For a true paradise vacation, look no further than Aruba, the small Dutch island located in the Caribbean less than 20 miles from Venezuela. Located outside of the hurricane belt, Aruba enjoys a constant year-round temperature of around 81°F, mild trade winds, and steady sunshine, making it an ideal tropical getaway in any season. Like the rest of the Caribbean, island prices can be more than what you’re used to at home, but here are some top spots around the island that can help you make of the most of your vacation dollars.
What to Do
While it may be easy to blow your budget shopping in Oranjestad, the island’s colorful capital city, bypass its high-end boutiques and bright wooden huts selling local wares and souvenirs and instead take in the photogenic architecture. The Dutch-influenced buildings and vibrant island color scheme are excellent backdrops for enviable photos to take home. If you’re into local art, explore the San Nicholas neighborhood, Aruba’s up-and-coming area chock full of colorful street murals and sculptures by local and international artists, as well as some under-the-radar restaurants and bars.
The inviting crystal clear turquoise waters of Aruba are best experienced with a variety of water sports. De Palm Tours offers a wide selection of options, including three-hour open bar snorkeling trips starting at $69 per person and four-hour ATV off-road safaris starting at $209 per person. Both are excellent ways to discover the island and get your fill of the Aruban sun, land, and sea. If you have a car handy, take off for Aruba’s natural pool, a basin surrounded by volcanic stone that creates a perfect spot for a thrilling snorkeling experience alongside waves crashing off the rocky bluff.
To discover Aruba’s wilder side, try Taki Aruba for an outdoor foraging exploration of Aruba’s edible flora like frangipani, peppery moringa, and seaweed from the island’s unkempt north coast. In addition to welcoming guests with a refreshing cocktail and a filling one-dish meal of locally caught octopus, the owner's laid-back attitude and back-to-nature perspective offers a glimpse to an entirely new side of Aruba. Tours are customized and prices vary depending on the number of your party and extent of your excursion.
If animals are more your thing, check out Donkey Sanctuary Aruba for an unexpected encounter with the island’s beloved donkeys. Admission is free, or you can choose to give $200 a year for an “adoption” fee that ensures the donkeys receive food, water, shelter, and medical care. Visitors can feed the friendly (and camera-ready) donkeys, as well as learn more about their relationship and history with the island.
Where to Eat
Fisherman boats line the dock adjacent to local favorite, Zeerover’s for fresh seafood and buckets of iced Balashi Chill beer, where you can dine on a menu of daily fresh catches like whole red snapper and jumbo shrimp by the pound at wallet-friendly prices between $10-20 (cash only, closed on Sundays). Diners of The West Deck can tuck into a wide array of delicious Aruban and Caribbean fare, like Keshi Yena, the national dish of melted cheese and spiced chicken ($8.95), Bahamian conch fritters ($8.95), and sticky glazed BBQ ribs ($19.95 for a dozen). For a modern island-style dining experience, head over to +297 Restaurant where you can indulge in fusion cuisine combining international flavors with Caribbean tastes (appetizers start at $11, maki rolls from $18, and entrees from $15.) For a literal laid-back dining experience, try Screaming Eagle, where diners can choose to enjoy the delicious French-inspired dishes in canopied lounge beds (entrees from $28.50).
Where to Stay
The biggest cost for your vacation in Aruba will be your hotel. While there is no shortage of hotel options in the southwest area of the island, the sprawling Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino often has special deals and rates on offer — we recently found a rate of $288 rate on their site. For a special sunset dinner by the sea, head to Atardi, the island’s best kept dining secret. This late afternoon pop-up restaurant grants diners front row access to Aruba’s soft white sand beaches, spectacular sunsets, and a menu of fresh seafood dishes (appetizers start at $14 and mains go up to $60 for a generous filet and lobster combo).