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When we first considered Aruba, I worried that there wouldn’t be much to do other than lay on the beach — not that there is anything wrong with that! This post will tell you what to do in Aruba and how to enjoy Aruba’s beaches and other sights.
As usual, I started my research on where to go by looking at TripAdvisor and people’s recommendations. I then moved on to other writers’ blogs. Finally, I looked at all the Aruba travel boards – there were so many interesting things to do that I had to prioritize my interests. The sights we went to did not involve animals – there is a mule farm and ostriches and butterflies. But that isn’t really our interest, although I’m told that the butterfly farm is worth every penny of admission! We also skipped the aloe vera plantation – while I’m sure it can be very informative, I wanted to see places! The three places on my list of “must see” – Aruba’s beaches, the natural pool and Flamingo beach.
Aruba Sightseeing Private Tour
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 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!
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. I couldn’t possibly summarize all of them here, so I wrote a blog just about them. You can read more about Aruba’s beaches.
Aruba Sightseeing: Flamingo Beach!
I’ve mentioned in almost every post how much I wanted to go to Flamingo Beach and how much I loved it there. You can read a lot more tips about Flamingo Beach in my full blog. We stayed at the Renaissance Aruba to guarantee our ability to visit.
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! I recommend wearing a long sleeve sun protective shirt. The only warning I have is that neither the shirt nor the shorts we wore ever came 100% clean after that trip! Also bring a towel if you plan on going into any water (like the natural pools or stopping at a beach).
Alto Vista Chapel!
Seeing photos of Alto Vista Chapel, I imagined it would be larger. 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.
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
Since we didn’t rent a 4 x 4 to go to the natural pool, our guide took us to a smaller natural pool located near the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins. From what I could tell, 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. Just sitting there in the water, it was hard at times to keep our footing while the waves came in and out. Read here to find out how to get there without a 4×4.
Casibari Rock Formations!
Climb to the top of the Casibari Rock Formation and you have 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!
I really wanted to go to Baby Beach but it is so far South out of the main areas that our guide instead offered to take us to Mangel Halto Beach which is less touristy. Jeff 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
When we returned to our hotel, we asked about ways to get around to see the sights we had missed. While we could have taken a bus to Baby Beach for very little money, the hotel staff told us that the trip would take a long time. Instead, they recommended two options, renting a taxi for $35 an hour (government fixed price) or renting a car for $50. Renting a 4 x 4 costs $200, so we researched whether or not we could go to the natural pool without a 4×4.
The natural pool was something I really wanted to see as soon as we started planning our trip. I will have a more detailed blog on how we got here shortly. At this point what I want to say is that I was happy that we went and saw it. On the other hand, Allan was disappointed that it was smaller than he expected. I don’t recommend it for anyone with mobility issues, but I do think it is worth the trip to see it.
After all these serious photos, we decided to take a funny perspective photo of the California Lighthouse. Everyone said to go at sunset – and it really was beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the lighthouse closed at 5pm, so you can’t climb to the top unless you go earlier in the day. We missed out on the climb!
Anchor in Memory of All Seamen!
This stop wasn’t on my original plan. I saw photos of the memorial on TripAdvisor but I would not have made plans to go here on my own. While we were driving around, we passed this memorial leaving Baby Beach on our way towards Bachelor Beach. This is also at the top of the road that goes past the island’s prison (where Joran van der Sloot must have spent some time). It is a quick photo op and with its bright color, really stands out from the surroundings.
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!
Annick, The Common Traveler