Travel Guide: Aruba
Updated: Jun 6, 2022
“One Happy Island!” Based on our experience, Aruba’s official motto lives up to the hype! In fact, Aruba might be the best island in the Caribbean for certain travelers, based on what you are looking for (more on that later). Here are things to know and do in Aruba.
Flamingos! Seeing flamingos at Flamingo Beach Island was a highlight of the trip.
World-class beaches (Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, in addition to Flamingo Beach Island), complete with white sand, crystal-clear blue water, and incredible sunsets.
First-rate relaxation at an incredible boutique hotel — The Boardwalk Hotel!
Fresh dining experiences, with an emphasis on fresh seafood! Also, you have to get the dutch pancakes. They are SO good!! (restaurant recommendations below)
One of the easiest and cheapest Caribbean flights, given the number of direct flights into Queen Beatrix International Airport. That said, you MUST get to the airport very, very early for return flights to the U.S. (we recommend 4+ hours).
Let’s start with flamingos, which are perhaps the most famous travel feature of Aruba. Flamingos are strange, rare creatures that you can’t believe actually exist. Ben and I were mesmerized.
Here is what you should know about seeing flamingos:
Only available at Flamingo Beach Island!
Access to Flamingo Beach Island is limited. It is a Marriott-owned property and you must either be a Mariott Renaissance guest or buy a pass from the Mariott ($125 per person per day).
Flamingo Beach Island is only accessible by boat ferry from the Mariott Renaissance. Boats run every ~15 minutes from 7am to 6:45pm
One of my top travel tips regardless of destination: get up early if you want quality photos. We took the 7:00am boat ferry. As you might expect, the flamingos are most active at dawn and dust. 7-8am or 6-6:30PM is your window for the best photos. This is also because the flamingos become full during the day and may not interact with you as much. They were feed by the content creators at 7 AM lol. Also you have to fight the crowds during the day because people flock to any active flamingo headed to the water.
The primary flamingo area is reserved for adults only, but families with children are permitted from 9-10am daily.
Flamingo feed is available, but the machine only takes U.S. quarters. The bar will probably be able to make change, but you should take your own quarters to be safe.
Food and drink are a little pricey on Flamingo Beach Island, but readily available and good quality.
You can rent a cabana over the water starting at $400!
All activities are free on the island—kayaking, paddleboard, snorkeling, and they also have lounge floats!
P.S. Don't follow the flamingos or they will go into their hiding place, let them come to you! Don't be afraid of them biting you, even if they do...it doesn't hurt. It happened to me several times because the dark pink ones can be a little aggressive about food but it didn't hurt!
P.S. – If you enjoy unique wildlife while you travel, see our forthcoming travel guides for sea turtles in Curacao, camels in Dubai, and Tigers / Monkeys / Elephants (oh my!) in Thailand.
Big idea: Like most travel destinations, local restaurants are the best 😊
Seafood, especially local fish, was out of this world. We generally ate excellent meals and would highlight three in particular:
Eduardo's Beach Shack: So healthy and so fresh! Best value meals during our trips. Lunch for ~$10 and just wonderfully healthful. If you ask, you can get an Acai bowl in a pineapple, which was both huge and fun. The restaurant is vegan and we aren’t, but still relished our meals…so for you non-vegans out there, don’t be afraid to try it.
Lucy’s: A lively Mexi-Caribbean canteen. This is where you go if you want music, cheap beer, and fresh seafood. Our blackened mahi mahi fish and battered shrimp were exactly what springs to mind for fresh-caught. You can even bring your own catch and they will prepare it for you.
Pelican Pier: Wonderful sunset views. Local vibes, although catering to tourists and somewhat busy. Reservations recommended. My fish was wonderful.
The Dutch Pancake House: You will wait in line, wondering if your brunch will be worth the wait. It will. The savory pancakes (think of an omelette but inside a pancake instead of eggs) in particular were incredible.
The food on Flamingo Island was great and multiple places to choose from; the only thing I didn't like was that I had to take my shrimp heads off.
