The classic Beach Boys line, “Aruba, Jamaica…oooooh I wanna take ya…” kept ringing in my head as we set our plans in motion to go to Aruba for the first time. I will say, that song came on in one of the restaurants we dined in, and I seemed to be the only excited patron. However, whatever your views of this song and the idea of a perfect beach vacation may be, Aruba should definitely be on your list! So, let’s go over the must-do’s in this fantastic island that has aptly been called, “one happy island!”
How to get there:
Once a popular Southern Caribbean cruise stop, now remains accessible only by plane, due to the pandemic. We chose Delta (one of my favorites) to get there, but keep in mind that depending where you are coming from you should expect a connection in Atlanta. Delta is still blocking middle seats during the pandemic, so that is one of my main reasons for choosing them. We chose American Airlines (one of my least favorite) for the flight back due to the direct flight back to Miami. We took and aisle and window seat, but sure enough, they put someone between us. We got lucky, though, because the guy at the gate upgraded us to the emergency exit with only two seats. Whew, that was close. However, the in-flight experience was not bad like I remember. The flight attendants were very nice, which is not what I remembered about American.
Once you are there, we highly recommend renting a car to get the full island experience! You can drive the entire island in under and hour. One word of caution, though. Please keep in mind that some of the coastal roads are meant for UTV’s or Jeeps only. We ended up with a little egg with four wheels, but it was good enough to explore the entire island (albeit the coastal roads).
Where to stay:
There are a plethora of great hotels and resorts to stay in during your time in Aruba. We did an exchange to stay a week in the Marriott Ocean Club. The hotel was really nice, one of the nicer ones we have stayed in. However, the walls were very thin and we happened to stay next to belligerent partiers who lived like it was 2019 and screamed the whole time. However, it had a great location and the inside was very nice. We also loved having a full kitchen to cook some meals in to stay somewhat healthy.
However, if you can swing it, I highly recommend trying for the Renaissance in Aruba. The reason is simple. While the hotel is located in downtown Oranjestad, the real allure is their private island. It is included in your stay (normally around $200 per person to visit if you are not staying). The island is great because of its relaxing atmosphere and some very important Arubian residents…pink flamingoes! Imagine sunning yourself in a nice chair as a pink flamingo struts by in the water in front of you. It’s amazing! Unfortunately, this resort did not have availability when we wanted to go.
Things to do
My favorite beach, by far, was Baby Beach. Why? The easily accessible reefs! Just a few steps from shore, you will find thriving reefs teeming with colorful fish. The sand is fine and white and the mood is very chill. There are a couple of restaurants if you are craving a drink or snack as well.
This beach is awesome to hit in the morning. There are some public hut umbrellas with tables. You will have to bring your own towel or chair, but the umbrellas create the perfect beach environment. The water is clear and the beach is quite big as well.
This is the beach that our resort (and many others) sat on. The beach is more of a vacationer atmosphere and a bit more on the crowded side. We saw droves of partying teens drinking on the beach, which honestly took away from the relaxing atmosphere that could have been. However, there are some great restaurants and even some boat tours from there.
This was one of our favorite things we did on the island. The sanctuary provides interaction with these friendly and peaceful animals. Once used for various reasons on the island, donkeys became endangered and even abused. Thus, the Donkey Sanctuary was born! You can visit free and they accept donations to aid in their cause. You can feed and brush the donkeys. We found this to be a very peaceful and rewarding stop!
You will find many casinos sprinkled around Aruba. While many hotels have them, we recommend the Alhambra Casino. We were told by a local that it was the best paying casino, and she was not wrong! It was clean and fresh with proper precautions for Covid in place. Oh, and the best part- it is smoke-free!
Since this was a work and sun and sea trip for us, we unfortunately did not fit this into our trip. However, Aruba has some great hiking in Arikok National Park. We did get to stop through, and it looked beautiful. I wish I had more time that I could have spent exploring. Surprisingly, there are quite a few mountainous areas in Aruba to be explored.
Drive Around the Island
Again, there are so many cool stops and things to see. Driving around the island is sure to delight, no matter what you are in to!
Where to eat
Aruba does not disappoint when it comes to food. Well, at least if you know where to go! I will say we ended up getting a very expensive sandwich that was just bread and a quarter of a chorizo sausage. Here are our favorites:
If you only try one restaurant in Aruba, make it Zeerovers. This place is as local and cool as it gets. First off, the scenery from the dining area cannot be beaten. You sit over the clear aquamarine waters and watch the gorgeous light waves go by. However, that is not even the best thing about this place! They serve fresh seafood that they personally catch each day. The cool factor: the menu is based on what was caught! So, you walk up to the window, choose your fish, they weigh it, and then they cook it fresh. When we went they had mahi and shrimp. It was, seriously, the best fish we have ever tasted! They also have a few sides. The plantains are killer! The only sad thing is that this place is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. So, be sure to plan ahead!
This is a small little gem in Oranjestad. Parking can be a bit of a hassle, but it is worth it! Especially right now, they need tourists to venture into this area as the cruises are no longer coming in. Their food is made fresh and it is utterly delicious! The restaurant staff are amazing and warm. The decor is reminiscent of the enchanted tiki room with hut thatch roofing. Get the plantains and the eggroll.
Santos Coffee with Soul
Get the egg, bacon, and avocado croissant! It was absolutely fresh, huge, and delicious. Their coffee is good as well. Keep in mind that they do get very busy for breakfast, so you need to keep in mind that you may need to wait a bit.
Craft and Lola
This place has amazing food and great staff. Be sure to check out the $20 bottomless mimosas and brunch on Sunday. Also, check out their dollar tacos on Tuesday!
Side note: if you are looking to save money on food and drinks, be sure to go to the Super Food to stock up on food, snacks, and beverages. It will save you a lot of money!
If you get the awesome chance to visit Aruba, do it! Without a doubt, the charm of this island is amazing. It definitely lives up to its name of “One Happy Island!”