Thinking about a trip to the Caribbean anytime in the near future? Here is everything you need to know about one of the Caribbean’s hidden gems, the self proclaimed “One Happy Island,” Aruba.
Just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela sits the island of Aruba. Known for its beautiful weather, the island is located just outside of the hurricane belt, which means you are almost guaranteed that your trip will be sunny no matter what time of year. The island is also famous for its trade winds, which blow at a comfortable 15-20 mph and keep the heat more comfortable. Here is what you can expect on your visit to One Happy Island.
Aruba is special in the sense that it is outside of the hurricane belt, therefore, there are very few “bad” days here. The island averages about 20 inches of rain per year, and has a steady trade wind. Peak season for wind is in June and July, but I wouldn’t let the wind deter you from traveling to Aruba in those months! It is hot here—as it is only 863 miles from the equator—and can get quite humid, so the trade winds truly are a saving grace.
You can expect sunny or partly cloudy skies all year long. On average, the temperature sits around 90° Fahrenheit and the humidity is 77.6%. If you are an ocean goer, you will also be pleased to know that the water temperature in Aruba sits around 80° F. This may sound hot, but trust me it is refreshing.
Aruba is a budget island. The off-season in the Caribbean falls in the summer months, so if you are looking to save money I would book a trip in May-July. In terms of hospitality, there are numerous hotels with fluctuating price points with which to book your stay. All of the high rise hotels are located on the Western side of the island, and closer to the northern most tip of Aruba and near the California Lighthouse, one of the more popular tourist attractions.
This side of Aruba is not exposed to the nearly 15 foot waves that can be found on the eastern side, and the trade winds blow out towards the ocean as opposed to in towards the beach, which means there is no tide. If you want some more waves then the beaches and hotels closer to the countries capital of Oranjestad are where you should look first.
I would argue that your experience in Aruba will differ greatly depending on your interests. The people who visit tend to fall into two categories: those who are looking for a relaxing, tranquil stay, and those who are looking for more of a party/good time atmosphere. Aruba does have both, but it is important to keep that in mind when searching for a hotel.
The first hotel you will see when arriving in Aruba is the Renaissance, but I would say this hotel is more geared towards people interested in Aruba’s shopping and night life, and far less friendly for a family with small children, or a couple looking for a quiet week away. Located closest to the shopping, restaurants, and clubs, this hotel is also equipped with its own casino and private island exclusive to it’s guests. I have not stayed here myself, but for those younger visitors on a budget this might be a good option for you. For an ocean view room you are looking at around $270 USD a night (in the off season). Personally, I prefer the high rise hotels at the end of the island which is where I stay every year. They are a taxi ride from the Oranjestad, but there is plenty (if not more) to do over on that side of the island, and it is much quieter!
The Northernmost end of the island boasts the high rise hotels, including all 3 (yes, 3) Marriott’s, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Westin, The Playa Linda, The Occidental, Riu Palace, and the new Ritz -Carlton. Staying on one of the many high rise hotels allows you access to the beautiful Palm Beach, multiple sea-side restaurants, and a plethora of water sports and activities that are available to you daily. I stay at the Marriott Surf Club when I visit Aruba, and think it is one of the best locations along the beach. Your stay at any of the 3 Marriott’s grants you entry and access to the amenities offered at each one, as well as the ability to charge your meals to your room regardless of which hotel you eat at. The Ocean Club (a timeshare hotel) houses a spa and 3 eateries, including Champions Sports Bar where you can watch a sports game, grab a beer and enjoy classic American bar food. The Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino houses 5 restaurants including Ruth’s Cris Steakhouse and the Ketsu Sushi Bar (where I had some of the best sushi I have ever tasted!). It also includes the Mandara Spa, and is priced (in off season) at around $289 USD a night for an ocean view room.
