With its perfect weather and location, Aruba is a popular destination. Worried that there won’t be much to do in Aruba other than lay on the beach? Not that there is anything wrong with that, we love the beach, but we also like to explore every new place we visit! Find the best things to do in Aruba, including how to get to them, to help you make the most of your time on the One Happy Island.
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There are so many interesting things to do that visitors will need to prioritize the sights they want to see. While the island is about 20 miles from one end to the other, taking into account the off-road access to destinations, it may seem like you can accomplish more than you can in any one day. Plan accordingly and remember that you’re on vacation and meant to be enjoying yourself!
The sights listed here do not involve animals (other than flamingos) – there is a mule farm and ostriches and butterflies. The aloe vera plantation was also not included, though they all have great reviews. The three places that should be on every Aruba visitor’s must-see list are the beaches, the natural pool, and Flamingo beach.
Aruba Sightseeing Options
There are four main ways of getting around the island and seeing the best things to do in Aruba:
Rent a vehicle:
The most convenient and flexible way to get around the island is to rent a vehicle. Because a lot of the sights are in difficult terrain, a 4×4 is the best choice if you’re planning on going to some hard to reach places — such as the natural pool or Arikok National Park. With taxis available and regulated by the government (ride-shares are prohibited), you shouldn’t need a vehicle except for a day or two of extreme sightseeing.
For a fun adventure rent an ATV or UTV for a day or part of a day instead of a 4×4.
Book a tour:
Several tour companies offer both half and full-day tours of the island. Their pamphlets can be found in the bags given to visitors at the airport upon arrival, on dressers in hotel rooms, and counters in most rental properties. You’ll also find them online through tour operators. The advantage of a tour is that they’re already pre-planned and worry-free. The disadvantage is the lack of flexibility. The other disadvantage is that most itineraries are created in such a way that in order to see all of the best things to do in Aruba, you’re forced to book two tours. If you choose this option, you will have to give up seeing something on your list of must-see sights in Aruba.
Plan a private tour:
Blending the best of two worlds — a guide at your side with the flexibility of choosing your own sights and how long to spend at each one. We used ABC-Tours Aruba. We were able to give a dream list of sights we wanted to see and our guide was able to say what was doable on our own and what he could take us to. We opted for a UTV for an adventurous excursion!
Ride public transportation:
Aruba offers an inexpensive and reliable public bus service, known as Arubus. Roundtrip tickets (retour cards) cost US$5, though unlimited and all-day passes are also available. Beach cards are very popular with visitors, with the Baby Beach card being one of the easiest ways to get around to the southern end of the island.
Aruba Sightseeing: the Beaches!
The main attraction of Aruba is the beautiful beaches. There are so many of them! The sand on most beaches is white and the water a true blue. It would be impossible to summarize all of them here, so you can read a more detailed description of Aruba’s beaches.
Palm Beach and Eagle Beach often top the lists of the world’s best beaches – so many visitors choose to stay at a resort on one of these famous beaches. The hotels are pricier here, but the location can’t be beat. All of Aruba’s beaches are public, so even if not staying at one of the resorts, you’re welcome to spread your towel out on the sand.
Aruba Sightseeing: Flamingo Beach!
One of the most Instagrammable spots on Aruba, and a must-see attraction, is Flamingo Beach. Located on the private Renaissance Island, guests share a beautiful private beach with a flamboyance of six flamingos. The beach is adults-only, except from 9-10 am when children are allowed. For those wanting a photo op feeding the birds, plan on going early as they get too full later to care for your offerings. Detailed tips, including costs and a no-fail tip guaranteeing admission, are revealed in our more detailed Flamingo Beach post. We stayed at the Renaissance Aruba to guarantee our ability to visit.
Aruba Sightseeing with a Guide
The companies create their itineraries in such a way to force you to book at least two tours to see everything you want to see. The concierge at the Manchebo Beach Resort suggested we book a private tour on UTVs. Jeff, from ABC Tours, picked us up for our four-hour UTV private tour. The four hours start from the time they pick you up at the hotel, take you to the main office to sign the paperwork, ending when they drop you off at the hotel after a stop at the main office again. Regular tours cost about $75-100 per person. We paid $400 for our private tour, so a bit more than if we booked two regular tours except that we controlled how long we spent at every stop. This is not usually The Common Traveler way but it was worth!
ABC Private Tour – UTVs
I gave a list of the eleven places I wanted to see to our guide. He suggested we cut it to eight. He told us which sights we could see on our own and how to get there. The only problem is that two of my “must-see”, natural pool and Baby Beach, we could not do. Baby Beach is so far out of the way that he suggested we go on our own but he did take us to Mangel Halto, which turned out to be a wonderful beach we would have missed otherwise. The main problem with going to the natural pool is that UTVs are not allowed and we would have had to book a private tour with a 4 x 4 vehicle – for that I blame our concierge for her lack of knowledge.
Prepare for your Aruba Sightseeing Tour
Plan for the best UTV tour – ask for or bring snacks. Tour guides bring plenty of water, but bring your own water bottle to refill rather than throwing away plastic cups. Apply and re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. You won’t feel the strong sun while you’re driving around. Wear bandanas supplied by the tour companies (like the ones on Survivor) to keep the dirt out of your mouth and nose while driving around. Tie your hair back or put it up if you’ve got long hair – it takes a while to get out those knots otherwise! Wear a long-sleeve sun protective shirt. But beware that neither the shirt nor the shorts you wear will come 100% clean after that trip if you’re on a UTV due to the dirt! Also bring a towel if you plan on going into any water (like the natural pools or stopping at a beach).
