(UPDATED MAY 2022) Aruba is known for its gorgeous beaches and turquoise water. It is easily one of the most exotic and lovely Caribbean destinations I have been to and features world-class beaches. Oranjestad, Aruba, is a top cruise itinerary port, and we have visited the country via cruise ship multiple times and by land. In our experience, here is what to see and do in Aruba. You’ll quickly see why Aruba is referred to as “One Happy Island.”
But First, A Bit About Aruba
Aruba seceded from the northern Antilles in 1986, and the island became a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, sharing Dutch nationality. Aruba and Bonaire, and Curaçao are referred to as the ABC islands. They are the western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean.
Aruba’s waterfront is layered in hues of blue. It is so vibrant and beautiful that it looks like you are staring at a picture, even in person. I often wonder if there are enough names for the shades of blue even to name each color in these beautiful waters.
On the island’s northern part, coves cut out of limestone stagger the coastline because the water is very rough. Take caution as the waves and currents are no joke in Aruba. The water looks gorgeous, but it can be dangerous.
Exploring Aruba’s Amazing Beaches
Aruba has gorgeous beaches around the entire island. Besides visiting the crowded local beaches near the cruise ship, consider renting a car to drive around the island and sightsee the different beaches on your own.
There are car rental kiosks steps from the cruise port. They are safe and affordable, plus the island makes a loop, so it is pretty impossible to get lost. If you wander to the back side of the island or away from the heavy traffic areas, you’ll more than likely see many wild horses and donkeys roaming along the beach and often the streets. They are inquisitive and will walk right up to your car. We saw some impressive murals, too.
Caution: Aruba has many dunes. Do not attempt to drive on the beaches unless you have a 4W-Drive vehicle and the signs say it is permitted. Lesson learned the hard way right here.
I recommend going to Eagle Beach for the most beautiful scenery, though it can be quite crowded. Surfside Beach is the locals’ favorite family-friendly beach. Palm Beach, with its white talc sand, is bustling with luxury resorts and water sports, namely windsurfers.
People come to Aruba to shop, especially for international and quality goods. Cruise ship passengers are enough customers to support dozens of high-end jewelry stores. There are deals to be had, plus there is no sales tax– a win-win for international visitors.
The Port of Call Marketplace will be the first shopping complex you will see upon exiting the cruise terminal in the harbor city of Oranjestad. There are several more shopping arcades and open-air markets throughout town. Along the downtown waterfront, L.G. Smith Boulevard welcomes you with dozens of international luxury retailers and restaurants.
Popular souvenirs to purchase while in Oranjestad, Aruba are Delft porcelain, Dutch cheeses, and the exquisite Alexandrite jewel. Alexandrite can be found at the cruise recommended by Columbian Emeralds or Diamonds International stores.
Behave Like a Tourist, A Must
If you are looking to do the cheesy Caribbean island touristy things, including a visit to Señor Frogs on Eagle Beach or Carlos & Charlie’s. Both venues feature live entertainment daily. The Hard Rock Cafe is also another popular choice. The overpriced food is mediocre, and the drinks watered down, but you will surely have fun. Both establishments offer cool t-shirts to take home as souvenirs.
Visiting Aruba’s Ostrich Farm
My friend Julie and I visited the Aruba Ostrich Farm via a cruise ship excursion. It is certainly something I think you should do in Aruba and pretty unique as far as cruise excursions go. We had a twenty-minute guided tour that included a chance to feed the ostriches with help from the guides.
The ostriches, especially the babies, were so cute, and we learned a lot from our tour, plus got terrific photos. The Ostrich Farm also has an onsite restaurant (featuring ostrich-meat dishes) and an African artifacts gift shop.
Fun Fact: The ostrich is the largest and heaviest bird in the world and can run up to 70 MPH.
Admiring Aruba’s Natural Beauty
On the powdery sands of Eagle Beach, you can see the beautiful fofoti trees. They are the ones used in marketing campaigns for Aruba. Fofoti trees differ from divi-divi trees, which grow in the ground, not the sand.
One of my cruise ship excursions took me to the natural bridge. This naturally formed limestone bridge is only one-fourth of the size of the original natural bridge that collapsed in 2005. Still, it was pretty to see and take pictures of. Be sure to stack a rock on the rock towers near the beach and make a wish.
Along the drive to the bridge, you’ll likely see wild donkeys roaming the streets.
Seeing a Landmark, Tasting the Cuisine
A famous Aruba landmark, the California Lighthouse, is named after a ship that sank in 1910. The lighthouse is near Arashi Beach, where La Trattoria el Faro Blanco Restaurant overlooks the beach. It is also a tasty lunch stop.
Speaking of food, Aruba is known for pastiches, Antillean meat turnovers with dried fruits and spices. You’ll find gourmet salads, grilled meats, and a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables on most menus.
One Big Happy Island
You will surely fall in love with this fantastic vacation spot between the swaying palm trees and jaw-dropping beaches. Aruba is a place you’ll want to return to again and again.
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