The Marriott Surf Club (where I stay) is also a timeshare hotel, similar to the Ocean Club, but you can still stay there if you are a non member, or choose to rent a current members timeshare for the week. Renting from existing members can prove to be more cost effective in some cases, but you need to do your research to ensure you are getting the best deal. This is, however, the priciest of the three Marriott hotels on the island. The Surf Club has a pool the stretches the length of the hotel, which includes a small kid pool with a slide, a lazy river (which is awesome after a day at the beach), a swim up bar and volley ball net, and a separate and more secluded adult only pool closest to the ocean. There is a restaurant within the swim up bar/pool called the Captains Galley where you can get all the basics like pizza, sandwiches, salads, and specialty drinks. Out towards the beach the Surf Club has huts by the water that you can (and will need to) sit beneath while enjoying the picture perfect water, sand and sun. TIP: If you want a hut right on the water, you will need wake up early to reserve it the morning of, otherwise you will be getting a hut further from the water and closest to the back.
The fun part. Aruba offers many amenities, activities, and adventures to take part in during your stay. On the beach, there are opportunities to rent anything from kayaks to sail boats, jet skis to paddle boards, even a jet pack. You can also learn to wind or kite surf, get pulled along for a ride on a tube, or ski and wake board along the coastline. There are also opportunities to skydive and para-sail. On this trip I took part in a paddle board yoga class offered by SUP Yoga. Owned by Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl on instagram), Island Yoga is the newest studio in Aruba that offers paddle board sessions in front of the beautiful Ritz-Carlton resort, and is currently building a brand new studio in which you can practice. They also offer classes at the Renaissance Flamingo Island as well. This month you can participate in their paddle board class there every Saturday. If you are visiting and interested in partaking in a class, you simply email the lovely ladies at email@example.com. It is $50 for a 1 hour class, which having experienced it myself is completely worth it.
One of my favorite activities that we take part in every year is the Jolly Pirate. You can choose from 3 different options for your cruise; morning sail with open bar, snorkeling and included lunch from 9am-1pm, afternoon sail (which we do every year) from 2-5pm with open bar, snorkeling and rope swing, or the sunset sail, which is a quiet trip along the coast to watch the sunset. The men on board the ship make this experience special with their hilarious personalities and insistence that everyone have the the best time while sailing with them. They are also acrobats, and show up everyone on the boat when they get up on the rope swing. They stop in 3 locations, the first being Aruba’s famous ship wreck, the Antilla. It is one of the largest shipwrecks in the Caribbean, exceeded only by the Bianca C and Antilles. Second stop is the coral reefs where you can swim with the tropical fish, and lastly is the famous jolly pirate rope swing, which at the end of a 3 hour booze cruise with strangers is an absolute blast.
Another activity worth trying is to explore the island by ATV. They have group tours that bring you around the backside of the island by Jeep or ATV, but I have found that it is far more fun to be able to explore without waiting for other people, or having time constraints. George’s Rentals is where my family and I go when we want to rent an ATV for the day, go have fun and explore. For $90 USD you get your own personal ATV for 5 hours (we prefer the 9am- 2pm time slot) yand are granted the freedom to go anywhere on the island, so long as you have it back on time and put gas back into it before drop off. Including gas it turns out to be $100 USD, but trust me it is worth every penny. The back side of the island is a desert in every sense of the word, but driving off road along the coast line, stopping at one of the many tourist destinations, and experiencing the island from an altogether different vantage point is definitely a must during your stay.
Sites worth visiting include the abandoned gold mine, natural bridge, natural pool, the caves, and the national park. We rode around the entire perimeter of the island and had an absolute blast. TIP: The back side of the island is desert (like I keep emphasizing) and a lot of dirt is kicked up while riding the ATV’s. If you are planning to rent them ahead of time, be sure to pack a pair of shoes and clothes that you do not mind getting dirty, because it will. It is also worth investing in a bandanna to keep the dirt out of your nose and mouth, and be sure to bring sunblock to reapply throughout the day!
