This Dutch Caribbean desert island is one of the most heavily touristy islands in the region, but the hordes of cruise ships and all inclusive package resorts shouldn’t put off independent travellers, because Aruba has a lot to offer backpackers too.
Long stretches of white sand beaches surround vast national parks filled with cacti and abandoned gold mines, wind swept divi divi trees thrive in arid deserts and the wild side of Aruba is waiting just below the package touristy surface for the independent traveller to discover.
Aruba – like much of the Caribbean – is extremely laid back and friendly, and is generally run on ‘island time’, which means that time itself is seen as more of a suggestion than an actual thing and a relaxed, laid back attitude is more than encouraged. The official language of Aruba is Papiamento, the island language that is a blend of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and West African, but English is widely spoken.
Visas are not required for citizens of the UK, Europe, the US, Canada and many other nations for stays of up to 90 days. To check your own country’s specific requirements check out the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
All travellers are strongly recommended to be up to date on their routine vaccinations including MMR, diptheria – pertusis – tetanus and varicella (chicken pox) by the Centre of Disease Control and the NHS Fit For Travel website.
Other than these routine vaccinations there are no specific advisories for Aruba.
The majority of Aruba is low to no risk of malaria and so antimalarials are not advised for the majority of travellers.
Anti mosquito measures are advised at all times due to the high risk of other mosquito borne diseases such as dengue and zika.
As a further piece of advice Aruba’s sun is deceptively hot, so take all sun care precautions, wear a hat and stay very hydrated.
Crime and Safety.
Aruba is in general an extremely safe country to travel through and beyond basic common sense safety precautions that you should take anywhere travellers don’t have any specific risk to worry about.
Costs and Money.
The currency of Aruba is the Aruban Florin, although US Dollars are accepted everywhere too.
Given its heavily touristy nature Aruba is not a cheap island to travel to, although it can be done on a budget if you are careful.
Accommodation will be your biggest expense, with a basic room at a budget hotel around £40 – £50, going up to £250 – 500 a night or more for a room in a top end luxury hotel or resort.
You can easily get by on £10 – 20 a day if you stick to food trucks and basic groceries to eat, but £20 – £30 a day is a more reasonable budget if you want to eat at a few local restaurants too, and you will. Obviously top end restaurants and alcohol can blow your budget out of the water.
Adventure activities such as snorkelling, off road ATV rides and so on can cost anywhere between £20 – £200 a time depending on what you do, so you will need to budget specifically for these, but there are plenty of free things to do too such as going to the beach.
When To Go.
Despite common misconceptions Aruba is not on the Hurricane belt that affects a lot of the Caribbean, but it does get an increase in rain and wind between September and December as an after effect.
January to April or May are Aruba’s high season months where tourists flock to the island and prices shoot up, but as a silver lining to that January and February sees Carnival, Aruba’s month of festivities, music and costumes starting just after new year.
There are so many amazing beaches to choose from in Aruba but this long stretch of perfect white sand is consistently touted as one of the best in the world, and for good reason too! Unfortunately it can get extremely busy in the high season but is considerably less so in the shoulder seasons. It is also a well known Leatherback Sea Turtle nesting area so parts of the beach may be closed off from March to July.
Another one of Aruba’s world class beaches, this one is more of a local favourite than it is with tourists, but is a great spot to spend a day or two relaxing, swimming and even a few water sports.
The Natural Pool.
A natural depression in the limestone coast has create a calm, natural pool in the jagged rocks that you can swim and snorkel in as powerful waves crash around you. It can be reached by 4WD but an even better option is the short hike from the visitors centre that will allow you to enjoy the stunning scenery before rewarding yourself with a cooling dip.
Aruba’s capital is a perfect mixture of local town and cruise ship or resort day trip, catering to both tourists and locals in equal measure. It is only small and can be explored easily in an afternoon on foot, and a mixture of international chains and local family shops are interspersed between the charming Dutch colonial buildings. There are a smattering of shopping malls and a walk along the delightful waterfront is a must, if you can draw yourself away from the shaded park that links the airport, the beach and the cruise ship terminal.
Arikok National Park.
Arikok National Park is Aruba’s premier natural attraction, filled with a wide range of topography from cacti and windswept Divi Divi tree filled desert hills to a jagged, rocky coastline and is filled with unique geological and historical sites that can be reached on a solo hike or with an informative guided tour. This ecological reserve takes up roughly 18% of the entire island and is growing thanks to an expansion campaign that is aimed at protecting Aruba’s natural resources.
Aruba Donkey Sanctuary.
Founded to help the islands population of wild donkeys that were once seen as a pest and treated pretty badly, this amazing institution does a lot of great work protecting and helping these beautiful animals by relying on volunteers and donations. Head down there and help them out.
Try out some watersports.
Thanks to it’s strong and constant trade winds, Aruba is known as the windsurfing capital of the world and hosts the annual Hi Winds Windsurfing Pro Grand Prix, but there are plenty of other water sports to try your hand at, from surfing to body boarding and even sea kayaking, and there are plenty of surf shops and schools on the beaches that are ready and willing to teach you or rent you equipment.
Explore the islands interior.
Many people come to Aruba for the world class beaches, and it is easy to see why, but you should also take the time to discover some of the islands rugged and stunningly stark interior too. Rent a bike and take a day to explore the island or head out on one of the many hiking trails, you won’t regret it.
Go snorkeling and diving.
Aruba has some truly world class snorkeling and diving opportunities, from ships that sank in World War II, including the famous and mesmerising SS Antilla, scuttled airplanes & other purposely placed vessels that are now artificial reefs. There are plenty of options from small and intimate dive sessions to party boats with free drinks and even a pirate ship that takes you out to great snorkeling spots.
Eat at Charlie’s Bar.
This place is more than just a restaurant, it is a fully fledged Aruban institution! Come here for the quirky atmosphere and memorabilia filled walls but stay for the amazing surf n turf menu and truly delicious home cooked food, including the secret sauce that promises bouts of violent sex (I kid you not!)