If you think all islands are created equal, you haven’t been to Aruba.
Dubbed “one happy island,” this small southern Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela is home to more than 90 different nationalities, and the local language, Papiamento, blends elements of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English and French.
The topography is also distinct, offering both white powdery sand beaches and rugged desert-like terrain, and there are breezy and balmy temperatures year-round.
After a 41⁄2-hour flight from NYC, here’s what to expect when you arrive in the sunny capital of Oranjestad.
Hit the beach:
Your first stop will likely be the beach. Eagle Beach, on the island’s west side, is often hailed as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, with calm, clear blue waters and less crowds. For more of a scene, nearby Palm Beach is along a bustling 2-mile strip lined with high-rise hotels, shops and restaurants. More north, near the iconic California Lighthouse, you’ll find the gentle currents of Arashi Beach and Malmok Beach, home of the 400-foot-long Antilla shipwreck. And on the island’s southeastern tip, about a 45-minute drive from Palm Beach, the shallow and family-friendly Baby Beach is an ideal snorkeling spot.
Where to go:
For an off-beach adventure, take a jeep tour with guides such as De Palm Tours Aruba to Arikok National Park (San Fuego 70, Santa Cruz, arubanationalpark.org), which makes up nearly 20% of the island. There you’ll find cactuses, gold mine ruins, stacks of “wishing” rocks assembled by tourists and the site of the famed Natural Bridge (the original collapsed in 2005, but a smaller bridge still stands). The ride is seriously bumpy, but it’s worth it for a daring dip and snorkeling in the park’s Natural Pool.
If animals are more your speed, visit the residents of the Aruba Ostrich Farm (tours $12 adults, $6 children; Matividiri 57, Paradera, arubaostrichfarm.com) and feel good vibrations surrounded by hundreds of exotic butterflies at the Butterfly Farm (prices vary; J. Irausquin Blvd., Oranjestad, thebutterflyfarm.com).
Where to eat:
Dine on grilled surf and turf at Yemenja Woodfired Grill (Wilhelminastraat 2, Oranjestad, yemanja-aruba.com) and try the sweet and savory crepe-like pancakes at Dutch Pancake House (L.G. Smith Blvd. 9, Oranjestad, thedutchpancakehouse.com). Atardi, at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino (L.G. Smith Blvd. 101, Palm Beach, marriott.com) is known for its romantic sunset dinners.
Where to stay:
In Palm Beach, the beachfront Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino (L.G. Smith Blvd. 101, Palm Beach, marriott.com) is a prime pick with a full-service spa and several restaurants. For cozy accommodations, opt for the boutique Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba (Bakval 20 N., Palm Beach, boardwalkaruba.com), where each of the 14 colorful casitas has a kitchen, hammock and a “treasure box” with insider tips. Another option is to rent a beach bungalow or luxury condo in the upscale Malmok area in northern Aruba (rentals.goldcoastaruba.com).