Aruba is a Dutch-Caribbean island known for its beautiful white sand beaches, tropical sea breezes and dry temperate climate. With a strip of all-inclusive resorts and vacation rentals, it is a popular destination among honeymooners and summer vacationers. The “One Happy Island” is also emerging as a cultural getaway.
Downtown Aruba and the capital city of Oranjestad, mainly cater to cruise ship passengers. While docked, they spend a few hours walking around the bright pink and yellow buildings filled with designer stores and friendly bars. Time your visit to early morning or late afternoon to avoid the rush.
Manchebo Resort and Spa, one of the smaller boutique and eco-friendly resorts, is located only 2.5 miles from the main street. Here you will find modern Dutch-inspired décor across spacious bedrooms with unobstructed views of the Caribbean Sea from your private balcony. Manchebo has one of the best beaches on the island. With only 72 guest rooms, you will always have enough space to lie under a beach umbrella, sit by the pool or grab a seat at the bar. Free yoga and Pilates classes, as well as a Balinese spa overlooking Eagle Beach, attract locals as well as guests to the resort.
The on-site restaurant, Ike’s Bistro, offers Caribbean as well as vegan menus paired with top-shelf mixed drinks using local ingredients, such as mangoes, lychee and cashews. The rooms come with picnic coolers so you can fill them with snacks and drinks before heading out on an adventure around the island.
Shop for aloe-made products at the Aruba Aloe and crafts handmade by artists at Cosecha Aruban Craft Design & Heritage for original souvenirs to take back home.
The best way to explore Aruba is by driving around its 20-some miles. Most of the roads are well maintained, but it is recommended to use a four-wheel SUV in certain areas, including the famous Natural Bridge, Natural Pools and Arihok National Park.
From Oranjestad, head north to the Carolina lighthouse for a 360-degree view of the island and get your bearings. Nearby, Boca Catalina and Hadicuran beaches are good pit stops to swim or snorkel.
As you make your way to Paradera, take a hike at the giant tonalite Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations. The Alto Vista Chapel on the horizon is said to be the first church to be established in Aruba around 1750.
To learn about how stray donkeys are rescued and kept off the streets, visit the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary. Home to 150 donkeys, this volunteer-run nonprofit allows visitors to feed the affectionate donkeys or observe them from a covered porch.
Head to the restaurant Zeerover in the town of Savaneta for a late lunch. The local catch that is sold and cooked by the pound by the fisherman who caught it that day. This casual oceanfront kitchen is a favorite hangout to eat, drink, shoot pool and meet friends.
Local Charm of San Nicolas
San Nicolas is the second largest city on the island, around a 30-minute drive from Oranjestad. What was once a bustling town fueled by ample employment by a Venezuelan-owned refinery is now sparse with a few residents and old shops. The main street of the city recently got a facelift thanks to global artists who participated in the Aruba Art Fair, creating colorful murals inspired by the island’s culture. Each year more stunning murals replace decapitated buildings with artwork that brightens up San Nicolas, aka ‘Sunrise City,” because the sun rises on the eastern side of the island.
A few locally-run restaurants are in the area, including Charlie’s Bar which has an eclectic display of memorabilia that the owners have been collecting for more than 80 years. Nearby, Baby Beach is a shallow, family-friendly beach, where you can find Arubans with family and friends, especially on the weekends.
To see kite surfers in action, head to Boca Grandi and for body surfing and bodyboarding, watch the waves at Nanki. Hardly any tourists make it out to these parts of the island, so you will mostly find locals relaxing at the peaceful Roger’s Beach.