Or, welcome! When I started thinking about making my first foray into the Caribbean islands, I have to admit that I was skeptical. My only knowledge of that area of the world came from friends that went on vacations and yoga retreats there. I thought that all the islands were pretty much the same, and the only things to do there were to stay at a resort, go to the beach, and get miserably drunk off pina coladas.
I don’t do well with lazy vacations, but I could not have been more wrong about the Caribbean. Just because many people go to the islands just to bask in the sun for a week straight, does not mean that that’s the only thing the islands have to offer! In fact, each island is distinctly different, and has its own culture, natives, and traditions. The more I began reading about them, the harder it became to choose which island I wanted to experience first.
The metaphorical finger on the globe eventually landed on Aruba.
Why Aruba? It’s a desert island, so its rainy season is much less noticeable than other islands. It lies outside the Hurricane Belt, so tropical storms are typically not hurling themselves directly at it. Finally, it lies in the path of some trade winds, so there is a constant wind that slightly cools the otherwise-balmy air. I decided this was a pretty good choice for my first tropical island excursion.
During my stay there, I got up early enough to beat the sun’s peak and took a siesta every day about 1-3 PM. This kept me from getting burnt out halfway through the day, and also saved me from the sun’s harshest rays. Instead of eating out every meal, I only dined at a restaurant once, and prepared the rest of my food in my kitchen.
I chose to forego the comforts of a resort to stay with a host family through AirBnb. While I did not get as many amenities as I would have in a hotel (no cabs at the ready, beach a 25 minute walk away, spotty wifi), I did appreciate the local flavor I experienced. The hosts regularly brought me home-cooked meals (fish and rice with plantains, breakfast arepas, mmmm) and when I brought home a fresh coconut that I wanted to eat the meat out of, they expertly chopped it up in a split second (intimidating skill)! They also humanized a region of the world that is often seen only as a tourist destination. The daughter in the family attended ballet classes right there on the island after school every day, and the parents had jobs just like anyone else in the world. Life goes on like normal even when you are living in a tropical paradise!
Like your vacations with an extra dose of adventure? Here’s my guide to 4 active and budget-friendly days in Aruba.
Take your first dip in the Caribbean Sea at Palm Beach! During the on-season, this is the most “touristy” beach, but if you are there outside of peak times, the crowds are thin and you get free reign of the crystal blue waters. Even as the sun sets, the water is still amazingly warm. Take note: Palm does not offer public changing facilities or bathrooms, and most of the palapas are for hotel guests only, but there are plenty of free palapas to choose from on the edges of the beach.
Get settled in your quarters, get the lay of the land, and go stock up on some food. I used the grocery store called Super Food, which sells a lot of Dutch food products and fresh South American fruits. There is also a pharmacy within the store. Other grocery stores include Ling & Sons and Kong Hing Supermarket, all located on the western coast of the island. Make sure to buy some Balashi beer, only produced in Aruba!
Day Two: Beach and Downtown Oranjestad
Hit the beach in the morning and spend the morning absorbing the turquoise brilliance of the water. Alternate between people-watching, walking the length of the beach, swimming, and basking in the shade under your palapa.
For lunch, head downtown via local bus. The bus system is modern, quick and cheap. It will drop you off right in the heart of Oranjestad: Aruba’s Dutch colonialism-inspired capital. Head to Iguana Joe’s for your meal and order the Keshi Jena. A traditional Dutch Aruban dish, this legitimately consists of meat and vegetables stuffed inside a giant hunk of melted Gouda cheese. Is this heaven, you ask? Nope, just Aruba.
With a full belly, explore Oranjestad for a while. Poke your head inside the souvenir shops, admire the street art and colorful architecture, and spend some time people-watching: there are plenty of sunburnt cruise ship tourists traipsing around.
Reserve your evening for a yoga class at the Happy Buddha with Corinne. A lovely Dutch instructor, she leads the 75 minute class with a calm and soothing voice inside a gorgeous minimalist abode. A warm breeze floats the light curtains in and out of the airy room, and a little buddha figurine at the head of the room watches over you. For the active traveler, I highly recommend a class here to recenter yourself and get a nice deep stretch in: you will leave feeling a foot taller!
Day 3: Snorkeling
Get up bright and early for your third day on this lovely island to join the Tranquilo Lunch Snorkeling Cruise! I go more in depth about my time with the cruise here. For me, this was one of the highlights of my trip. During your four hours with Tranquilo, you will get amazing underwater visibility, a delicious lunch, and great conversation with the captain and other cruise guests… Plus, unlimited rum punch! 😉
In the second half of the day, get a rental car for the next day’s adventures. I procured a car through my generous AirBnb host, but there are car rental companies all over the island.
Drive to Eagle Beach for your evening beach dip. Voted the third best beach in the world by TripAdvisor this year, it has ample parking and the opportunity to spot many different species of lizards and birds, as well as the famous Fofoti tree. The bird sanctuary is also located nearby.
Day 4: Arikok National Park Arashi Beach, De Palm Pier
Lather on the sunscreen to prepare yourself for a trek through Arikok National Park. This desert park spans almost a third of the entire island, and keeps expanding every year! You will see wild goats, bats, huge crashing waves, Native American drawings, and more on your excursion. Read my guide to Arikok here!
After you have explored the park to your liking, drive up to the far northern tip of the island to secluded Arashi Beach. Pristine white sands and fewer people make this a peaceful spot where you can gaze out over the vastness of the Caribbean Sea. California Lighthouse accents the landscape, along with a cart selling fresh coconuts. This beach seems to be even windier than the others, so I don’t recommend bringing many things along. Luckily, your coconut makes a good paperweight once you finish drinking out of it!
After dinner, visit Bugaloe Beach Bar to have a mojito on the water. Live music accompanies the boisterous young crowd here, and sailboats surround the coast on all sides. It’s a very energetic and fun vibe here, a perfect send-off!
I have no doubt that I will be back in Aruba to finish exploring all the places I did not get to see, but in the meantime, I encourage everybody to visit this One Happy Island and not take its offerings for granted. Lounge on the beach, but make time to be adventurous, and Aruba will not disappoint you!
Much love to @divine_conscience and @7sages for providing me with a few supplemental photos for this post! I may love traveling, but I’m not an ace photographer (yet)!
Do you have a favorite island in the Caribbean? Tell me in the comments!