Aruba Beyond the Beaches: Why You Should Visit This One Happy Island

by Global Viewpoint
Aruba's beach
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Aruba’s culture and nature is nothing short of extraordinary

Sure, we all adore the Caribbean for its warm temperatures and steadfast sunshine. But there is much more than meets the eye on the island of Aruba. With a dynamic dose of culture, art, and nature, Aruba is where tropical paradise meets cultural heritage. Here are a few reasons why you should visit Aruba as your next Caribbean adventure in 2020.

Aruba is a cultural haven you need to visit

Aruba is a country with a unique cultural identity. Represented by nearly 100 nationalities, Aruba has been a melting pot since the early colonial days. During the past millennia, Aruba has been ruled by Arawak Indian tribes, Spanish conquistadors, British colonists, and Dutch settlers. As such, you will find that many people on the island speak at least four languages— including Dutch, Spanish, English, and Papiamento (a creole of Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese).

"No Swimming" in Papiamento and Dutch
“No Swimming” sign in Papiamento and Dutch

Furthermore, you will discover traces of Aruba’s colonial past in the architecture scattered around the island. Some treasures include Fort Zoutman (a fortification built in 1798 in the capital of Oranjestad) and Alto Vista Chapel (a charming church consecrated in 1750 in the northern town of Noord).

Alto Vista Chapel Aruba, Aruba's Culture
Alto Vista Chapel is a testament of Aruba’s centuries-old history. It’s also a key part of Aruba’s culture and heritage.

You’ll also find modern gems around the island, including Aruba’s vibrant houses and iconic landmarks. One such landmark is the California Lighthouse, built in 1916 and named after the California steamship that was shipwrecked nearby (likely because there had been no lighthouse).

Once you climb 107 steps to the top, you’ll be mesmerized by the panoramic views of the island.

California Lighthouse, Aruba's Culture and Landmarks
California Lighthouse is a photogenic landmark in the northern part of Aruba. It’s an important part of Aruba’s culture.

Aruba is brimming with pristine nature you need to visit

Beautiful beaches

Aruba’s culture would not be complete without a pretty landscape to complement it. In Aruba, love at first sight begins with its beaches. Eagle Beach, widely regarded among the top 3 beaches in the world, is located within reach of the capital. Palm Beach, where most of the resorts are located, is also in the center of all the action.

For a more off-the-beaten-path experience, Boca Catalina offers a less touristy yet equally breathtaking impression of Aruba’s white sand. My favorite beach of all was Dos Playa in Arikok National Park, characterized by its two rugged coves.

Dos Playa Aruba is a beautiful example of Aruba's diverse nature and landscape
Located inside Arikok National Park, Dos Playa Beach is one of my favorite beaches to visit in Aruba. It offers a beautiful glimpse of Aruba’s nature.

Arikok National Park

Not only does Aruba have some of the best beaches in the world, but it also offers an eclectic mix of desert, caves, and wildlife. Arikok National Park is the top attraction for nature-lovers.

Comprising nearly 20% of the island, Arikok National Park is located on Aruba’s east coast. In the park, you’ll find intriguing sights like Dos Playa, Quadiriki Caves (coral limestone caves with Arawak Indian rock drawings), and Mount Jamanota (Aruba’s highest point at 617 feet “tall”).

Another pair of geological treasures are the Casibari and Ayo Rock Formations, situated in the center of the island. These jagged formations shed light on Aruba’s volcanic inception 90 million years ago.

Ayo Rock Formations Aruba
Aruba’s nature is best seen in the Ayo Rock Formations

Aruba’s diverse wildlife

Aruba also boasts an array of natural wildlife. Aruba’s plant species include cacti, aloe vera, and Divi-Divi trees (which tilt southwest due to powerful trade winds from the northeast). Some of Aruba’s most exotic animal species are Aruban parakeets, Aruban rattlesnakes, and burrowing owls. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a hobby hiker seeking to escape the beach, you’ll be captivated by Aruba’s nature.

Balashi Gold Mill Ruins
Balashi Gold Mill Ruins

Aruba boasts a thriving art scene

The contemporary culture of Aruba is best embodied in its art. During the past few years, Aruba has become a flourishing art destination in the Caribbean.

Aruba’s culture and art are on full display in its second largest city, San Nicolas (Dutch: Sint Nicolaas). Here, you will find quaint shops, galleries, and restaurants amid eccentric street art. San Nicolas especially comes alive during the Carnival celebrations, which are held between January and March (refer to the 2020 Aruba Carnival Schedule).