Ah, arguably the best part of the trip. I have never had a bad meal in Aruba. That is not to say there aren’t some lower end places to eat where your meal may be sub par, but as someone whose parents have been vacationing there every year for 14 years, I can firmly say I know a few excellent recommendations for dinners, lunches, and even breakfasts. I also have a few tips for saving money while on your stay, so we will start with those. If you are in a hotel with a full kitchen like I was, then go to the grocery store!! Even if you don’t have a full kitchen, however, it is worth it to take a trip to Super Foods, the grocery store on the island I have had the best luck in, and stock up on the good stuff; bottled water, fruit and snacks for the beach, perhaps some extra sun block, etc. The stores in your hotel selling similar items will be much more expensive, so if you know you like bananas in the morning, or a cup of coffee, go purchase those things at the grocery store on the first day. TIP: Aruba’s currency is florins, but they are very happy to take USD. Store’s like Super Food will have your total in both Florin’s and USD, but some smaller local cities are unable to give you American change back, or allow you to purchase with American currency. But do not freak out when you see the prices over there, 1 USD = 0.56 Florin. Also, everything is pricier than at home because it all has to be imported, so if you are bringing a checked bag try and pack some food and essentials in there to save money as well!
Now to the best part, where to eat! I have put together a list of my favorite restaurants, but there are tons to explore on the island. Aruba’s dining experience is unique in that every restaurant’s location is unexpected. Some of these places are tucked into neighborhoods, while others are closer to Oranjestad or within hotels. Just keep an open mind, and let the food do the talking.
- Ketsu Sushi Bar, Marriott Resort & Stelaris Casino
For anyone who is a fan of fresh sushi, Ketsu is a must. Tucked inside the super modern and cool lobby of the Marriott Resort, this tiny sushi restaurant boasts a delicious menu and fast service. My favorites include the signature Ketsu Roll, and the Dragon Z Roll, but everything we ordered was delicious and so so fresh. Prices here range from $3 USD a roll to $12 USD per sushi entree. This place is perfect for a quick dinner or lunch.
- El Gaucho Argentine Grill
The first Argentine restaurant to ever open on the island, El Gaucho is a steak lovers dream. You can expect a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, complete with a father/son duo who sing and play guitar to your table throughout the night, (they take song requests as well! Our go-to is Sweet Caroline). The food is to die for, with some of the largest cuts of meat I have ever seen. The menu is simple and straight forward; select your entreé then you have your choice of 3 sides to accompany your dish. My favorite? The petite cut Tenderloin Steak with fried plantain, sautéed mushrooms, and broccoli sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Their signitire dish is the Churrasco Argentino or “El Gaucho Steak” that is one pound of natural grass fed beef. It can be a bit pricey, averaging at around $40 USD a steak dish, but I promise it is money well spent.
- Flying Fishbone
Last but not least is the Flying Fishbone restaurant. Located at the southernmost half of the island, this restaurant is an experience from start to finish. Tucked neatly in a local neighborhood, your arrival sort of makes you beg the question of “is this is?” but as you mae your way to the back of the building you are greeted with this view:
And when I say that these pictures don’t do it justice I mean it. Regardless of where you sit you are given a breathtaking view of the ocean and sunset and your toes are in the sand, with some tables even submerged in the water. Their menu is mainly comprised of fish dishes (as stated in the restaurant name), and boy is it good. I tried the special of the day which was Unicorn Fish with mashed bliss potatoes, fresh veggies and a spinach sauce and it was out of this world. This is definitely a place to try, if not just for the view of the sunset over the water.
As someone who has been coming to Aruba for 5 years, I can vouch that there is plenty to pull me (and anyone visiting) back. While not as tropical and exotic as other Caribbean islands, I find that Aruba’s desert-like feel and climate are precisely what sets it apart and makes it more interesting. It is not what you expect, and year after year I find new things that spark my interest. As I said at the beginning of this novel (apologies) Aruba is suitable for younger people looking to enjoy the nightlife and active environment, or older people & families looking for a more relaxing stay. The key is where you stay, so I suggest researching multiple options before booking. All and all this trip was a blast and always is, as you can expect the same great weathe every day (no matter the time of year), incredibly kind and friendly locals, delicious and fresh food, and best of all, affordability!
Have you ever been to Aruba? If so, where did you stay? As always, feel free to leave a comment with any questions or comments on this post!