and take in the sunset.
Sunset, Palm Beach, Aruba.
  • While you’re waiting for your luggage in the airport terminal, wander over to the duty free store. Here you’ll find the best prices for liquor on the island. Each adult can buy one bottle.
  • Rent a car at the airport; it’s the most efficient way to get around. We like National, because they allow you to drop the car off at either of two locations in Palm Beach—very handy if you don’t keep the car for your entire stay.
  • Word of caution: Aruba is only about 870 miles from the equator. Apply 30+ sunscreen liberally and often! The combination of very low humidity and a constant breeze keeps you cool, but your skin may be frying, so be careful! This also represents a chance to support local industry: we highly recommend the products from Aruba Aloe, made on the island (you can visit their local plantation, factory and museum). Their sunscreens, moisturizers, lotions and gels have been developed by the people that spend 365 days a year in the hot Aruban sun.

Favourite things to do? Here’s a list, but it’s by no means comprehensive. Make sure you leave time to unwind and relax. Unless you’re an adventure junkie, don’t book more than one planned activity each day.

  • Get out on the water. Take a sunset cruise with Red Sail Sports,  a wonderful way to end a sun-kissed Aruban day, with rum drinks included.
A sunset cruise with Red Sail Sports.
  • For an interesting diving or snorkelling experience, check out Aruba Bob. You’ll need your car to get there, but it’s worth the drive to explore an underwater world that isn’t as crowded as most snorkelling areas (yet).
  • Explore the wild and rugged east side of the island. You can do an organized tour with ABC Tours or DePalm Tours.  Another word of caution: You will get dirty and dusty, but it’s a blast and very interesting.
  • Jump in the car and drive down to San Nicolas, Aruba’s second city. Home to native art and food, this is still off the radar for most tourists. And nearby Baby Beach is a terrific place to swim and snorkel.
  • Get up early and go to the California Lighthouse before it gets too hot. Climb up for unparalleled views of the island and the ocean.
The port in Oranjestad, Aruba.
  • If you like to shop for jewelry and watches, spend a few hours in Oranjestad. You’ll see more variety in about a half mile strip than just about anywhere in the world, priced as low as we’ve seen anywhere. We have found that designer jewelry is typically 10% off US retail and there is no sales tax. You can negotiate even better savings on non-branded jewelry. The best deals can be found when you know your stuff, so check out pricing on the internet before you buy, and try to visit the stores on the days when there aren’t any cruise ships in port. . .fewer customers can mean lower prices.
Azzurro, Palm Beach, Aruba.
  • Try to eat outside whenever possible. Making a reservation in advance goes a long way toward securing that outdoor table, so plan a few of your meals before you leave and reserve a table online. Here are our favourite spots:
  • Azzurro, J.E. Irausquin Boulevard 87, Palm Beach (located in the Playa Linda Resort). Great Italian, second story dining right next to the beach. Exceptional pastas, especially the Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmigiano, made tableside.
  • Pincho’s Grill and Bar, L.G. Smith Blvd. #7 at Aruba Surfside Marina, Oranjestad. Set on a huge dock/patio on the water, with a huge menu. Their seafood selection is delicious and second to none. As our waiter said, “You’ll be back.”
  • Quinta del Carmen, Bubali 119, Noord. Outdoor dining in a beautiful tropical courtyard setting. The food is delicious, including several Dutch specialties, as well as superb shrimp, snapper and grouper entrees.

  • The Flying Fishbone, Savaneta 344. This is one of our favorite restaurants in the world. Excellent seafood, served at tables right on the beach, with your feet in the sand.  Try to make a reservation a half hour before sunset. Incomparable!
  • Screaming Eagle, J.E. Irausquin Blvd 228, Eagle Beach. The unique attraction here is to be served in a bed. There’s also a large patio area, and the menu is first rate. As you might expect, it offers one of the best wine lists we encountered in Aruba.
  • Yemanja Wood Fired Grill, Wilhelminastraat 2, Oranjestad. Unique menu with several healthy vegan and vegetarian options. The wood fired grill imparts a great flavour, especially to the seafood dishes.
  • Ike’s, J.E. Irausquin Blvd 55, Eagle Beach (located in the Manchebo Beach Resort). Tremendous vegan and vegetarian menus, along with grilled fish and meats. Saturday night is Local food night, featuring the best of local Aruban cuisine. We missed that, but scored a reservation for Lobster night (Mondays), and the lobster dishes were excellent.
Papiamento’s poolside bar, Noord, Aruba.
  • Papiamento, Washington 61, Noord. Poolside dining under the stars, with several entrees served on a hot stone (don’t touch it!).  This is one of Aruba’s oldest restaurants.
  • Gianni’s, J.E. Irausquin Blvd 348, Palm Beach. Sister to Azzurro, solid Italian menu also featuring grilled steaks, chops and seafood.

  • Hadicurari, on the beach between Marriott Surf Club and MooMba Beach, Palm Beach. Good menu, good food, tables on the beach. A little more casual than most of the above, with good service. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a great second story bar.
  • Eduardo’s Beach Shack (on the beach near the Playa Linda Resort in Palm Beach) for a healthy breakfast bowl or smoothie.
  • Grab lunch at Bugaloe’s Beach Bar, located at the end of the DePalm Pier on Palm Beach, near the Riu Palace hotel. It’s the quintessential dive bar, with decent food and 360 degree ocean views.
  • For happy hour or a nightcap, MooMba Beach Bar & Restaurant, J.E. Irausquin Blvd 230, Palm Beach (on the beach between Marriott Surf Club and the Holiday Inn). Consistently rated one of the best beach bars in the Caribbean.
  • If you’re a fan of comedy, it doesn’t get any better than Aruba Ray’s Comedy Club, now located in the Grand Ballroom of the Holiday Inn Resort in Palm Beach. Comedian Ray Ellin has been performing in Aruba for several years, and he brings along a few of his very funny friends for an evening of laughs that’s rated the number one nighttime activity in Aruba by Trip Advisor. You’ll probably want to make reservations.

Aruba is a great destination year-round. If you’re looking for your next tropical vacation, you can’t go wrong visiting the One Happy Island!

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