Last week I caught a flight to meet up with family in Aruba to explore the island. While it’s only been two short years since traveling to one of the ABC Islands, we figured it would be ideal to explore the next one. We visited Curacao the first time which is a bit more under-the-radar in terms of tourism, yet absolutely breathtaking for gorgeous beaches and bold rock formations. We were in Curacao for a wedding which allowed us to be amongst a lot of friends who called the Island home. Some of the best spots are in secluded areas that only locals would know about. The same was true about Aruba.
I’ve put together a detailed experience for anyone that feels they want to explore this quaint but “one happy island.” For those of you that are not as familiar with the ABC islands, Aruba is one of the most established while having the largest frequency of tourism with Curacao being the largest with lowest frequency of travelers.
Onward, for my travel tips, favorite places that we ate at, as well as beautiful beaches, fun excursions, and more!
FIRST THINGS FIRST,
GETTING AROUND ARUBA
The island is quite small and will only take a maximum of 45-1 hour to travel the entire island from north to south. We stayed on the northern western side of the island where a great deal of the large hotels have been established.
We chose to get around the island by car as we were there for nearly an entire week. Renting a car is likely your most economical way of travel in Aruba as it gives you the freedom to wander. For those of you who travel to fully relax by the pool and don’t wander off of your resort, opt for a taxi.
A good idea for anyone choosing to travel by car is to ask your cell phone provider about international travel plans to confirm that you can use your phone for directions. I downloaded Google Maps as iMaps does not work as well in Aruba. If you have a good sense of direction like myself, you’ll rarely need your phone after a day on this island.
Planning your activities (in terms of dining and visiting calm waters) you will want to frequent the western side of the island as the eastern side is where choppy jagged cliffs make up most of the landscape making it less than ideal for swimming or a calm visit to the beach. Although beautiful, the eastern side of the island is meant to be traveled with an off-road vehicle.
We had so many amazing dishes as well as drinks. Coming from Miami to Aruba I thought the prices were very fair. A typical glass of wine in Miami will run anywhere from $12-$17 while in Aruba you’ll pay $8 at almost any restaurant.
DAY ONE IN ARUBA
Arriving to Aruba is quite easy as the airport is very small and their customs systems are digital making the process fairly easy. Although we arrived on a weekday we were told you can experience long wait times during the weekends when travel is at it’s highest.
After getting our rental car we traveled to our hotel, the Marriot Aruba Surf Club where we checked in and unpacked our suitcases before a bite to eat at a restaurant on the property. The resort is lined with lounge chairs and palapas as well as a lazy river and multiple pools . The resort was bustling with families ranging in age from newborns to grandparents rocking their grand children in the warm Aruba breeze. The resort is mostly made up of Marriot owners from their BonVoy program while they still allow travelers outside of the program to stay at the resort. An added bonus to this property is the inclusion of a kitchen in the suite offerings with expansive views of the aqua blue water.
After catching a few rays around the pool, we decided to get ready for a lite dinner after having quite a large lunch. Initially we tried to visit Pinchos Bar and Grill however a private party was taking place on both of their docks that jutted out over some of Aruba’s calmest water. This led us to walking south along the beach to Barefoot Restaurant. The view was beautiful however this was likely our least favorite meal while on the island, although the ambience was superb.
DAY TWO IN ARUBA
After researching the island prior to our trip I made sure to truly understand the hidden gems of the island as I knew I’d have a camera in hand as well as my family being addicted to photography. The clarity of the water in Aruba is breathtaking and photos will never do it justice, yet I knew I had to try with some of Aruba’s most instagramable spots.
On day two we woke up to have breakfast on the balcony overlooking the water, while traveling along the western side of the islands in hopes to shoot some photography, snorkle at Mangel Halto Beach, eat at Zeerovers, and lastly finish our day at Baby Beach on the southern-most tip of the island.
To implement this exact day into your trip I’ve created a google maps url with coordinates for you to use via Google Maps. Click here to grab day two’s trip!
The first spot that we stopped at was at a staircase that lead to the water in close proximity to Mangel Halto Beach. This is an ideal area to grab a few pictures of numerous islands, a harbor in the distance, or a few insta-worthy shots of you or your friends!
A few short feet ahead we arrived at Mangel Halto where we chose to snorkel, soak up the sun, and mingle with a few locals at a hole-in-the-wall local bar. I used this waterproof camera to capture some of the photos below.
If you forgot to pack a few beers or a cold drink while at Mangel Halto, there’s a small dive bar a touch south of the beach where you can get take-away Chinese or a cold beer. The “bar” is labeled as “Namyong Supermarket” however there’s no question that this is 100% a bar before a supermarket.
This island is by far one of the most “chill” places I’ve been to in a long time with most residents speaking 4 or 5 languages and their beer certainly represents the attitude here which is called “Chill.”
