North Americans fleeing winter make Aruba the most touristed island in the southern Caribbean. The draws are obvious: miles of glorious white-sand beach, plenty of all-inclusive resorts, and a cute, compact capital, Oranjestad, which is well suited to the short strolls favored by cruise-ship passengers. It’s all about sun, fun and spending money.
Venture away from the resorts and you're in for a real treat. At the island’s extreme ends are rugged, windswept vistas and uncrowded beaches – perfect for hiking and horseback riding. Crystal-clear waters are bursting with sea life and shipwrecks (and an airplane wreck or two), providing incredible opportunities for snorkeling and diving. And nonstop breezes create near-perfect conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
So whether you're longing to lounge on a beach or delve into the great outdoors, Aruba has you covered. One happy island, indeed!
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Aruba.
Powerful wave action has worn this depression into the coastal limestone ridge. The surrounding rocks break the surf, so – with waves crashing all around – you can take a peaceful, cooling dip. Bring your mask and snorkel and commune with the fish hiding out in here. You'll want water shoes for the sharp rocks.
Fronting a line of low-rise resorts just northwest of Oranjestad, Eagle is a long stretch of white sand that regularly makes lists of the best beaches in the world. There are shade trees in some areas and you can obtain every service you need, from a lounger to a cold drink.
Up the hill from Arashi Beach, this tall sentinel is named for an old wrecked ship called the California, which is not the ship of similar name (Californian) that stood by ineffectually while the Titanic sank, despite much local lore to the contrary. The views are great and the wind is strong, especially at the top. This is a popular spot to catch the sunset.
With 18 ostriches, 16 emus and a bunch of ducks, geese, peacocks, chickens and turtles, this well-kept little farm makes a fun and educational stop on your way to the northern part of the island. Highlights include hand-feeding the ostriches (be sure to have a photo taken while you do this) and feasting on their enormous eggs, which (when available) are served for breakfast at the lovely open-air restaurant.
Make an ass of yourself doting on these winsome critters, who will follow you around for attention and snacks. Donkeys were brought to Aruba by the Spaniards, but many animals went rogue when they were no longer needed on farms. Unfortunately, they didn't fare well after automobile traffic increased on the island. The donkeys at the sanctuary are well taken care of: they are named, treated, fed, protected and loved. You won't be able to resist them!
Tucked between the low-rise and high-rise resort areas, this place will make your heart go aflutter, as the gorgeous gardens are teeming with butterflies and moths of all sizes and colors. Guided tours walk you through the lepidoptera life cycle, and the habitat provides for tropical dry forest and rainforest species. The variety is impressive.
Limestone cliffs, crystal-clear waters and crashing waves make this beach experience different from all others on the island. This east-coast beauty is popular with surfers and boogie-boarders. Otherwise, you might have the place to yourself (note that swimming is treacherous).
Surfside is a pretty pleasant place to spend an afternoon if you're hankering after some sun, surf and sand. It's the best, most swimmable beach in Oranjestad proper, with plenty of shade and a handful of excellent bars. Kids will love the inflatable water park just offshore, which offers swings, slides, monkey bars, climbing walls and a free-floating catapult.
Though this limestone cave is extensive, only the entrance hall is open to visitors. Aside from stalactites, stalagmites and other impressive rock formations, the cave contains well-preserved drawings by Caquetío people (a branch of the Arawak) that date back about 1000 years. Park rangers are on-site to provide a short tour and answer questions.