An American In Aruba: Recommendations From My 6 Week Trip
Escaping the tundra that is January and February is a luxury I've never experienced before. How lucky am I that the Brassybra flew me to Aruba for a workcation?! You all know that I was in desperate need of some sun and fun. Pete and I got a big discount on our Airbnb when we booked it for a whole month, so we decided that it was a crucial means of surviving winter after 2020. We had originally planned to stay for 5 weeks (and my brother even came with me for 2!), but during our last week, when we looked the weather forecast, we decided to stay ANOTHER week (hehe). I'm the tannest I've ever been in my life.
During our stay, I learned a lot about the gorgeous Island of Aruba. If you're ever planning to travel there, here are my top recommendations on how to have the BEST TRIP EVER, especially if you're a not particularly well traveled American like myself!
Where We Stayed
The first week, we stayed up in Noord with my bosses, and it is ABSOLUTELY STUNNING! The main tourist areas are up in Noord near the beaches, and in Oranjestad. The beaches are GORGEOUS and the restaurants and hotels in the area are EXPENSIVE. Be prepared to drop thousands in a short period of time if you go for a 100% tourist experience. Personally, I loved the Airbnb experience and adored getting to live like more of a local, which saved tons and tons of moola.
After our first week, we went to our Airbnb down in Savaneta. It's on the opposite side of the Island and takes about 30 minutes to get up to Noord from there with no traffic (an hour with). I loved the area so much, and we made friends and became "regulars" at Hao Ling Supermarket, S Chow Supermarket, and local bars like House Of Cakes and Terrace Bar, which even featured us on their Instagram (in exchange for a free beer of course).
Our Favorite Beaches
Arashi Beach has the best waves in Noord, perfect for boogie boarding! The sunsets are magical, but that's true almost anywhere on Aruba.
The snorkeling at Boca Catalina was absolutely incredible. It was my first time ever trying snorkeling and it turned into one of my favorite activities. I bought a cheap snorkel set on Amazon that was totally adequate, though I wished I had gotten the full face mask instead! The face mask I got in the kit fogs up so quickly it can be a little bit frustrating to take on and off frequently. I saw a lotttt of snorkelers using the full face type, and from the conversations I had on the Island, it seems like it may be the preferable option for many! I recommend purchasing and bringing your own if you have room, because renting equipment is so expensive!
Mangel Halto- One of the least tourist-y beaches. It's known for the best snorkeling, but I found that I saw way more at Boca Catalina and the neighboring beaches up in Noord. There are all these little mini "private beaches" within the trees like in the picture below that are so cool!
If you go a little further North up the road from the main Mangel Halto entrance, there's all these great places to sit and watch the sunset, as well as rocks that have stairs you can climb down to (like this!).
Tres Trapi Steps is tiny and right next door to Boca Catalina but has SEA TURTLES! Magical.
Pictured: Baby Beach
Baby Beach was possibly my favorite (it's so hard to say), definitely top 3! It's so calm, gorgeous, and shallow. Perfect for floating around and sunbathing. Be sure to stop at Rum Reef for a Monkey Juice and Photo op in the infinity pool!
Pictured: Rum Reef, infinity pool overlooking the beach.
The food in Aruba was hit or miss. We had some really good food while we were here, and also some very overpriced, straight-up gross food, to be entirely honest. I'd like to focus on the positive and give credit where credit is due!
Madame Janette's You will love this place if you like comfort food/ like American portions. It's like the Cheesecake Factory meets the Caribbean. Biggest. Burger. I've. Ever. Seen. Everything was extremely delicious and extremely rich. I recommend not eating all day before you go (so you're ravenous when you arrive) and taking the leftovers home for a midnight snack like I did.
G&G Pizza and Wings Turned out to be a go-to spot for us in Savaneta. Delicious pizza and wings. They often have a line out the door in the evenings and don't pick up the phone. I recommend ordering, going to Terrace or House of Cakes for a drink, and coming back to get your food after!
Wilhelmina We went to Wilhelmina for Valentines Day and it didn't disappoint. On the fancy side with smaller portions, but ultra delish.
Flying Fishbone Everyone told us we'd have to book way in advance in order to get a table, but we booked same day on a random Tuesday and got to sit right down on the beach (likely due to Covid, but hey, it looks like this will still apply for a while unfortunately)! They have lights in the water that look so cool, and they bring the martini's in little ice boats so they stay cold. Everything was tasty, but the ambiance was unparalleled!
Hiking: We hiked Mount Hooiberg, which is the second highest highest volcanic formation on the island. It's 600 steps to the top with very few handrails. Great workout on the way up, a little scary on the way down. Not for those who have a fear of heights. Highly recommend for days your skin needs a break from the sun and salt at the beach!
Other Tips For Americans In Aruba
During Covid, it's an Island requirement that everyone in your party has to have their own shopping cart when entering stores. We got yelled at a couple of times at Super Food and found it extremely off-putting, so know that it's a rule before you go! You need local coins in order to unlock the cart as well. Put them into the slot at an angle!
We rented a car at Drive 4 Cheap Car Rental, which came recommended to us by a local friend of my bosses. To rent a car for 6 weeks was just under a $1000, everything included, which is expensive of course, but not as far as rental cars go.
In my opinion, you DEFINITELY want to rent a car if you're planning to stay longer than a few days, stay anywhere outside of the major tourist areas, or cook any of your own meals. Aruba is not particularly bike/walk friendly, especially like how we're used to in NYC. We considered not renting a car and once we got there, we did it within 24 hours.
The calm beaches are on the west side of the SW side of the Island (facing Venezuela), and the opposite side of the island has INSANE waves and reef. Do not joke around in these waves, you'll get pummeled. I also recommend putting conditioner in your hair and putting it into french braids if you have long hair like me, because WOW, did my hair get tangled. I had to cut a chunk out one day.
You can't get things like Advil or Tums at most of the grocery stores. You have to go to a pharmacy. This is TMI but I could not find ANY nutritional fiber anywhere on the Island. It may be somewhere, but it's very hard to find. If you need any of these items, bring them!
Local drivers license plates have an A on them, while visitor plates have a V.
Get tested for your return trip (can you imagine if you read this if Covid ever ends and don't have any idea what I'm talking about?) on a Friday night. No line. My brother waited 4 hours in line at the hospital on a Friday morning.
There's essentially one highway that runs up and down the coast. Prepare yourself for a little traffic during busy times. There are no streetlights, only roundabouts, so get ready to roll!
Beer is extremely expensive and comes in tiny bottles. I recommend the local rum instead, Palmera.
There are tons of stray dogs. Adopt one. I know I wanted to (stupid NYC apartment laws).
The local currency is the Florin which is about .56 of a Dollar. Every places takes dollars but may give you change in Florin. Oddly enough, one taxi service would ONLY take payment in Dollars, which can be hard to find at the local ATM's. Super Food's ATM has dollars, and we were told that all of the main hotels/casinos would have them as well, though we never tried!
Palapas (pictured below) are all free. Even outside of hotels. No one is allowed to ask you to leave one, and they're all first come first serve. The more you know :)
Palapa at Mangel Halto Beach
Let me know if you have any questions below. Happy Traveling!