Situated in the southern Caribbean Sea, Aruba is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands that offers a unique blend of culture and consistently beautiful weather. I visit with my mum and, our trip here marking my first venture to the Caribbean, I arrived in the country with high expectations of bright sandy beaches, vibrant culture and delicious food. For the most part, I was not disappointed. The small island served up the incredible scenery and a welcoming atmosphere making it the perfect opportunity to relax after completing my studies, however, my time in Aruba revealed that a trip here requires greater preparation and a greater budget.
The first beach we set out to during our time on the island is Palm Beach. We take a taxi there as there is no bus service running near our hotel and little to no sidewalks to help us there. Our driver, like many of the drivers we meet on the island, is extremely informative. She tells us that as many of Aruba’s hotels and resorts are built on the beach, you can walk through them and enjoy some of their facilities as if you were a guest there (however you will have to pay for some services). We enter the beach through the foyer of the Hyatt Hotel where we are surprised to find a luscious tropical garden stocked with black swans and curious reptiles.
While I was impressed by this element of Palm Beach, as we continue our stay in Aruba I find that this was the least favorite of the beaches we visit. It wins points for providing access to the hotels’ wifi, however, the proximity and connection to the resorts mean that it is quite crowded and commercial in comparisons other spots on the island.
Arikok National Park
Our visit to Arikok National Park was a little bit complicated. Due to poor communication, research and advice, we wind up making two trips to the Park. On our first visit, we take a taxi from our hotel that drops us off at the Park’s information center. When at the center we are informed that it’s not practical to tour the park by foot and that the Park doesn’t offer a tour service. While this could have been avoided by my own research, we’re pretty annoyed as neither the staff at our hotel nor the taxi driver we had discussed the trip with thought to share this information with us. Feeling stranded and pretty peeved, we’re relieved when the taxi driver who arrives to take us away from the park reveals that her uncle is a ranger there. Her name is Julie and with her genuine and determined desire to help us, she arranges for us to meet her uncle the following morning for a personal driven tour around the Park before driving us to Eagle Beach where we spend the rest of the afternoon.
On the morning of our tour of Arikok National Park we are greeted by a welcoming group of rangers and introduced to Julie’s uncle Salvador and a younger Ranger he had chosen to drive us around the park. Starting at 9am and finishing just past midday, we are given with a private and extremely informative tour that includes stops at numerous points including Dos Playa, Conchi natural pool, and the Fontein Cave. There was no fee for the tour, however, we did give out guide a 60USD tip to thank him for his time, effort, and priceless information. Considering that group tours that are offered by tourist operators are priced around 90USD per person, we caught a great deal.
Dos Playa, meaning ‘two beaches’, is a pair of coves that have been carved out the island’s limestone. When the tide is right, the beaches are a popular spot for surfers and sunbathers. When we visit the current and winds are so strong that even walking along the beach is a challenge though I can see why it is so attractive to those brave enough to take on the water.
Conchi Natural Pool
The natural pool was by far my most enjoyable experience in Arikok National Park and possibly in Aruba. Separated from the sea by a surrounding wall of rocks, the pool is a great place swim, dive, and snorkel. When we visit, the waves from the outskirting sea are incredibly violent and, as they crash over the pool’s rock barrier, create an exhilarating environment. Even as someone as someone who pretty much useless when it comes to swimming, I found this to be an extremely thrilling experience.
Fontein Cave is an ancient limestone cave once used by Aruba’s native Caquetio population. According to our guide, members of the Caquetio (who were of the Arawak tribe) would enter the front section of the cave to ask for advice from the community’s shaman and the said shaman would retreat to the back of the cave to confer with the Gods. On the ceilings and walls of the cave, there remains ancient pictographs as well as graffiti from early European settlers.
In comparison to the busier Palm Beach, Eagle Beach is a peaceful haven. Listed by many as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it boasts bright white sand and aqua blue waters. Unlike Palm Beach, where there is access to multiple bars, restaurant, and hotel facilities, Eagle Beach’s offerings are fairly limited with just a small beach hut and nearby restaurant.
