You would be forgiven for thinking that there aren’t many things to do in Aruba other than lie on beaches. When the fact is, Aruba’s strategic location and its incredible landscape makes it one of the most popular Caribbean destinations. Evidenced by the fact that over 1.2 million tourists visit the small island yearly.
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Aruba is the A in the ABC islands of the southern Caribbean and is found just off the hurricane belt. This strategic location and the fact that it enjoys more sunshine days than any other Caribbean destination makes it a popular port of call.
Aruba offers you miles and miles of world-class, white soft sandy beaches with crystal clear turquoise waters. While its unique desert/semi-arid/cactus spotted landscape makes for exhilarating outdoor adventures. Spice things up on your next Aruba cruise vacation with this list of 20 Awesome Things to Do in Aruba, During a Cruise.
But first, know your way around the port…
Cruise Port Information
Your ship docks at Aruba Ports Authority, a large port that can dock up to 5 cruise ships. The port is very close to downtown Oranjestad and is only 1km away. The cruise terminal features souvenir shops, tourist information desks, ATM machine, and a communications desk.
Just across the cruise terminal, on L.G Smith Boulevard, a nice street lined with more shops and eateries is where you get buses to take you around town. They charge $2.30 round trip. Taxis are also in plenty here. They don’t have meters, so, agree on the price before departure.
The Government of Aruba, however, has predetermined taxi prices for popular tourist stops. You can also rent a car, jeep or ATV here. But here is an insider tip, get to the port early if you are looking to book an ATV, they lease out fast.
Now on to the fun part, the list…
1. Take a Walking Tour of Oranjestad
Oranjestad is the capital city of Aruba. It’s a beautiful town that looks like a small tropical version of Amsterdam. This picturesque town is best explored on foot. The town’s wide streets are lined with pastel-colored Dutch colonial houses.
These houses host cute bakeries, street side cafes, restaurants, and shops. Eat, shop and explore over 1000 years of history at Fort Zoutman Historical Museum. A tour of the town’s landmarks and architectural heritage will help you appreciate this Caribbean gem’s draw.
You can find all the Aruba gifts you’ll ever need right here!
Keep your camera ready for there is always a photo op in Oranjestad. Go shopping at the Royal Mall or splurge a little at the Renaissance mall and market place.
2. Eagle Beach
Eagle beach is the largest beach in Aruba. It features a wide stretch of soft white sands with the clearest blue waters.
This is the ultimate place to go beach bum. It’s close to the cruise terminal, located only 2 miles away. It offers plenty of parking and has plenty of shade from an abundance of Divi trees on the beach.
There are a number of hotels such as Amsterdam Manor and Coco Loco bar found across the road from the beach. That you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas from. But keep in mind that they give first priority to their guests.
3. Palm Beach
Palm Beach, on the other hand, is the livelier beach. Found further west about a 15minutes drive from the cruise terminal. This two-mile-long, wide stretch of soft white sands with clear turquoise waters is the resort district of Aruba.
The beach’s entire length is lined with high-end resorts which means there is an abundance of amenities.
Palm beach is susceptible to overcrowding but it offers so much to do, that people rarely flock in one place together. Ensuring you never feel crowded out. There are plenty of water sports concessions, lively restaurants and bars to get a bite from. There are even casinos for those looking to do a bit of gaming while on-port.
Beach chairs, umbrellas and palapas are available for rent but you have to get to the beach early to get a palapa.
The calm waters at Palm Beach are great for swimming and snorkeling. It does tend to get windy, with the trade winds always blowing over the island which keeps it cool. But the wind can get strong, so you want to go with cups with lids, beach towel pegs to pin down your towel, and something to cover your eyes from the sand that gets kicked up by the wind.
4. Arikok National Park
Go on an adventure of a lifetime in the wild northeastern coast of Aruba, where the Arikok National Park lies. Spanning over 7907acres of land and covering 20% of Aruba. Arikok is Aruba’s national treasure and is protected as a National Heritage center.
This stunning park offers a surprising number of fun alternatives to the beaches of Aruba, and a day trip there is something you should try. Apart from the forest of cactus, divi-divi trees and scrub, Arikok features a rugged terrain great for off-roading with an ATV or 4WD.
It has plenty of hiking trails and offers the best views of the island at its two peak points Jamanota and Arikok points. It also features interesting land formations made from quartz and limestone rocks that are worth seeing.
Get these Beach Pads for enjoying time on the beach.
Explore Aruba’s history at the Fontein and Quadiriki caves. Where the walls of the caves have elaborate Indian drawings from the original inhabitants of the island.
Visit the quiet calm bays of Boca Prins and Dos Playas which are simply breathtaking, to say the least.
The park charges an entrance fee that goes into managing the place. There are free guides in the park who work for tips, get one. Their familiarity with the place will help you derive the park’s full draw.
5. Explore the Guadikiriri Caves
While still at the Arikok national park go explore the caves. The caves are deep crevices found on the rugged windward coast. These crevices extend at least 100 feet deep into the cliff.