Next we traveled to Zeerovers which is a simple yet popular dive restaurant that is strictly a locally caught fish-fry. It gained popularity through LonelyPlanet that discovered it as a local staple restaurant. The restaurant is tucked amongst houses and if you don’t follow directions closely you most certainly could miss it! Once arrived you’ll likely be greeted with a line where you order your fish that they weigh in front of you while freshly caught bagged fish is moved in wheel barrels right in front of you.
The restaurant is set upon a dock that overlooks a small harbor and an open-air kitchen that only had a deep fryer and microwave being used as the main source for cooking. Stacks of soybean oil lined the entrance of the restaurant with spicy papaya sauces being the star of the show to accompany the fried shrimp & mahi that was selected. As you may have noted, this would not be my first choice in terms of nutrition, but when in Aruba I do as an Arubian.
After a loaded fish fry we traveled south to Baby Beach for our final beach of the day. This beach is one of Aruba’s largest beaches outside of the beaches that span the north-western side of the island. Due to it being at the base of the island, winds are much higher in this area which you’ll be able to see on your travel down to it when overlooking Bachelor’s Beach. Baby Beach is set between two restaurants with calm shallow waters and palapas that line the shoreline. All of Aruba’s beaches are public which allows for a multitude of great sites to see!
With the daylight coming to a close we headed back to the hotel for sunset and chose to have a meal nearby at a local restaurant.
DAY THREE IN ARUBA
On Day Three we took an excursion trip with De Palm Tours which is one of the most popular tour groups on the island. The convenience of taking this trip was great especially for those who are not comfortable driving an off road vehicle (or in my case coming off of a chest wall injury and collapsed lung!!) I cant say either one is a smooth ride, but this gives you the ability to be with a guide the entire time as well as be picked up at your hotel.
Williams from De Palm Tours was our guide for the day who had a bubbly personality and proceeded to call me “Miami” for the remainder of the trip as I slowly got into the calm waters at the Natural Pool that he technically coaxed me to get into. This tour takes you to different locations around the island that are on the East end which is jagged rocks & strong winds.
Take my advice and don’t wear white while on this tour. The route taken spans the water with dirt roads and tour groups of four wheelers. Luckily, we were the first jeep to each destination as our guide was the leader amongst three guides. If you’re pale you’ll certainly get a natural tan, however I can’t promise it’s going to be from the sun (ie, you get a bit dirty on this trip!) Check out the images below for more detail on the makeup of the land, just in case you feel that your small rental car can get down these cliffs. Let me reassure you once more - they can’t!
The Natural Pool was my favorite portion of this trip as well as cruising down the eastern side seeing the various coloration of the ground meeting the sea.
To close the tour up we stopped at another beach to review the trip and divide the three jeeps for travel back to our hotels. After a long hike and a nice limp to go with it, we remained at the hotel and went onto dinner at a lovely new establishment called Bohemian Bar & Restaurant that is a sister restaurant to Casa Tua which are vastly different in cuisine and in ambiance.
This restaurant screamed “MIAMI” however it was so under the radar due to it being new. We were lucky enough to meet the owner who was incredibly sweet and the service was fantastic, let alone the delicious meals and friendly staff.
DAY FOUR IN ARUBA
On day four we decided to see more of the western side of the island where we realized our car was certainly not for an off-road adventure. We didn’t get very far which led us to travel to a secluded beach on the southern end of the island but not before stopping at another dive bar where we had a delicious meal as well as some whiskey on the rocks.
Charlie’s bar was absolutely amazing in terms of food and good comical service.
After Charlie’s we traveled to a beach nearby. A lot of the hidden beaches will be easy to find as long as you take the roads closest to the water so I urge you to explore this very safe & friendly island.
Click here for my bathing suit cover up.
To close up the night we decided to have another fantastic meal at Gianni’s where I was able to indulge in gluten-free truffle pasta and a fantastic cosmo. I certainly indulged in every single meal during this trip.
DAY FIVE & SIX IN ARUBA
On our fifth day on the island we decided we’d actually behave like vacationers and lay in lounges all day, relax in an inner tube, and eat a few more yummy meals. As mentioned previously, you’re able to visit any beach in Aruba as all of them are public while you’re able to rent lounges at most of them if in a hotel-saturated area of the beach! Day six was our final day therefore we had to have one last meal which was at The Dutch Pancake House where I indulged even more.
When on vacation, I most certainly am conscious of what I put into my system, however a vacation serves as a time to fully indulge without feeling resentful and this is something that I’ve mastered over the years. I do not punish myself for indulgence nor do I believe in “cheat meals.” All food has a place in your diet if you believe it serves you in some way. Food is nourishment, but an occasional indulgence is almost necessary in my mind and needs no justification for its existence. Being able to adapt to the realities in the country you visit is also very important. Nut milk may not be an offering on a small island at most restaurants which means you opt for dairy or for a black coffee. Being able to live beyond restrictions is what makes for happy and healthy individual. You cannot be defined by a label or a box you refuse to deviate from. When you vacation, allow your mind and stomach to vacation as well which means give yourself the freedom to break your rules as their shouldn’t be many in my mind that aren’t meant to be broken. #visitaruba