We made our way to Eagle Beach by taxi and during the journey, our driver recommended that we stop to eat at a local restaurant named Red Fish. After our afternoon of sunbathing, we use the gravel pathways beside the highway to embark on 15-20 minute walk from Eagle Beach to Red Fish using the Maps.me app to lead the way. When we make it to Red Fish, we both order incredibly generous and satisfying plates of fried fish with plantain, rice, and fries. At this point, we had forked out quite a lot on transportation, each taxi journey costs a minimum of 9USD per one-way journey and as you can this soon racks up. Ideally, we would have rented a car or booked a better-located hotel, which is what we discover many visitors to the island do, though a lack of preparation put us at a loss.
Oranjestad is the capital and largest city of Aruba though unfortunately, I found it quite disappointing. On our visit to the city appeared that there was not very much on offer. While there were many souvenir stores, a designer shopping center, as well as a few high street brands including Zara and Converse, the streets fairly empty and almost ghost-townish in comparison to what I would have expected of a country’s city center.
Despite the lacking atmosphere, we did have some delicious food while in the area. Stopping at a restaurant named La Granja that is that was brimming with locals, we sat down to an extremely affordable, extremely large and extremely tasty meal. during our time in Aruba, we came to learn that the portions here generally are much larger to that what we have at home. We also tasted an incredible batido (smoothie) at a local vendor.
The most attractive part of Oranjestad for me was the Fort Zoutman History Museum. While small and fairly limited, it provided an interesting perspective on Aruban history, putting an emphasis on the existence of a history that exists beyond the Dutch. The main in the museum was the island’s history of hat weaving and the role this has played socially and economically.
Arashi Beach is the final beach we visit. Unfortunately, we choose to go here on the same day as our flight back to London so are only able to spare a few hours on what may be one of the most outstanding beaches I have ever visited.
With bright white sand scattered with iridescent seashells, sparkling waters so clear you can see slim silver fishes swimming around your feet, and tide that is calm enough for the weakest swimmer to feel safe in, Arashi Beach is a must visit when traveling around the small island. As we lounge here, we watch brazen pelicans swoop down by the coastline to catch their prey however for us there are not many food options. Fortunately we scheduled ourselves to visit the beach between breakfast and lunch, however, I would suggest considering brining a packed lunch along with you.
How we traveled: We flew from London Gatwick to Aruba Airport with Thomson Airlines. My flight cost £299 and was found on secretflying.com. There are not many sidewalks around the island and on the occasion where we decided to walk, locals would often look at us as if we were insane. Outside of residential areas, the roads are basically highways. Ideally, when traveling in Aruba I would recommend you rent a car or be prepared to fork out a large percentage of your budget on taxis. There are some but few public transport options that run between Oranjestad, hotel resorts, and beaches however they operate on an hourly basis.
What we did: We visited three beaches – Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, and Arashi Beach. We also visited Arikok National Park as well as Oranjestad.
Where we ate: To keep within our budget we bought bread, jam, and fruit at a local supermarket to eat for breakfast. We often ate at our hotel however we also dined at locations around the country including Red Fish, La Granja, Fung Shun and Fermin’s Bar BQ all of which I would recommend.
Where we stayed: We stayed at a hotel that I found on Bookings.com named Perle d’Or Aruba. I would not recommend staying here. While it is on the cheaper end of the spectrum in regards to hotels, the location is not practical considering the transportation limitations and the service and room facilities were poor.
Tips & Tricks: Transportation in Aruba is not simple, so if you are not happy to spend a large portion of your budget on taxis, I recommend renting a car or staying at a hotel that is on the beach bus route. The extremely low level of rainfall that they are unable to grow anything in their soil and so import pretty much everything – because of this food is priced quite highly so do not expect this to be a low-cost holiday.