San Nicolas Street Art
San Nicolas is an important part of Aruba’s culture.

In addition to the art legacy found in San Nicolas, there are plenty of interesting museums and galleries in other parts of the island. The capital, Oranjestad, has several galleries and museums that are worth checking out (book your Aruba Walking Tour here).

Whether you’ve to Aruba for its culture or nature, you’ll find plenty of unique gems on this One Happy Island.

Is Aruba safe?

Aruba is known to be one of the safest Caribbean islands. There have been very few reported incidents of crime, and when it does happen, it’s mostly petty (i.e. belongings stolen from a hotel room). Furthermore, there have been no instances of terrorism since World War II. Violence against tourists is very rare, which explains why the US State Department has a level 1 rating for travelers to “exercise normal precautions” when visiting there.

Having said that, you should always exercise caution whenever you’re in a foreign place. Even though Aruba is a safe destination by most standards, you should still be careful and heed the following advice:

  • Don’t wander around by yourself at night
  • Don’t go swimming while intoxicated
  • Be careful of currents and sea life (i.e. jelly fish) when swimming in the ocean
  • Be aware that the Zika virus is present in Aruba, so consider not traveling here if pregnant
  • Keep your valuables locked up whenever possible, and be careful of pickpocketing
  • Don’t sit directly under a palm tree with coconuts
  • Wear lots of sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun

Bottom line: Aruba is a very safe destination, but use common sense and be aware of your surroundings, as you would in any other foreign place.

Aruba is truly “One Happy Island”

If these reasons to visit Aruba are not enough, you’ll be swayed by its alluring resorts and friendly people! Aruba is recognized in the Caribbean for having some of the best beaches and hotels in the world. It’s also ranked among the top islands worldwide. As such, Aruba is a luxurious destination that is ideal for weddings, honeymoons, special events, and just about every other occasion.

Aruba also has many colorful buildings that cultivate a cheerful vibe around the country. Above all, the locals here are so genuinely kind and helpful. To me, it seems that Arubans are the product of the island’s perpetual sunshine, vibrant architecture, and serene nature. From its culture and nature to its friendly people, Aruba truly is one happy island!

Palm Beach Aruba
Palm Beach is one of the most beautiful Caribbean beaches in Aruba

Tips for a seamless visit in Aruba

  • Experience the island through a local tour guide. During my time on the island, I met Mark Benson, a local expert who runs Aruba Walking Tours. He is extremely knowledgeable about all things Aruba, including Aruba’s culture, history, and cuisine. You can book Aruba Downtown Walking Tours here.
  • Choose the right beach. Though remarkably beautiful, Eagle Beach has strong undertows. Therefore, if you’re planning to bring young children to the beach, I recommend visiting Baby Beach. Located near San Nicolas in the southern part of the island, Baby Beach has shallow water and calm currents – just right for the little ones!
  • Not necessary to buy bottled water. Aruba’s tap water is of very high quality and tastes great. As such, there is no need to purchase any bottled water here.
  • Transportation around the island. Be sure to consider your transportation options based on the length of your stay. Taxis are a reliable, fixed-price option if you’re only in Aruba for a short-time. However, if you plan to venture around the island for longer, I recommend considering public buses whenever possible ($2 round-trip fare) or rental cars. Renting a jeep is a great option for all off-road experiences.
  • Use sunscreen. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Wear plenty of sunscreen!
  • Refer to the Aruba Tourism Authority website. Planning to visit Aruba? Check out the ATA website, your quintessential planning guide to ensure a memorable stay in Aruba!
Gold Coast Villas, Aruba
Gold Coast Villas, Aruba

Fast facts about Aruba

  • Population: 105,264 (2017)
  • Aruba is an island nation and one of 4 countries that comprise the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This Kingdom includes Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, and the Netherlands.
  • Aruba’s tropical climate and desert environment make it the largest exporter of Aloe Vera in the world.
  • Aruba is located just 18 miles north of Venezuela. On a clear day, you can even see it.
  • Aruba is situated south of the Hurricane Belt, which means the country rarely experiences hurricanes.

*My visit to Aruba was in partnership with the Aruba Tourism Authority. As always, all opinions are my own.

*For more information regarding my disclosure policy, please refer to my privacy and disclosure page.

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