Aruba’s principal attractions are the gorgeous beaches and azure waters. But it is worth it to travel beyond the beaches to explore the culture and unique topography of the island. Main tourist areas offer a myriad of choices for dining and nightlife. Though free musical entertainment is offered at several venues, the most stunning show is the daily gorgeous, colorful sunset along Aruba’s western shore. Hotel beach bars and independent lounges provide happy hour prices to enjoy this spectacle, which can segue into a romantic dinner right on the beach.
1. Explore the island on horseback
Aruba is home to several ranches that offer guided horseback rides across various parts of the landscape. Located in Arikok National Park, Rancho Daimari runs two-hour “traffic-free” tours (meaning you won’t encounter any cars) of the park and nearby sights, including the Cura di Tortuga, a naturally occurring pool surrounded by volcanic rock. If you’d like to have more control over the sights you’ll see, Rancho Notorious has seven different tour options ranging from one to three hours, in a variety of settings. For the perfect blend of desert scenery, beautiful coastline, and local history, book a ride with Rancho La Ponderosa, whose two to two-and-a-half-hour tours begin in the interior of the island and head northeast, over cacti-dotted hills, to remote Wariruri Bay and the 19th-century Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins.
2. Stay at an adults-only boutique resort
Large-scale resorts are prominent on Aruba, and the island is a popular destination for families, so some properties can feel crowded or overrun by children. If you’re seeking a more tranquil environment, book a room at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts, Aruba’s sole adults-only boutique property. Away from the high-rise hotels of Palm Beach, Bucuti is located on Eagle Beach, arguably the island’s finest stretch of white sand and undoubtedly one of the best in all of the Caribbean. Popular with honeymooners and couples, this intimate resort features only 104 rooms and suites, ensuring that you’ll never feel overwhelmed by your fellow guests. Eco-friendly and LEED-certified, Bucuti offers a quiet kind of luxury, with friendly understated service that allows you to truly relax. In addition to a full-service spa, the property also features a fitness center, outdoor pool, sunbeds and palapas (thatched huts) on the beach, and an outdoor restaurant and bar where you can drink and dine from morning ‘til night. Because it offers a unique experience on Aruba, Bucuti’s occupancy rates remain around 90% year-round, so be sure to book well in advance.
3. Visit a national park
Nearly 20% of Aruba’s landmass is designated as Arikok National Park, a wonderful place to spot indigenous flora and fauna, including the Aruban burrowing owl (known locally as “choco”). The park has some paved roads, allowing visitors to explore by car, but horseback or all-terrain vehicles are the preferred means of transportation for seeing the unpaved interior. Inside the nearly 8,000 acres of parkland, you’ll find Mount Arikok and Mount Jamanota (Aruba’s highest peak, at 620 feet); desert landscapes with clusters of cacti; hidden coves and caves that house bats and drawings left by the Arawak people (the island’s first inhabitants); herds of donkeys and goats; and all kind of reptiles soaking up the sun. If you like, there are a couple of beaches to explore here, but the currents are too strong for swimming. You can also check out the gold mine ruins at Miralmar, and the remnants of a Dutch settlement at Masiduri.
4. Hit the spas
If you’re in the market for a little pampering, Aruba’s spas present a variety of treatments that will help you feel relaxed and restored. (The island produces a lot of aloe vera, so you can expect it to feature prominently in spa services.) At Okeanos Spa, the ocean serves as the backdrop for massages given in an outdoor cove that feels private and remote. In addition to massages and wraps, the spa also offers anti-cellulite and anti-aging treatments. ZoiA Spa is the place to head for botanical facials that use local ingredients, as well as hair and nail services. There are also special services for newly arrived travelers, mothers-to-be, and brides. Arawak Spa, located on the grounds on Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts, offers some of the best prices on the island: Nearly all of their 60-minute treatments (massages, scrubs, wraps, and facials) cost less than $100.
5. Ride an underwater scooter
Diving experts would argue that neighboring Bonaire boasts superior underwater adventures, but Aruba’s shores offer many quality sites for snorkeling and scuba diving. Even better, however, is exploring its reefs and rich marine life with the Seabob, an easy-to-use underwater scooter that allows riders to glide on and under the sea at safe speeds of up to 13 miles per hour. With an average temperature of 80 degrees and visibility ranging from 59 to 98 feet, the island’s waters invite exploration all year long. To experience this cutting-edge watercraft, book a two-hour tour with Seabob Aruba, the only company on the island that has these machines. The outing begins with a safety and instruction lesson at Malmok Beach; once you’ve mastered the Seabob, you’ll follow a guide to Boca Catalina, where you’ll spot coral, a variety of fish, and maybe even sea turtles. Finally, you’ll head to Arashi Beach, one of Aruba’s finest snorkeling spots.