Aruba is famous as being an all inclusive tourist paradise, and with good reason, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that is all it is. For those intrepid travellers willing to look beyond the surface Aruba will reveal a deeper, wilder side that is perfect for independent backpackers.
This is a paid article written in partnership with the Aruba Tourism Authority UK with products or services supplied by them. Full editorial integrity is maintained at all times. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.
Given that Aruba has the perfect credentials for mass tourism it is hardly a surprise that it has been a staple of travel agents brochures for a long time. I get it. The stunning white sand beaches, the turquoise waters, the infamous nightlife, the easy going attitude and the all inclusive resorts willing to cater to every whim and need, it’s easy to see why this happy island has a string of tourism accolades to its name.
Aruba Is Much More Than An All Inclusive Destination.
My own experience of Aruba wasn’t just a decadent bit of relaxation sipping cocktails by the pool and listening to Kokomo on endless repeat (although to be fair I could not get that damn song out of my head the whole time I was there!) It was a trip filled with epic adventures, a few misadventures, cultural immersion and exploration, and as a backpacker I found Aruba to be wholly welcoming and infinitely addictive.
Of course being Aruba there is no real culture of hostels or cheap beach huts on the island. The traditional budget backpacker accommodation options just don’t exist on the whole, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in the many resorts either.
I stayed in a unique and charming studio apartment just off Palm Beach for a little bit of flashpacker comfort, but there are a whole smorgasboard of smaller, family run bed and breakfasts or guesthouses that are perfect for the independent traveller to use as a base to explore the island, and with the governments recent embracing of the sharing economy there are more options than ever for travellers to choose cheap, easy and independent accommodation options.
Catering For Backpackers Needs With A More Balanced Approach.
But staying away from the resorts isn’t just about sticking to a cheap budget and travelling independently either. Aruba is trying to foster a more balanced approach to tourism, concentrating primarily on accommodation options and taking an unprecedented step of limiting all inclusive activities, so by travelling independently to this tourism dependent island (over 91% of Aruba’s GDP is tourism based) you will be ensuring some of your tourism dollars are spread more evenly instead of just going to the international chains and minimising at least some of the negative effects of tourism that comes with mass package holidays, by supporting a sustainable model that benefits locals.
The same is true for the eating options on the island too. Aruba is home to some of the most amazing restaurants I have been too in a long time, and package tourists are served extremely well with truly world class restaurants nestled in between the casinos and bars on the strip, home to Aruba’s famous nightlife. I would never deny anyone a good meal and if you can afford to splash out with your budget then choose a good restaurant and order some fish (it is an island after all, the seafood is always good!) You won’t regret it.
But some of the best places to eat aren’t fancy restaurants that cater to tourists (as good as they are). It is a universal truth that local is usually better and Aruba is no different. I found my best dinner on Aruba purely by chance when we got totally lost in our rental jeep and pulled up into a small restaurant that had a line of locals queuing out of the door.
Top tip: You know a place is good if it is jam packed with locals!
The fish was so fresh if was as if we were eating on the fishing boat itself, and was prepared to absolute perfection.
But my favourite place to eat in Aruba had to be the local legend Charlie’s Bar, a place so unique and characterful that the food would be secondary to the location it if it wasn’t so damn good!
When the spicy honeymoon sauce comes with a warning of ‘may lead to violent intercourse’ (I kid you not!) you can only imagine how good the food itself is!
Yes the mass tourism is a huge part of what Aruba does very well, but does this mean that you will be missing out as a backpacker in Aruba? Not a chance! You can still go and do whatever you want, you’ll just be doing it independently!
Want to try out some watersports or take a scuba lesson? Go for it! Head down to one of the beaches and go and speak to the guys running the adventure sport centers. They’ll happily help you out. Want to grab a bike and explore the interior? Want to grab a Kayak and head to a hidden cove with crystal clear waters? Do the exact same thing! There are endless adventure activity opportunities in Aruba and you don’t need an expensive package tour operator to go and do them.
Exploring Independently Is How You Get To Discover Aruba’s Wild Side.
