Aruba is on every cruiser’s destination bucket list when it comes to cruising the Caribbean. With something for everyone, this fun and colorful Island is the ideal island to explore! Aruba is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, vibrant turquoise waves, and its near-perfect weather, making it the ultimate tropical getaway spot.
A Little Bit about Aruba
This amazing island, officially known as the Country of Aruba, can be found in the Lesser Antilles in the lower Caribbean Sea just north of Venezuela; along with Bonaire and Curacao, it forms what is known as the ABC islands. Aruba is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, meaning it is an administrative division of a sovereign country (the Netherlands). Aruba has its own capital (Oranjestad) and a local government that has autonomy over local and regional issues.
The first known inhabitants of Aruba were the Arawak Indians who migrated from nearby Venezuela to the island around 4,000 years ago. It is believed that Aruba was discovered by the Spanish in 1499 when Alonso de Ojeda landed on the island. Since that time Aruba has been settled and/or occupied by the English, the Spanish, and the Dutch.
In the 17th century Aruba was a well established haven for pirates who would hide in the lagoons for a chance at riches from the gold-laden Spanish galleons that sailed by. Gold continued to play a significant role in the area with the introduction of gold mining in the 19th century.
Aruba had the largest oil refinery in the world in the first part of the 20th century, processing Venezuela’s crude oil. The refineries were later attacked by the German navy during WWII, as they were then under Dutch administration.
Today the 183 km (69 sq mi) island of Aruba is divided into several city-like districts, with the majority of the population living on the south side of the island. The southern districts are the most protected during storms; while not totally out of the woods, Aruba is well shielded from hurricanes as lies outside of the Caribbean’s well known “hurricane belt.”
Aruba is best known for its palm trees, white, sandy beaches, and jewel-toned warm waters that call out to the winter-weary and others who want a little downtime and fun in the sun. Many celebrities including Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck, and Lionel Ritchie have been drawn to Aruba’s tantalizing shores.
- There are no traffic lights on the island — drivers use a “roundabout” at intersections
- All the locals are monolingual, so if you speak English, Spanish, Dutch, or Papiamento, you are in luck!
- Aruba has a thriving aloe business, and was once the world’s largest exporter of aloe
- Arikok, the island’s national park, covers about 20 percent of the island’s surface. Arikok National Park is also home to Aruba’s famous Natural Pool, also known as Conchi or Cura Di Tortuga.
How to Make the Most Out of Your Time in Aruba While Cruising
As with many islands in the Caribbean, Aruba is a big wedding destination and overall vacation hotspot… so it can get a little pricey! Budget-friendly times to visit are between April and November, when you will see lower prices along with shorter lines to attractions.
The winter months are more expensive and the island is full of tourists looking for a break from the cold, so steer clear if you are not a fan of crowds.
There are so many exciting things to do in Aruba! Where to Start? Consider these fun Aruba excursions:
Oranjestad and Noord — city tours are a great way to get a feel for the history, food, and culture of an area, and these two cities are a great start! The bustling port city of Oranjestad greets the cruise ships with its colorful buildings as well as several cultural, shopping, and dining options. Near the cruise port you will find Wilhelmina Park, an oasis in the bustling city complete with birds, iguanas, and a statue of Anne Frank.
On the northern end of the island you can explore the town of Noord with its beautiful beaches, bars, casinos, world-class restaurants, and entertaining nightlife.
If you are docked in port late on a Tuesday night, look for the weekly Bon Bini Festival with its costumed dancers, lively musicians, and craft and food vendors. And if you are fortunate to visit Aruba during Carnival season, you may be able to catch the myriad extravagant costumes, street parties, and parades on full display.
Step foot on an actual working aloe farm with a trip to the Aruba Aloe Factory Museum. Learn how aloe is grown and processed, then pick up some fresh aloe products in their gift shop.
The small Alto Vista Chapel will charm you with its humble yet serene interior and its rock-lined labyrinth. This was the island’s first Catholic church, built in 1750 with stone walls and a straw roof that later fell into ruins. The present chapel was constructed in 1952 over the same site, and is in use today.
Take a hike in the mangroves and dream about the gold mining days as you explore the historic Balashi and Bushiribana Gold Mill ruins; two popular stops on guided tours of Aruba. L:earn how the discovery of the first piece of gold in 1824 started a gold rush fever on the island for the next six years.
At the Casibari Rock Formations you will see prehistoric drawings etched into the surfaces of the rocks. These formations are actually composed of quartz diorite, and a quick climb to the top of them will reward you with panoramic views of the island.
Aruba’s sand dunes are another sight to behold! Miles of white, rolling sand dunes stretch out along the island’s largely undisturbed northern coast and enhance its desert-like beauty.
The Natural Bridge is a must-see while in Aruba. This natural coral limestone arch formation once stood an impressive 25 feet high before it collapsed in 2005 from fierce winds and waves caused by Hurricane Katrina. Come see its ruins, then take a walk along the adjacent Baby Bridge and grab some spectacular coastline shots.
Calling all beach lovers! Hit up one of the island’s gorgeous beaches and you will quickly understand why they make Aruba famous. Eagle Beach, Flamingo Beach, and Palm Beach have plenty of soft sand, beach bars, and water activities to make your day memorable. If you have little ones, head to family-friendly Baby Beach with its calm lagoon and shallow waters.
