We had the pleasure of spending a near week in Aruba. Although COVID precautions are still in place, it was a fantastic time. Here are some key points and our experiences on the island.
Airports, in general, are shit shows. So, before we get to the vacation itself, let’s just give some quick advice to make sure you give yourself plenty of time at the airport. Specifically for international travel, the crowds have been horrendous and the lines long. Remember, you still need to show COVID tests and other travel documents and it is primarily the airport teams checking these docs. So, give yourself some extra time.
Ditch the hotel or resort and stay on your own. Aruba is safe, easy to get around and fairly compact. There is plenty to see though. For this reason, we highly recommend renting a home or condo, renting a car and doing Aruba on your own. The northern part of the island is where the pristine beaches are, all the nightlife and hotspots and all the fine dining. We advise getting a place here and you can make day trips to other parts of the island as you like. Staying at a hotel or resort on the beach is likely to keep you in one place which we do not advise. We stayed in a development called Gold Coast. For a reasonable amount, we had a villa with our own pool and outdoor kitchen and we were less than 5 minutes away from several beaches and super quick access to all of the hotspots.
Dining out is cool, so is eating in. We enjoy eating out as much as anyone but, after long days of snorkeling and other activities, we really just wanted to hang low and crack some booze. If you take our previous advice and rent a home, you’ll have the means to kick it at home which will allow you to both relax and save some cash. In the north of the island, you will find Super Food Plaza which is literally a massive store where you can find American favorites, local favorites and Dutch foods as well. Everything you need is at the Super Food.
The beaches are amazing, and there are tons of them. Aruba is known for its clear, seafoam green waters as well as its gorgeous sand. There are TONS of beaches in Aruba and they are ALL public. Parking is free, access is easy and the world is yours. There are different beaches for different activities. Calm waters and soft sand for the leisurely, rocky reefs not too far from shore for some amazing snorkeling, crashing waves for body surfing, high winds for kite surfers. Whatever it is, you will find a beach. Nearly all of them have a few palapas as well and if you arrive at the right time, you are likely to claim one. Our picks were Eagle and Arashi for relaxation, Boca Catalina for some nice snorkeling near our place and Baby Beach for snorkeling in shallow waters.
There are excursions for everyone. ATVs abound, horseback riding is available as are Jeep tour, catamaran rides and deep sea fishing. There is plenty to do and you likely will not have time to do it all. So, we suggest going with your top 3 and skipping the rest. We recommend trying to find the mom and pop tours versus the large companies on the island for a bit more personal experiences.
COVID protocols were still in place. While we were there, curfews existed, mask laws were still ongoing, tests before or on arrival were required and social distancing rules were in place as you were out and about. With all of that being said, we did not feel like it negatively impacted our time at all. The island occupancy was obviously down and you could feel that some of the restaurants and shops were suffering but, much of the island was still busy at night and restaurants required reservations. Remember, Aruba is also a popular cruise spot so as you get closer to the cruise port, you will notice it a bit more empty but closer to Palm Beach, things are still happening. In regards to testing, as long as you follow the directions on the official website, no issues arriving to Aruba. And if you need a test to return to your home country (such as US citizens), there are several spots on the island to get the test with results available within 24 hours.
The people are super friendly. Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The people are a mixture of many different cultures and you can feel Dutch, African and Spanish influences throughout the island and the people. While the official island languages are Dutch and Papiamento, nearly all residents also speak English and Spanish. The island lives and dies based on tourism and for sure, you will feel welcome here. It is a fairly open society and a melting pot of nationalities and cultures. From the restaurant staffs to the people managing the umbrella and lounge rentals on the beach, we found the people nothing but kind and helpful without any over aggression like some other destinations.
While this is no means an all encompassing guide to Aruba, we hope it at least gives you some desire to travel there. The island is gorgeous, safe and filled with friendly people. While the testing protocols for entry and exit and the headaches of traveling right now can be annoying, we promise it’s worth it. The island thrives on tourism so if you are scratching your head wondering where to go, why not choose an island that is a short flight from the US, has a similar time zone and has all of the above to offer. If you need other recs, see our previous article here.