Itinerary for guided portion:
Alto Vista Chapel
The original chapel was built in 1750 but was abandoned. The chapel was rebuilt in 1952. More recently, a local school teacher refurbished it to make it a local attraction. The Alto Vista Chapel makes a good stopping point on the way to the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins.
Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins
Aruba gets its name from “Oro Ruba” or red gold. Gold was finally found in 1824 and over 3 million pounds of gold were removed from this island. The remaining ruins show were the gold was milled (this is not a mine!). Abandoned a long time ago, it helps to show a historical event on Aruba.
Aruba Sightseeing: Natural Bridge
The natural bridge that you see in so many photos of Aruba is a natural rock formation but it no longer stands. Smaller natural bridges exist in various locations and most tours will take you to one of those. We wanted to see the original, even if it had fallen because we wanted to see the original. We probably could have skipped this, or any of the smaller versions, without missing out on much. There is a small restaurant and it is a good place for a restroom break if you need it.
New Natural Pool
Our itinerary didn’t allow enough time to get to the natural pool so our guide took us to a smaller natural pool located near the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins. It appeared that only the ABC Tour company used this location, so we were alone during our visit. The water was refreshing when we jumped in and we washed off some of our dust. It was an unexpected, amazing treasure find on our outing — something we would not have discovered without a guide.
Casibari Rock Formations
Climb to the top of the Casibari Rock Formation for photos of the entire island. The platform at the top lends itself to 360 views of Aruba – and on a clear day, you may even spot Venezuela in the distance! It is hot with the sun but worth the climb – plus there is a nice breeze at the top.
Ayo Rock Formations
More rock formations but trickier to climb and not as easy a view from the top. Local Indians used to hide in the caves among these rock formations when invaders landed on the island. You can see several spots that show native designs on the rocks. It is hot and there is little shade. The bees were particularly bad at this location (probably attracted to people by the scent of the sunscreen) but if you’re careful, you should be okay. If anyone in your group panics over bees, I don’t recommend the stop.
Mangel Halto Beach
A favorite spot for locals, Mangel Halto Beach which is far less touristy than most other beaches on the island. There isn’t room to lay out but it offers a great snorkeling and diving spot. Our guide explained that his father used to bring him to this beach all the time when he was young. While we saw a few tourists, I agree that most of the people at this beach were locals. That is how you know that you’re at a really good spot!
Aruba Sightseeing On your Own – Car Rental
Since you won’t be able to see all the sights with a guide or tour, here are the sights we suggest seeing on your own, and why we recommend renting a car. You could take the bus to many places like Baby Beach for very little money, but depending on where your hotel is located, the trip could take a long time. Instead, we recommended two options: renting a taxi for $35 an hour (government fixed price) or renting a car for $50 for the day. Renting a 4 x 4 costs $200, so we researched options for visiting the natural pool without a 4×4.
The natural pool ranks as the best thing to do in Aruba. This rock formation on the shoreline of the Caribbean fills with the waves, forming a natural pool where visitors can snorkel and swim, protected from the strong current. Reaching it requires a 4×4, a UTV or an ATV, or hiking in. We recommend going without a tour group and either early or late in the day to avoid the crowds and to stay as long as you wish. It is not recommended for anyone with mobility issues.
The perfect spot to watch the sunset, the California Lighthouse offers a great view of the island. A $5 admission fee allows visitors to go all the way to the top where you might catch sight of the setting sun. Check open hours during your visit as the California Lighthouse often closes before the time of the sunset. It still is a great place to watch the sun setting over the horizon though.
Ride the Streetcar
A streetcar follows the main tourist shopping road in downtown Oranjestad. The driver who took us from the airport to our hotel on the first day recommended it and told us where to pick it up (near the cruise port). After checking out of the Renaissance Marina Hotel, we went down the street to the cruise port and sat on the top of the double-decker trolley. It was a nice way to spent about 40 minutes or so seeing the main shopping areas. Please put on sunscreen if you decide to sit at the top as we did – I got bad tan lines from that little ride!
Aruba Activities To Consider
In addition to all the sightseeing to do, Aruba offers lots of fun and unique activities that you should consider if you’re the more active and adventurous type:
- ATV/UTV tours: Off-roading is half the fun in discovering Aruba’s wonders — and the best way to do that is with an ATV or UTV. What’s the difference, you may wonder? An ATV is like a large three-wheeled motorized bike for a single rider. A UTV is like a golf-cart on steroids, carrying two or more passengers on benches. Wear a face mask, sunscreen, and bring a water bottle!
- Scuba diving: While some may think of diving in Curacao and Bonaire, Aruba also offers many opportunities for divers. Divers in Aruba can explore the Antilla, the Caribbean’s largest wreck, among others, and try night diving.
- Snorkeling: For those who don’t dive, don’t worry, some of Aruba’s beaches, plus the Natural Pool, lend themselves to snorkeling. Don’t forget your mask and reef-safe sunscreen!
- Windsurfing (or Sailboarding) or Kitesurfing (or Kiteboarding): The tradewinds that make Aruba’s hot sun bearable create the perfect conditions for these extreme sports. While neither of these is an easy sport to take up in a short amount of time, Aruba is a good place to develop or continue your skill in them if you’d like.
This Aruba sightseeing post is just a taste of the best things to do in Aruba. For more Aruba ideas check out:
- Everything to know about Flamingo Beach
- The ultimate guide to getting to the natural pool
- Aruba’s best beaches wrap up
- Best souvenirs to bring back
Annick, The Common Traveler