Get up close and personal with a dazzling array of colorful tropical fish and marine life as you snorkel in Aruba’s crystal clear waters. You can also enjoy another perspective of Aruba when you kayak along the shoreline through the beautiful Spanish Lagoon accompanied by an expert guide.
Take a deep dive down to the famed Antilla Shipwreck; this largely intact German freighter is one of the Caribbean’s largest shipwrecks and is home to many coral formations, tube sponges, shrimp, and other sea life. It is rumored that the ship was stranded in Dutch waters at the start of WWII, and the captain ordered the sinking of the ship to prevent it from getting into Nazi hands.
Consider a half-day catamaran tour in the morning or a shorter two-hour sail of the north coast in the evening to end the day. You can sail the shallow waters of Catalina Bay for snorkeling, champagne, and brunch. Or you can take a sunset cruise for some relaxation and a unique view of the California Lighthouse, a lighthouse named after a ship that sank in the 1800’s.
Aruba’s Sizzling Food Scene
Aruba may be small in size, but it is mighty when it comes to cuisine! The island is a literal melting pot of international flavors. Influences from many countries including Africa, Portugal, Spain, India, China, and the Netherlands can be noted in the various spices and cooking techniques that are used. From humble cafes to fine dining establishments and food trucks, there is no shortage of places to eat in Aruba.
As with many island and coastal areas, seafood is a mainstay in Aruban meals. Beef and goat are also popular, and pan bati (corn flour pancakes) are eaten with many meals.
While on the island, be sure to try these traditional dishes:
- Stoba (stew) – a hearty meat and vegetable stew slow cooked in a tomato-based broth and frequently eaten with pan bati
- Keshi Yena – aka Aruba’s national dish, it is a savory delight of meats, onions, peppers, and raisins cooked in a hollowed-out cheese rind
- Pastichi – similar to Jamaican patties, these deep fried pastries stuffed with meat and cheese are a tasty and convenient snack
Local Tips and Tricks You Most Definitely Did Not Know About
- Pack the highest SPF sunscreen that you can, as Aruba is very close to the equator
- No need for currency exchanges, as Aruba accepts US dollars and most places accept credit cards
- All the downtown shops are closed on Sundays, making it a great day for touring
- Love off-road riding? If so, bring goggles to protect your eyes from the dirt and bugs
- It is safe to drink the tap water, thanks to Aruba’s state-of-the-art filtration systems
- Keep some dollar bills handy, as you will be charged to use the public restrooms
- To tip or not to tip? Check your bill; sometimes a service charge is added. Tips of 15 to 20% are common
- Taxis can be expensive, and they frequently calculate charges based on how many stories your hotel has (yes!). Bring bills as they do not accept credit cards
- Need free wi-fi? You can find it at Renaissance Mall and at Renaissance Marketplace by Starbucks
Important Laws to Know
You must be at least 18 years of age to consume alcohol or enter a casino
Drugs and marijuana are illegal in Aruba
Leave any army or combat-style or print clothing at home as they are illegal to wear
Almost all single-use plastics (eg bottles, straws, utensils) are banned
Littering is prohibited and strictly enforced, especially at the beaches
Do not pack seashells, sand, or coral to bring home as it is illegal to take them off the island
There are many ways to get around Aruba, starting with public buses; they are relatively inexpensive, especially if you get a Day Pass. Taxis are plentiful but are not metered, and can be costly. A fun — and free —option is the streetcar that you can hop on and take a loop around the downtown area from the terminal.
Aruba is generally a safe place to visit; that being said, use general precautions just as you would anywhere you travel, such as not wearing valuables; not carrying or flashing a lot of cash; using a purse or backpack that closes securely and fits close to the body; and avoiding any remote areas at night.
Wondering what to wear in Aruba?
Aruba runs fairly hot all year round, with temps in the 70s to 80s, lots of humidity, and very little rainfall. The hottest months are July through September, with the humidity building up to its peak in November. Thankfully there are moderate trade winds that come in off the Atlantic Ocean, helping to temper the heat!
Translation: you will want to wear lightweight and light colored clothes such as tees, camisoles, shorts, and tank tops. Think of natural fibers such as linen, cotton, and silk. Bring along a wide brimmed hat for protection from the sun, along with a sarong or other beach cover up.
Flip flops are a must on the beach and around the pool, though you will want a nicer pair of shoes or sandals for the evening. Pack some comfortable walking sandals or shoes if you plan on doing a lot of walking or hiking.
At nighttime the island vibe slips from laid back to smart casual; think sundresses for the women and shirts and long pants for the men. Due to Aruba’s semi-arid nature, nighttime temps can drop – so a sweater or pashmina can be a lifesaver.
Good quality sunglasses are a must, as well as sunscreen and insect or mosquito repellant. Stash a day pack or lightweight backpack and a reusable water bottle for the beach and/or your sightseeing adventures.
Remember to include Shore Excursions Group in your travel plans! With our premiere excursions, expert tour guides, and guaranteed return to ship, we will make your visit to Aruba a truly memorable experience.