The East coast is an untamed stretch of craggy wilderness that frames the desert like interior like a defensive wall, an interior that is being increasingly protected by the expanding Arikok National Park.
If you are hiking on your own in the park then getting a ranger for a guide is of course a must, but it is here where you can really begin to get a deeper understanding of Aruba beyond the touristy T shirts and fridge magnets. The park is home to some uniquely stunning wilderness and displays through a variety of cave drawings evidence of the islands first inhabitants, the Caquetio Indians.
The park is also one of the main sources of Aruba’s only source of income other than tourism, a mind boggingly dazzling array of flora and fauna, many of which are used for natural medicinal purposes, including the famous Aruban Aloe Vera.
Of course anyone can take a tour to see the cave paintings or across the national park, but I think that taking the time to learn about and appreciate the history and culture of any given destination gives you a much deeper understanding of and connection to it, and this is much easier when you choose to travel independently.
Aruba has a wild side that is rarely seen by package tourists and is perfect for backpackers and independent travellers.
But this doesn’t mean that you have to avoid the whole tourist experience completely either. Sometimes it can be fun to cut loose and enjoy yourself, and if you want to you can easily join a jeep tour heading to the famous natural pool or one of the catamaran snorkelling tours and have a few Aruba Arriba’s with the tourists too. The point is you have the choice when you travel independently, you aren’t limited to whatever is on the itinerary at the resort.
So I still got to experience everything any package tourist would, and a hell of a lot more besides! Most of which were a world away from the private resorts and exclusive high rise hotels.
Backpackers Are Missing Out On Paradise.
If the fancy hotels and all inclusive resorts are your thing then great, you will be well catered for in Aruba, but if you are reading my articles I’m guessing you want far, far more than that from your travel experience, and for backpackers and independent travellers there is a whole hidden paradise on Aruba just waiting to be discovered.
What are you waiting for? Find a good, backpacker friendly studio or B&B, hire yourself a bike or a jeep, and just start exploring this happy piece of paradise!
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Aruba Left Me Black, Blue And Very Red, But Loving Every Minute!
Amazing post, Aruba looks like a great destination.
Thanks, you should go sometime 🙂
Wow Aruba looks and sounds amazing, I think I need to add it to my bucket list!
You should, and it is! ;D
I had never even considered anywhere in the Caribbean as a backpacking destination because of the cost and all inclusive holiday rep, I mean you go into the travel agents at home and this is the region everyone goes too, but you’ve really made me think that there is more to it and maybe I should reconsider. Thanks for the great post.
I know what you mean Paul, it isn’t a ‘traditional’ backpacker destination, but it doesn’t mean you can’t travel there independently either 🙂
So is it easy to stay on a budget and cook your own meals and get around the island?
Absolutely it is, car and bike rentals are very popular and reasonably priced, and there are tons of huge supermarkets where you can go and buy your own groceries and stuff so you don’t have to eat out all the time. Hostels aren’t really a thing here though but you can get a house sit, an airb&b or a guesthouse/studio with a small kitchen in your room for a lot cheaper than a large hotel too.
Aruba looks beautiful, nothing like I imagined at all.
It really is. What did you imagine?
Pretty much the stereotypical carribean white sand beach, turqoise water and resorts! Haha
Definitely adding Aruba to my list after this. Those photos look amazing. 🙂
Thanks Lisa, it’s easy to take good photos in such an amazing place. 🙂
Aruba looks beautiful. Is it easy to island hop back and forth like it is in say SE Asia?
The region isn’t set up the same for independent travellers no and doesn’t have as much infrastructure, but it is far from impossible or difficult. Not every island has an international ferry service for example but many do, and a mix of cheap flights and ferries will get you to most places. Also air travel makes things a little easier in terms of Visas if you are heading a little further afield, Venezuela for example gives a VOA by air, but not by land (or sea). A little research, a touch of adventurous spirit and you’l be fine. Go for it!
