Aruba Island Travel Guide & Map
I am sitting... on the tallest rock I could find. The waves crash violently against the coast. A stark contrast from the calm waters on the western side of the island. The sun is setting, casting vibrant colors across an already vibrant colored ocean. My companion has his camera and tripod ready to catch the melt. I sit with my hands on the warm rock, feeling the winds whip my long hair across my back. The California lighthouse flashes in the distance behind me. Another beautiful sunset on this Happy Island.
Sunsets -- Delicious Local Eats – Beautiful Beaches and Coastline
I admit there is a lot going on in this little map, but that is because there is so much you can see and do in Aruba! This map shows a collection of things to Eat/ Drink, Do, See, or Stay. Each collection is in it's own group layer in the map to make it easy for you to explore by location or by topic. Click on a point to see the Map Happy Travel comments and get links to websites, google directions, and more!
Yellow points are the Map Happy Travel Favorites. These special spots are considered the top recommendations for your adventure. They are explained in greater detail below.
Map Happy Travel Guide
A lot of people might visit Aruba with the intention of laying back and relaxing. You do you! Generally speaking, this is not how I roll (or even know how to roll). When planning our trip to Aruba, we looked at the map (obviously) of where attractions, restaurants, and beaches were located. We decided to rent a car and split the time between an AirBnB in the more residential area and a couple nights in the high rise hotels. This guide will cover some of the highlights and favorites from our exploration all around this little island.
Eat & Drink
Aruba is filled with delicious local restaurants and unique island dishes. You’ll also find a surprising number of the American chains here, but don't waste your time on those! I encourage you to ask the locals for their favorites and branch out to something a little different. It was hard to choose, but here are a few top recommendations.
The Old Cunucu House
This local gem was recommended to us from our AirBnB host. The first time we went was around 5pm and the place was dead. We were a little nervous, but the food, service and vibe were amazing. We went back two other times to find a nighttime vibe with crowded tables and a live singer strumming his guitar. Highly recommend you try the keshi yana and funchi and if you’re feeling adventurous, the iguana stew wasn't bad either.
So many local folks recommended this spot, and with good reason! The food is good but the experience is what we came for. You wait in a line (and it’s almost always long, so be patient) to order from a simple menu. They have a fish of the day and shrimp and you simply let them know how many you want. Make sure you try all the sides and definitely try the papaya hot sauce. Pro tip: have someone hold your spot in line while you go grab a few local beers for the wait. The line moves fast, but it’s even faster when you have a nice cold drink in your hand.
Honestly I was worried this place was going to be overrated, but I have to say it lived up to and even exceeded my high expectations. The venue is beautiful; right on the beach with tall palm trees all around. You have the option to rent a private cabana with a prefix menu. We opted for the traditional dining because we wanted to try different items off the menu. Everything we had was delicious and it’s all locally sourced and creatively prepared. My only regret was coming here on the last night, simply because I want to eat here again!
Things to see
This place is definitely a touristy spot, but with good reason. The lighthouse itself is a simple white with small windows wrapping around and up. There’s a small fee of US$5 to go inside. Climb the spiral stairs up to the windy top. You’ll be able to see almost 80% of the island.
The Natural Bridge sadly collapsed back in 2005, but as I write this in 2021 the Tripod Bridge is still alive and well. This is one of the roads we wish we had a 4x4 for, but instead we parked our little sedan on the side of the road and walked the rest of the way. Once you reach the ocean, walk to the right (so the water is on your left). There is no dedicated trail, but you’ll see some dirt paths carved by the off road vehicles. You’ll eventually see a small hut down by black rock beach. Walk towards that and you’ll see the tripod bridge on the edge of the water.
