Aruba is a playground for adventurous travelers thanks to a perfect combination of climate and culture that keeps this desert island feeling fresh and exciting – even for seasoned travelers to the Caribbean. Sure, you can bask on blissful beaches and swim in crystal-clear waters, but you can also explore rocky desert landscapes and mangroves, ride horses along pristine coastlines, scuba dive on wartime wrecks and board the party bus in Oranjestad – your days in Aruba will never feel empty!
While most people stay in the resorts on Aruba's northwest coast, it pays to explore beyond the infinity pools. The island's pocket-sized capital, Oranjestad, has bustling nightlife and candy-colored architecture, and many of the island's sand-sprinkled beaches are also busy hubs for water sports, from scuba diving to surfing and kite surfing.
Meanwhile, the island's mangroves and volcanic national park are havens for wildlife and bases for more adventures. Whether you’re looking for waves, thrills or natural wonders, here are the top things to do in Aruba.
1. Plunge into a natural pool at Arikok National Park
Covering about 20% of Aruba, Arikok National Park plays host to a breathtaking natural pool where visitors can swim and cliff jump amidst crashing waves. Conchi Natural Pool is located on Aruba’s rugged and rocky northeastern coast; from the park entrance, hikers can follow a 3.5-mile trail to the pool or you can travel here by rented Jeep or on a national park tour.
Planning tip: The lone road leading to the pool snakes around the Sero Arikok Volcano (the second-highest point in the country) continuing as a rough, high-clearance dirt track – if you come under your own steam, you'll need to rent a 4WD vehicle.
2. Take an off-road tour through a dramatic volcanic landscape
For a change of pace from basking on the beach, Arikok National Park offers a labyrinth of roads and trails that meander through arid volcanic landscapes and dotted with towering cacti and fringed by a curtain of blue Caribbean waters on the horizon. Adventure tours by 4WD cost about US$100, but it's worth it for the fun of exploring this wonderful, rugged landscape. Note that other kinds of off-road vehicles were banned from the park in 2021.
3. Dive World War II shipwrecks on the northwest coast
In February 1942, a German U-boat torpedoed the British tanker SS Pedernales off the Aruban coast. Today, parts of the ship remain on the seabed, creating an artificial reef that teems with marine life. Resting in just 20ft of water, the wreck is accessible to divers of all experience levels and it's a frequent stop for dive shops operating on the island.
Just along the coast, the hulking wreck of the cargo ship SS Antilla sits in a relatively shallow 55ft of water. Measuring 400ft in length, this German ship was scuttled by its captain at the onset of World War II, and eight decades later, it remains one of the most popular dive sites in the Caribbean.
Planning tip: The SS Pedernales and SS Antilla are easily accessible from the beaches north of Oranjestad; Red Sail is a reliable company with three dive centers along the resort strip.
4. Ride the wind at Hadicurari Beach
Windsurfers and kitesurfers will feel right at home on Hadicurari Beach. Once known for its iconic fishing huts, this stretch of coast between Malmok Beach and Palm Beach now plays host to some of the biggest windsurfing competitions on the planet. Beginners can book a lesson with Windsurfing Aruba, while experienced surfers can rent gear and set out alone onto the lilting, shallow waters.
5. Take a glass-bottomed kayak through Aruba's mangrove forests
A glass-bottomed kayak is a great way to get close to the vibrant fish, sea turtles and other marine life that flourish along the coast of Aruba. Clear Kayak Aruba offers glass-bottomed kayak tours of the island’s largest mangrove forest, where travelers can view a lush, marine ecosystem as they glide between the trees. Tours include pick up and drop off at your accommodation, and the chance to snorkel in the tranquil waters of the mangroves.
6. Skydive to the beach for whole-island views of Aruba
It's hard to say which is the bigger thrill when taking a skydive with Skydive Aruba – plummeting towards the Earth at 120mph, or enjoying a bird’s eye view of the entire island of Aruba. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy views stretching from Oranjestad to Arikok before descending to a drop zone next to the beach. Jumps take about two hours to complete and the price includes transfers to and from the drop zone.
Planning tip: Tandem skydives with Skydive Aruba are open to anyone over the age of 13, but teens need permission from a parent. The minimum and maximum weights for skydivers are 100lbs and 220lbs respectively.
7. Lounge under divi divi and fofoti trees
To grab a quintessential photo of Aruba, seek out the island's famous fofoti and divi divi trees, found growing on the beach and inshore respectively. These windswept trees always point towards the southwest due to the prevailing direction of the trade winds that sweep over the island.
Regarded as one of the top white sand beaches in the Caribbean, Eagle Beach is home to the most photographed fofoti trees on the island, though examples of each can be found clawing their way skyward from the sand all around Aruba. December to April is the best time to enjoy Aruba's beaches.
8. Explore the Guadirikiri and Fontein Caves
Visitors can delve into the pre-Columbian history of Aruba at the Guadirikiri and Fontein caves. These damp limestone caverns inside Arikok National Park are home to petroglyphs that may date back more than a millennium. The intricate, vermillion paintings were left by the Arawak people and offer a tantalizing glimpse of ancient life in the Caribbean. One of the best hikes in Aruba leads to the caves after scaling the island's highest peak.
9. Catch the party bus in Oranjestad
Cruising down the street in a cacophony of maracas and drumbeats, Oranjestad’s vibrantly colorful Kukoo Kunuku party bus is either famous or infamous depending on who you ask. For lovers of nightlife, it’s definitely the latter; this fun-filled tour is the perfect way to kickstart a night on the town after a day spent lounging by the surf. Tour options range from calmer outdoor dinners to a pub crawl of the best bars on the island.
Planning tip: Ready to dial up the fun even higher? The Karaoke Party Bus tour features a shot at every bar along the route and live karaoke throughout the ride.
10. Dive beneath the Caribbean on a submarine
Kids and those less confident in the water can admire natural and artificial reefs bustling with coral, colorful fish and marine life through the windows of one of Aruba's tourist submarines. The semi-submersible Sea World Explorer and the fully-submerging Atlantis offer visitors impressive views of the world beneath the waves. The latter plunges to depths of 130ft during its voyage along the reef.
11. Explore the countryside on horseback
Aruba’s dry landscape is perfect for equestrians – you’d be forgiven for feeling like the American West has somehow been transported to the Caribbean. The island’s rocky landscapes and bountiful cacti create a jarring contrast to the aquamarine waters off the coast, and there's no better way to soak in the scenery than on horseback. Operators such as Rancho Notorious offer horseback excursions catering to all budgets and levels of experience in the saddle, including ever-popular trips along the beach.
12. Catch the sunset from the California Lighthouse
Aruba’s northwestern tip is home to a historic stone lighthouse that's well worth a visit to enjoy some of the island's most striking views. The 180ft-tall California Lighthouse looms above the northern tip of island, its alabaster exterior standing out brilliantly against the sunset. Tours of the interior are available from 9am to 7pm and include access to a viewing deck with expansive views of the island.
Planning tip: Visitors who want to go the extra mile can book a private dinner at the top of the tower. Alternatively, enjoy a more earthbound dining experience at the nearby Faro Blanco restaurant.