Last summer, I spotted an incredible offer from JetBlue Vacations for a packaged trip to Aruba. At the time, infection rates were decreasing significantly and my husband I agreed come fall, we would feel comfortable traveling abroad for our wedding anniversary. We were wrong. Twice rebooked, we finally made the long-weekend trip to Aruba in mid-June.
So what's it like to travel to The Happy Island during a pandemic? Here, I break down my four-day trip.
Flying to Aruba During a Pandemic
We flew non-stop from New York-JFK to Aruba at 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Three days prior to arrival, Aruba requires travelers to complete its Online ED Card. This entails the usual basic traveler information, purchase of mandatory visitors insurance, and uploading a negative COVID-19 test result or pre-paying for a test upon arrival in Aruba. The gate agent at JFK checks every traveler for their completed ED Card prior to boarding.
About the required COVID-19 test: specifically, it's a PCR test. Rapid antigen tests are not accepted. My husband was tested in New York, but his results did not come back in time, so he pre-paid for an on-site test in Aruba. The testing process at Queen Beatrix International Airport was disorganized, unclear, and downright frustrating. All said and done, this ended up being a 45-minute hiccup on an otherwise lovely trip, but save yourself the stress and get your test as early as possible, or pony up for the Vault / JetBlue at-home test. By the way, we are both fully vaccinated. This has no impact on the mandatory test, as of publication.
Back to boarding. Next door to our gate, a flight to Jamaica was boarding simultaneously. Imagine a crowded, bottlenecked terminal hallway — essentially, travel out of any NYC airport pre-pandemic. Onboard, our flight was completely sold out. Masks were to be worn at all times, except when consuming complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. A few travelers had to be reminded to put their masks back on, and did so without issue.
Where to Stay in Aruba During the Pandemic
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, an adults-only, eco-friendly property, touted as the island's only boutique, family-owned resort, was our home away from home. Even though most rooms seemed to be occupied, the resort never felt crowded. The staff was incredibly friendly, welcoming, and knowledgeable. Thanks to its location about a mile away from the cluster of high-rise resorts, we enjoyed a glorious stretch of Eagle Beach almost entirely to ourselves.
How to Get Around Aruba During the Pandemic
Group airport transfers were included in our package. We ended up sharing an entire tour bus with only two other travelers both ways. Throughout our trip, we dined off-site every night (sadly, our resort's Elements restaurant was fully reserved our one un-planned night) and easily got to-and-fro via taxi or on foot. For our half-day excursion through Arikok National Park and the northern end of the island with De Palm Tours, our off-road, open-air jeep and guide picked us up at the resort.
Where to Eat and Drink in Aruba
We loved the beachside breakfast, cocktails, and bar snacks (think, a perfectly crispy order of fries) at Bucuti & Tara. Off-site, we enjoyed our meals at Pinchos, an overwater restaurant and Willem's Dutch Pancakes. The highlight was our last dinner at Madame Janette -- the atmosphere, food, and drink are incredible.
Do I Have to Take a COVID Test Before Entering the U.S. from Aruba?
Yes. Luckily, this process was much more seamless than the Aruba entry test process. The resort had on-site testing available, which you could schedule upon arrival. I received my test 24 hours prior to departure and my results in my email inbox within ten hours. At the airport, you present your negative test results prior to check-in, sign a waiver, then hand it to the gate agent. The silver lining in my husband's arrival test woes: it was conducted within 72 hours of departure, so he was able to use it as his return test too.