Keeping it real: we did one fancy dinner (~$100) on La Vista. It was so disappointing for the price (both service and food quality). Skip it, save your money, and have much better dining experience at one of the restaurants above.
Other Travel Tips
The town of Oranjestad (a “city” by island standards - population of 30,000!) is cute, but sadly not great for photos. Most, but not all, of the cute shots are ruined by ugly commercial spaces. Big sad! There were a couple of cute buildings I was able to snap and then there were also three buildings being painted that look like they will be picturesque -- see the last photo. Comparatively, however, Curcaco is more photo-friendly with vivid Dutch architecture.
The world-classes beaches (ex. Palm Beach and Eagle Beach) will generally have lots of amenities for your rent/purchase. We have traveled to remote Caribbean beaches (like Vieques - blog forthcoming) where even buying a bottle of water can be difficult. You don't need to worry about food/drink/activities at Aruba beaches - just show up.
Aruba is the right vacation for you if...
You are dying to interact with flamingos!
You love beach-centric vacations. If you don’t like beaches, you will not like Aruba.
You are seeking the “classically Caribbean sand & water” experience
You need a little boujie with your Caribbean experience (no judgment – just own it!). If you get a deep sense of peace upon spotting a Stabucks, an English-language ATM, and airport shuttles, Aruba is a good place for you.
By contrast, Curcaco has similar weather, beaches, and culture to Arbua, but Curcaco is a more local experience (although admittedly more difficult in terms of flights).
You only have time for a “long weekend” trip (3-5 days), due to the availability of cheap and direct flights from the U.S.
Aruba is the wrong vacation for you if...
You are seeking great nightlife. We don’t club much (30s and married? Guilty as charged)…but we saw very little nightlife. We walked around Oranjestad on a weekend night and it was shut down, minus a few restaurants.
You are on a tight budget. You can keep the trip modest by saving on flights. If you intended to see the flamingos, it will cost you either a stay at the Marriott or a $125/person/day pass. Food & drink were generally a shade expensive too.
You don't like seafood. I’m not saying you can’t go and have a great time, but fresh seafood is part of the attraction.
If you are seeking a cultural experience. While I’m sure it’s on the island, it felt more Americanized than anything. Consider the sister island, Curaçao.
Planning Your Trip
Where to stay: See this post on the Boardwalk Hotel. In one sentence, we were more thrilled with Boardwalk and would 100% do it again. It's such a unique experience and really feels like your own slice of Aruba. We give all the details and photos of the hotel in the blog mentioned.
Flights: Major U.S. cities will have direct and affordable trips to Aruba. Food and transportation can be pricey, but you should be able to score reasonably cheap flights.
Key detail: On your return flight, get to the airport EXTREMELY early.
We arrived two hours early and that wasn’t near enough time.
The airport is small (so understaffed) and you must go through U.S. Customs and Border Control after going through the airport security screening.
We made our flight by begging airline agents and (literally) sprinting down the bridge. We frankly got very, very lucky to make our flight.
In the COVID-19 era, we recommend a full four hours and suspect that you will need at least three hours after COVID protocols are relaxed.
Taxi rates are “fixed” meaning that taxi fares are standard between the airport and popular destinations around the island.
As of spring 2022, Uber/Lyft are not available in Aruba. We paid the “fixed” rate of $33 from the airport to our first hotel, but then only $15 for the same trip with a private driver (i.e. a non-taxi driver).
Private transportation is better than using a taxi. Our driver, Mr. Lucho Albertsz, was wonderful and graciously agreed to let us share his contact information (email@example.com or +297-5937897)
If we could do it over again, we would rent a car. For just three taxi rides, we spent $75. It is almost cheaper to just rent a car, which would have opened up more options for exploration.
USD is widely accepted. Bank withdraws were very expensive and we found ourselves needing more cash than anticipated. Transportation and things on the beaches might require cash, so take plenty ($200+)
Reasonable budget: $2,750 per person per week, inclusive of all costs