The Guadiriki caves are the most popular of the three caves in the park. It features two large dome-shaped spaces. What makes the caves even more fascinating is the light streaming in from the openings on the cave’s ceiling. It creates such an enchanting aura in the place.
Step back 10,000 years in time and explore how the original inhabitants of Aruba, the Amerindians, and the Arawaks used to live in the caves. Or go explore the nearby Fontein cave which features elaborate Indian drawings from thousands of years ago. There are harmless bats in the dark corners of the cave. Ask for a guide to take you through the caves for a guided tour.
6. Swim at the Natural Pool
At the central point of the northeastern coast of Arikok park is one of the most popular draws to Aruba. The Natural pool or ‘Conchi’ as locally known, is a naturally occurring pool in a depression amidst huge volcanic rocks found on the rugged coast.
A dip in the cool waters of the pool is a welcomed experience after a hot day of off-roading adventures in Arikok. Swim or cliff jump into the clear emerald pool, which is fed by the tides breaking against the surrounding rocks.
Note, however, that you can’t swim in the hole when it’s too windy or when there is a rough surf. So, check with the tourism desk, whether the pool is open or not. The rocks around the pool are also very slippery, so wear good water shoes and be careful getting in and out of the pool.
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7. Admire Art Murals in San Nicolaas
San Nicolaas is the second largest town in Aruba. It’s located about 12miles southeast of Oranjestad. This town is the site of art tourism. Experience the aftermath of Aruba Art Fair, which sees talented artists from Aruba and the rest of the world leave their mark on the town’s buildings.
There are over 30 painted murals on the exterior of buildings in the town. Some so realistic and well blended you would have to be paying keen attention to notice them. This is a beautiful tour best experienced in the morning before the sun fully comes out.
When you get hungry during your tour head over to Charlie’s bar for a mouthwatering lunch before heading to Baby Beach for an afternoon of swimming and snorkeling. It takes a 30minute by bus to get to San Nicolaas from Oranjestad.
8. Snorkel at Baby Beach
Baby Beach is a protected shallow beach with clear calm waters. The left part of the beach near the rocks is great for snorkeling. But always ensure you snorkel in the marked area to avoid places with strong currents.
Baby beach’s soft white sands are perfect for sunbathing and it’s a very peaceful beach unlike the crowded beaches of Oranjestad. Enjoy your afternoon tucked away under a palapa with a cold drink in hand.
Take a look at this full faced snorkel mask from Amazon.
The cute bar on site keeps the refreshments coming. The beach has a chargeable washroom but getting drinks or food from Big Mama’s (the bar on the beach) will save you the $2 charged.
9. Flamingoes of the Renaissance
Meet six of the most photographed residents of Aruba, the pink flamingos of the Renaissance. They say the birds arrived there 15 years ago, out of the blue, and made the island their home.
The Renaissance Resort found in Oranjestad at the edge of the resort district at Palm Beach owns a private island where the flamingos live.
You need a day pass at the Renaissance to get to the island which also has excellent snorkeling. This, however, is not an easy thing to do. To ensure the private island remains uncrowded and the flamingos unflustered by people. The renaissance only gives first priority to its guests and when the hotel is not booked out, it can hand out a few day-passes to outside guests.
If you want to visit the private island, get to the hotel early and find out whether you can get a day pass. The island features the only private beaches in Aruba and is a paradise that you have to see to believe.
To attract our friends, the flamingos, put some flamingo food on your hand and feed these beautiful birds. You can get flamingo food from the vending machine with a quarter.
10. Visit the Butterfly Farm
Visit one of Aruba’s most popular attractions, the Butterfly Farm. The farm is located just a few steps from Palm Beach. Go learn about butterflies and their life cycle from the knowledgeable guides there.
Go early, to witness new butterflies emerge. The farm charges an entrance fee that’s redeemable your entire stay.
11. Pet a Donkey
Visit the donkey sanctuary in Aruba for an experience that you and your kids will love. This sanctuary was opened in 1997 after the animals nearly went extinct from diseases and being knocked down by vehicles.
The sanctuary has managed to raise 100 more donkeys out of the 20 that had remained in 1997. Donkeys are surprisingly interesting, friendly and adorable creatures. You will love petting them and feeding them. Carry a bag of carrots and apples for this purpose. The sanctuary doesn’t charge a fee to enter, but you can support their course through donations.
Enjoy the rich taste of Aruba made up of Dutch, Caribbean, Spanish and Portuguese flavors. Aruba has plenty of delicious savory treats that you will love munching on. Try rich creamy pastries made of cheese and meats such Keshi Yena. Or nutritious soups such as Sopi Mondongo with a dash of papaya hot sauce, an island special. Or fresh seafood with interesting drinks such as Aruba Ariba in hand.
There are plenty of places around town to grab a bite at. Try places such as Hadicurari, Nos Clubhuis, Iguana Joe’s, Pinchos and others.