Things to Do
This place was an adventure to get to and absolutely worth it. You have lots of options. Start by going to the visitor center at Arikok National Park. You need to pay the park fee and get a wristband. From there, you can either take a 4x4 through the park, or if you’re in a smaller car like we were, then you can drive about 20 min to Rancho Daimari. Pack up your water, sunscreen and a towel and then head down the steep rocky road. You’ll be tempted to head out on the first beach, but keep to the right and head up the small trail. From there, keep the ocean on your left and enjoy the beauty around you for the next 30-45 minutes. When you reach the pool, leave your things, swap on the water shoes, and make your way along the rocks on the right side. There’s one main pool filled with large fish and another small pool you can climb up to.
Arikok National Park
Aruba is only about 70 square miles and nearly 20% of that belong to this National Park. It is absolutely worth a visit to see different flora and fauna as well as some ancient caves with old drawings. The park road is paved, but it has some aggressively low dips, almost like reverse speed bumps. Make sure you drive all the way to the end of the main road and visit the Quadirikiri Cave. From there you can continue your drive on to Baby Beach!
This little beach might be one of the littlest beaches I’ve ever seen. The coast itself is sharp rock cliffs. There are steps carved into the rocks leading down to a sandy patch. Throw on that snorkel and go explore. The water gets deep fast, so this is a great place to just relax in the cool, calm waters after a long day in the sun. You can see small caves under the cliffs, lots of fish swaying in the currents and even some turtles munching on the seagrass.
I’m always looking for some way to connect with wildlife and animals when in a new place. The Donkey Sanctuary is just a wonderful stop to help lift your spirits and warm your soul. There are dozens of friendly donkeys waiting for their chance to get some kibbles from the visitors.
Renting a Car
In a word: Easy! The rental car pick up is directly across the street from the passenger drop off/ pick up area. The only downside was the cars were a bit pricey. I heard from a friend that renting on the spot, as opposed to having a reservation, can be a way to save money, but for us, we’d rather pay a little more so that we can guarantee we have the vehicle when we get there.
We were on the fence about getting a Jeep or other larger vehicle. Generally when we travel we go with the economy sedan style car. Aruba’s main road system is mostly paved, but there are certainly situations where you will want that more rugged vehicle. We made do, but if you feel like you are a more adventurous person, definitely get the more rugged vehicle.
Aruba is a relatively small island (69.5 mi²) so it’s pretty easy to get around. For this trip I downloaded the entire island on Google maps. From there you can keep your phone in airplane mode, turn on the GPS and then use google directions just the same as you would from home. I recommend saving a few locations on your map ahead of time so you know where you want to go. The offline search will only work on the names of locations, which means you can try doing a search for coffee, but you might not get all the results.
Arrival and Departure
AUA - Queen Beatrix International Airport
The airport is very small and easy to navigate. We traveled just after COVID and so the wait times for getting through security on both ends was longer than usual.
You go through customs in Aruba before boarding your flight. I admit I’m not usually one to arrive at an airport too early, but for Aruba, just suck it up and get there at least 2 hours early. We waited in the check in line, the first security line, the first security check, then we thought we were done, but we still had US customs!
If you check a bag you will definitely need more time. After going through the initial Aruba security, you will need to pick up your checked bags to go through US customs and security. Lots of waiting around. Bring a book, or make sure that cell phone is charged up.
Tips and Tricks
The country currency is Aruban florin (AWG) though US Dollars (USD) is also widely accepted. We barely even used AWG besides receiving some coins as change from our US cash. Fun fact: Aruba’s 50c coins are square!
Aruba has some of the safest and cleanest drinking water. Don’t waste your money, or waste the plastic on bottled water, please! Bring your canteen and fill it up with this delicious local water.
The people of Aruba are incredibly friendly. Take the time to slow down and chat with the locals. Ask them for recommendations or ask them about their favorite restaurant. Smile and say hello. Really you should do this anywhere, but the Aruban folks are especially kind and welcoming.
The official languages in Aruba are Papiamento and Dutch. That being said, most Arubans speak fluent English and some Spanish.
The Travel Dates
May 25th – June 2nd, 2021
BOS to AUA with a stopover each way
Mark from Briles Eye View
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