Aruba is famous for its beaches. Deservedly so, as the island has some pretty cool beaches, both for people who enjoy their beach resort style as well as for people that like a more tranquil beach, away from the high rise hotels and water sports activities. We visited several beaches during our five day stay (someone has to do the hard work) and here is what we think of them.
1 Arashi Beach
Located at the northernmost point of the island but just 10-15 minutes by car or bus from Palm Beach, this pretty beach is much more quiet and relaxed and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches on Aruba. Think white sand, turquoise waters and palm leaf parasols. Although there is ample parking space and the bus drops you off right at the beach we found it surprisingly peaceful. Facilities are very limited though. No sun beds and no food or drinks were available when we visited.
2 Boca Catalina/Malmok
The two adjacent beaches of Boca Catalina and Malmok (backed by villas, but the beach is public) just before Arashi are also quiet, have white sand and turquoise waters, but are a little smaller than Arashi Beach and the sea is harder to get into due to more rocks and stones at the beach. Possibilities for snorkeling are better here though, especially if you venture a little bit further into the sea to where the boats of snorkeling trips drop anchor (to us it’s a mystery why people pay a lot of money for these kind of trips when you can get to the same spot from the beach for free (or at least the price of a bus ticket).
3 Baby Beach
At the southern tip of Aruba you’ll find two beaches: Rodger’s Beach, with an oil refinery as a backdrop, and Baby Beach, so called because of the shallow waters that are perfect to play in for children. It’s a beach that’s popular by locals from nearby San Nicolas, the second largest town of Aruba, as well. Facilities are limited, but there is a beach restaurant where you can buy something to eat or drink.
4 Mangel Halto
This beach is surrounded by mangroves and has two entry points. Despite the absence of facilities the beach is popular by locals and tourists alike because of its secluded character. The snorkeling is supposed to be great here, but when we were there the wind was blowing hard and the sea was rough, making it hard to get beyond the protective reef. The waters between the reef and the beach are very shallow but the bottom is mostly rocky, so bring water sandals!
5 Palm Beach
Backed by many high rise hotels this long stretch of white sand beach is also the busiest on the island. It’s by far the broadest beach we visited but sadly most of it disappears under the rows of sun umbrellas and sun beds for the hotel guests. There are plenty of watersport activities available and several restaurants and bars front the beach. If you’re looking for lazing on the beach, taking an occasional dip in calm tidal waters, drinking cocktails and being catered to, this (or Eagle Beach) is the place to be. Most hotels charge for the use of umbrellas or sun beds, but at a (very) short stretch of beach called Moomba Beach sun beds are available for free (though they do expect you to order a drink at the beach bar).
Beyond the beaches
Of course it’s great to lie on the beach near your hotel all the time, but you can do that anywhere in the world. To get a sense of the island it’s a good idea to book a tour or rent a car (in our humble opinion always the best option if public transportation is limited). To visit the beaches south of the capital Oranjestad a car is the best choice anyway. Here are some suggestions for sights to visit if you decide to leave your sun bed for a day (or two).
The California Lighthouse (which was completely covered in scaffolding when we were there) is located on a hill at the northern tip of the island. Although the hundred year old lighthouse itself is rather underwhelming, the views from here are pretty grand.
Alto Vista chapel
Located on a limestone plateau near the northeast coast of Aruba the tiny Alto Vista chapel is a sight for sore eyes. The chapel was built in 1952 on the spot where Spanish missionaries erected the first catholic church of the island in the middle of the eighteenth century. After people living near the original chapel died of an infectious disease at the beginning of the nineteenth century the site was abandoned. The current chapel was built to commemorate the old chapel. White crosses along the roadside lead the way.
Casibari and Ayo rock formations
Monolithic rock formations can be found at Casibari and Ayo. Erosion created nooks and crannies making for some weird shapes. Walking trails have been set around the rock formations to make them more accessible to visitors. The rock formations are a nice diversion and are free to enter, but will not be the highlight of a visit to Aruba.
The wild east coast
The east coast of Aruba is unsuitable for swimming with waves battering the coast incessantly, but the waves crashing into the rocks and water spraying into the air on impact make for an impressive sight. Some small natural bridges, the result of water and wind erosion, can be found along the coast. By far the most impressive, the 30 meter long Natural Bridge at Andicuri Bay, collapsed in 2005 however, stripping Aruba of a famous natural icon. Mind that all roads along the east coast are unpaved.
Arikok National Park
We were surprised at how build-up much of Aruba is, with houses spread out over most of the island. Arikok National Park is an exception to that. The park has a paved road (with deep gullies) leading right through it, has several hiking trails and is home to the two highest mountains on Aruba, rugged coastal scenery, dry cactus landscape, the Boca Prins dunes and limestone caves. We didn’t think it was worth the US$ 10,- entrance fee but many people seem to enjoy it.
With a little over 30.000 inhabitants the capital Oranjestad is the biggest town on Aruba. It doesn’t have much sights, but it’s a pleasant place to wander around for an hour or two, doing some souvenir shopping, admiring some colorful Dutch colonial architecture or be amazed by the size of the cruise ships moored off at the cruise terminal in downtown Oranjestad. When staying in one of the hotels near Eagle or Palm Beach it’s an easy visit by bus.
We visited Aruba in March 2016
Travel tips Aruba
Stay – We stayed 6 nights in the Pool Suite at Modern World Aruba, a small apartment complex in Palm Beach. It’s just a few minutes behind the high rise hotels for just a fraction of the price. And we probably got more for it: a big apartment with nice personal touches, a small kitchenette, free wifi, a comfortable king size bed and a patio looking out over the pool area. The Dutch owner Erna (who lived in the States for 20 years) made the difference: very nice to talk to, full of information about beaches to visit and places to eat and helpful in arranging car rental and taxi. Erna is going to sell het place though, so it’s wait and see if much will change under new management.
Eat – Lovers of American cuisine and fast food will find no shortage of places to eat on Aruba. We had dinner or lunch at the following restaurants:
YenYen (Bakval) – bar/restaurant with affordable and tasty Chinese dishes, portions were huge
Zeerovers (Savaneta) – no frills seaside fish restaurant. Order as you enter, pick a bench and wait for your the food to arrive in a basket. We had a huge and delicious lunch costing US$ 15 for the two of us
Pam Pam (Palm Beach) – tucked away at an unpaved road away from the high rise hotels next to the budget Perle d’Or Hotel, this outdoor self-service restaurant has very affordable dishes
B52 (Spanish Lagoon) – located along the 4A road this restaurant’s menu has dishes for US$ 10. Nothing special, but certainly ok for the price, with some nice views of the island
Smokey Joe’s (Palm Beach) – grill and barbecue restaurant at the touristic heart of Palm Beach with (a bit cramped) outdoor seating but tasty ribs for a good price
Iguana Joe’s (Oranjestad) – on the first floor of the faux-colonial Royal Plaza Mall this Caribbean bar and restaurant boasts great views, but we found the food disappointing. We tried Keshi Jena (a hearty traditional Aruban dish of Gouda cheese, chicken, vegetables and spices) and chicken fajitas (not recommended)
Transport – When staying at a hotel near Eagle Beach or Palm Beach most of the popular beaches north of Oranjestad can easily be visited by bus (tickets US$ 2,60). The same goes for Oranjestad itself. Taxis are rather expensive. Car rental is a good option for those who want to see a little more of the island besides the beaches. We rented a car at Amigo Car Rental and had no complaints.