So happy to hear this, I have always thought about travelling to the Caribbean (especially after binge watching Black Sails!) But I love backpacking and didn’t really think there would be any options there for me (I am not a resort kinda gal!) I’m checkng Skyscanner now!
Haha, I love Black Sails and I was totally looking out for Pirate ships my whole time there! (And I did geek out a bit when I flew over Nassau on the way to Aruba!) But yes you should definitely go!
Wow Aruba just looks stunning! I read your last post too, did you not just sit back and relax at all there? That would be my idea of a Caribbean paradise, a beach, putting my feet up and lots of rum!
Haha yeah of course I did! No trip to the Caribbean would be complete without a bit of beach relaxation! ;D But I just wanted to show people that there was so much more to Aruba than just the famous beaches.
I have just read your post on the donkey sanctuary here and I am definitely booking my next flight out to Aruba! Keep up the inspirational posts!
Thanks Elsa, I will do. 🙂 Have a great time in Aruba, it is an amazing place!
Hi I love backpacking and I am really considering going to Aruba but I’m afraid it is really expensive… How much did you pay a night in average for sleeping accommodation??
Hi Lisa, you really should go if you get the chance. Yes Aruba is not a budget destination like say India for example, like all of the Carribbean it is relatively expensive to travel through, but that doesn’t mean you can’t travel on a budget. It’s all about travelling within your budget in any destination, including the expensive ones. It depends on when you go as well because Aruba follows peak and off seasons pretty closely, but on average on a mid range budget you can get a nice private room from around £60 upwards a night. Then of course there are Air BnB and other options.
I have been wanting to go to Aruba for a long time to see all the flamingos on the beaches, did you go there? What was it like?
No I didn’t Sara. I was originally planning too because when I was first looking into it I assumed it was a natural thing, but when I arrived in Aruba I learned that it was nothing more than an enforced petting zoo on a hotel’s private beach. They have a small group of flamingos with clipped wings so they can’t fly and they use them as a tourist photo prop. Not nice at all. Once I learned that I avoided it like the plague.
Aruba sounds amazing. I’m currently traveling through Central America, I’m thinking about adding an extra portion to my trip now and seeing some of the Caribbean too. Thanks for this post.
Thanks for reading it Richard! And yes it is awesome, you definitely should add it to your itin if you can. Let me know how you enjoyed it. 🙂
Okay, but if – even by your own admission – Aruba and the Caribbean are expensive places, then how can you as a backpacker go there? Isn’t the whole point to travel cheaply?
Not at all Natalie, if I took that mindset and only ever stuck to the ultra budget countries I would miss out on over half the world. Some regions, some countries are just more expensive, that’s a fact. The UK is far more expensive than India. Europe is far more expensive than SEAsia. But people still backpack through those countries and regions all the time? Just because a country is on average more expensive than others that doesn’t mean you can’t backpack or travel independently through it, you may have to adjust your daily budget but you can still travel relatively cheaply. It’s just relative.
Aruba sounds amazing! I need to go soon! Ahh I want to be on those beaches so bad!
It really is! What’s stopping you? Go! ;D
Would love to go here!
Thanks for your post. We have been in Aruba (Eagle Beach / Palm Beach) two weeks ago and loved every minute. As we were traveling 3000 miles last year this time it was pretty relaxed vacation which means that we would not try and explore everything in Aruba.
We especially loved the Butterfly Farm and Eagle Beach as well as the beaches in the North (snorkeling).
Sometimes taking a step back and taking it easy is the best thing you can do, everyone needs some rest once in a while! You can always go back another time.
Thanks for sharing Michael! Agree, it is really a pity if one only sticks to expensive resorts on the island and not explore the unspoiled wilderness in Aruba. Further, the country is such a safe place that makes it easy to be out exploring without fear.
That said, there are some small time scams like timeshare scams, ATV rental scams and rental car damages scams. However, those can be easily avoided with some research and common sense.
Enjoy Aruba! 🙂
Exactly David, and thanks for the tips. Small time scams and petty crime are a minimal risk anywhere, even at home, and as you say Aruba is amazing and overwhelmingly safe.