13. Ruins of Bushiribana and Balashi
Search for gold at the Balashi ruins. This is a great stop to learn Aruba’s gold history on your way to the sand dunes and lighthouse.
Bushiribana and Balashi were gold smelting sites that fell into ruin in the early 1900s after World War 1. The ruins which hold an important history for the people of Aruba are collapsing, and it’s worth seeing the remaining ruins before they are all gone.
Enjoy interesting tales about the place and amazing views from on top of the ruins. This attraction is best explored on an off-roading adventure.
14. California Dunes
Explore the sand dunes of Aruba deposited randomly along the rugged northern coast of Aruba. Popular dune sites include those at Boca Prins, Wairuri, and California.
The northwestern sand dunes are nicknamed the California dunes after a shipwreck with a similar name found offshore. This is where you will also find the California lighthouse, which offers panoramic views of the island.
The shimmering, white, powdery soft sand dunes bearing green, red and brown vegetation makes for one of the most beautiful sights in Aruba. They also feature large rocks strewn all over the place which looks like a scene out of a thrilling outer space movie. The dunes are only explored on foot so be wary of driving on them.
15. Antilla Wreck Diving
Antilla is the second largest shipwreck in the Caribbean. The story behind it’s sinking is a rather interesting story of alliances, betrayals, conspiracy, and loyalty.
The German freighter sunk in April 1940 after the captain and crew set it on fire to avoid capture by Aruba military. Over half a century later and the wreck seats 60feet underwater off Malmok bay in Aruba’s western coast.
It’s has been colonized by colorful corals and plenty of marine life such as the Hawksbill turtle, blue tang, moray eels and even a giant grouper. It makes for an interesting and challenging dive site but best done on a calm day for good visibility.
16. Uncover Aruba’s History at Fort Zoutman
While on your tour of Oranjestad, make sure to stop by Fort Zoutman. A small fort museum and the oldest building still standing in Aruba. Built in 1796, this fort was used for coastline protection. The tower at one end of the fort was added in 1868, which acted both as a lighthouse and clock tower for the city.
Go learn Aruba’s history in a guided museum tour, and if you happen to be there on a Tuesday evening stop by for the weekly cultural night dubbed the Bon Bini Festival.
For exceptional views of the town and some good exercise climb the tower. The museum charges $5 per person. It’s a great place to take a break and cool down from the intense island heat while learning interesting facts about Aruba.
17. Go on a Sail Tour
Take a leisurely catamaran tour of Aruba’s scenic leeward coast with snorkeling stops. Get on a luxury catamaran and have a party out at sea, exploring the coastline and the colorful marine life.
Check all these sailing tours from Viator.
If your ship is docked in port until late in the evening, then try a sunset sail. It’s an especially memorable experience in Aruba with the northeast trade winds blowing a nice breeze to soothe you.
18. Kite Surfing in Aruba
Take advantage of the windiest island in the Caribbean and go kite surfing. Aruba is a mecca for kite surfers. It even has kite surfing schools such as Armando’s Kite Shack. Tick kite surfing off your bucket list and get to see Aruba from another angle while riding the offshore winds.
One of the best places to kitesurf is at Boca Grandi on the southern tip or at the northeastern ends of the island. Try Armando kite surfing school, to learn how to kitesurf. He is the best at kite surfing in the Caribbean and handles his students with utmost care.
19. Go off-Roading
Aruba’s rugged terrain begs for an off-road adventure. Don’t miss this popular activity while in Aruba. Book a tour from a reputable tour company and see the island in adrenaline-filled ATV/Jeep or 4WD tour.
You can also do a DIY tour just get to the port early to get an ATV before they are booked out. They book out fast.
From there go explore the wild eastern coast of the island. This is probably the best and most inclusive way to see the entire island.
Not up for being tossed around on an ATV tour of the island? No problem, there are many other ways to do an island tour. Like doing an island safari by the colorful Kukuu Cunucu party tour bus or De palm tours.
20. Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations
To break up the beach act, nature lovers can go explore the Ayo and Casibari rock formations found in east Aruba off of highway 4A on route 6A northeast of hooiberg.
These tonalite rocks are said to have been formed when two tectonic plates met. They are large boulders emerging from the desert landscape with mysterious drawings and formations that make for interesting explorations.
There are hiking trails and stairs to climb up the rocks. It will take you a good 57steps to get to the top of the rocks but it will all be worth it once you see the rewarding views. This site is free to visit and is best done as a stop on an island sightseeing tour.
The best time to visit Aruba is from April to August. It’s friendlier on the pocket and less crowded. However, the weather is much more comfortable in the cold months of January to March. Since Aruba is off the hurricane belt, it’s possible to visit all year round.
To Wrap Up
Aruba is a great place to visit, there is plenty to see and do. Keep an open mind and you will find something interesting everywhere you go. Explore the island’s culture during its annual colorful Carnival, held anytime between January and March.
It’s possible that you may not be able to explore all of Aruba in just a few hours, but the list above gives you a pretty good idea of interesting things you can do in the island.