Located in the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba is home to white sandy beaches, crystalline waters, colorful fish, and picturesque ocean views. It’s one of the most popular tropical getaways in the world and a favorite of travelers who visit the Caribbean.
Here you’ll find pastel-colored Dutch houses juxtaposed against the natural island backdrop, transporting you to a tropical version of Amsterdam. Aruba’s not limited to the beaches and towns, though. Since it doesn’t get a ton of rain, the arid landscape has huge boulders and cactus forests scattered across it.
Like most other Caribbean islands, Aruba is expensive. This is a destination where honeymooners and luxury travelers go to relax so you’ll pay a premium for hotels, food, and activities in Aruba.
That doesn’t mean it’s not impossible to visit Aruba on a budget though — it’s just a lot harder.
But, no matter your budget, this Aruba travel guide has all the practical information you need to help you plan your visit so you can make the most of your time in this island paradise!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Aruba
1. Go Snorkeling
2. Explore Oranjestad
3. Sail around
4. Go diving
5. Hike Hooiberg
Other Things to See and Do in Aruba
1. Relax on a beach
Aruba’s powdery soft beaches and clear waters make for excellent days full of sunbathing, snorkeling, and swimming. Eagle Beach is the most popular, and its wide stretches of sand mean it’s never too crowded. Then there’s Flamingo Beach on Renaissance Island, where you can hang out with actual flamingos; or Drulf Beach, which is easily accessible from Oranjestad. If you want more solitude and quiet, head to Andicuri Beach, where rocky cliffs frame a wide swath of beachfront extending into the turquoise sea. There’s also Boca Prins Beach, which can be found in Arikok National Park (it has incredible views but watch out for the strong waves).
2. Go kayaking
For a relaxing way to explore Aruba’s coast, hop in a kayak. Most hotels offer their guests free use of kayaks. Otherwise, expect to pay around 45 AWG per hour for a rental. The coastline has a lot of little coves to explore, so take your time. Conversely, you can take a tour with Clear Kayak Aruba. Their clear-bottomed kayaks let you see the reefs and coral beneath you. A two-hour guided paddle costs 233 AWG.
3. Rent a quad
A quad (ATV) lets you get off the beaten track and explore some of the smaller beaches and jungles on the island. While getting a guide the best option, you can also explore the island on your own. A half-day rental from Arubiana is 199 AWG, while it’s 229 AWG for the full day. Tours start from 215 AWG per person.
4. Go golfing
Expensive holiday resorts and golf go hand in hand, right? Unfortunately, golf here isn’t a budget-friendly activity. If you want to hit the links, expect to pay 160-300 AWD per round at the island’s championship course, Tierra Del Sol. Its gorgeous 18-hole course is right on the ocean.
5. Visit the Archaeological Museum
Aruba has a complex history as it has been invaded by several colonial powers throughout the centuries. This former family home has been transformed into a museum displaying a variety of stone, shell, and ceramic artifacts from Aruba’s distant past, dating all the way back to 2,500 BCE. If you want a better understanding of the island’s long history, stay and watch the documentary film on ancient indigenous life. Admission is free.
6. Find tranquility at the Peace Labyrinth
The Peace Labyrinth sits atop a bluff overlooking the Caribbean. Next to a small chapel, here you can walk mindfully through the intricate outdoor labyrinth of stone, which is meant to serve as a sort of meditation. The entire Labyrinth fell to disrepair in recent years, but in 2019 volunteers gave it an overhaul so it looks great again. The grounds are free to wander.
7. Visit the Donkey Sanctuary
Once a major mode of transportation, donkeys have lived on the island of Aruba for over 500 years. After cars arrived, donkeys became less needed and their population hit record lows. Now, donkeys live primarily in this non-profit sanctuary. It’s a fun place to spend the afternoon, especially if you have kids, as you’re invited to feed and care for the donkeys (no riding is allowed). Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
8. Visit the Collapsed Natural Bridge
Once extending over 100 feet across and 25 feet high, this “bridge” was naturally carved into the coral by the sea until it collapsed in 2005. It’s still a top-rated tourist attraction, serving as a scenic viewpoint and lookout.
9. Take a jeep tour
One of the best ways to view the island is by taking a 4×4 tour that allows you to see parts of Aruba that lie off the beaten track, including the rugged north coast. ABC Tours has several different tour options that offer an adrenaline rush as you tear up the backcountry, pause to visit caves and go for a swim, and explore hidden beaches. Tours start from 110 AWG.
10. Explore Arikok National Park
Located in the north-eastern part of the island, you can find most of Aruba’s flora and fauna in Arikok National Park. At 34 square kilometers, it makes up around one-fifth of Aruba and has lots of different geological features, including volcanic hills and limestone rocks formed from fossilized coral. The park has a couple of stunning beaches, as well as Conchi, a natural pool that’s only accessible on foot, on horseback, or in a 4×4. Arikok is also home to Cunucu Arikok and Fontein Cave, where you can see rock paintings left behind by the indigenous Caquetío. A day pass costs around 20 AWG.
11. Climb California Lighthouse
You can get amazing views of the west coast beaches and the coral shorelines from the top of this lighthouse. It was named after the S.S. California, which sunk before the lighthouse was built in 1910. It’s located in the northwest of Aruba in the area known as “Hudishibana.” Go at dusk for one of the best sunsets on the island. Admission is 9 AWG.
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
Aruba Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Aruba has very few hostels. A bed in a dorm costs about 35 AWG per night while private rooms cost closer to 80 AWG per room. Free Wi-Fi is standard though currently, the hostels in Aruba are closed for COVID.
Camping is not available on Aruba.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two- and three-star hotels start at 150 AWG in Oranjestad but are closer to 200 AWG near beach resort areas. Free Wi-Fi is standard and many budget hotels also have pools.
On Airbnb, private rooms start at 80 AWG per night while entire homes/apartments average closer to 200 AWG per night.
Average cost of food – The cuisine in Aruba is a mix of Dutch, Caribbean, and South American flavors. Seafood, of course, is king, with mahi-mahi, red snapper, and grouper all being commonly caught around the island. Fresh fruit is also super popular. Be sure to try cool soup (a cold soup made from fruits), sopi mondongo (a stew made with tripe or bone marrow), cala (a spicy fried snack), and fried plantains.
For a casual seafood restaurant meal at a restaurant, expect to pay around 30 AWG. For fast food (think McDonald’s), a combo meal costs around 17 AWG.
If you want to splash out, a mid-range three-course meal with a drink costs around 75 AWG (upscale places cost over 100 AWG).
Beer is 8-9 AWG while a latte or cappuccino is 6 AWG. Bottled water costs around 2-3 AWG.
If you plan on cooking your own food, a week’s worth of groceries costs around 130 AWG. This gets you basic staples like rice, pasta, seasonal produce, and some meat or seafood.
If you get a chance, order seafood at Zeerovers. It’s delicious (cash only).
Backpacking Aruba Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Aruba, my suggested budget is 105 AWG per day. This assumes you’re staying in a hostel dorm, cooking all of your meals, limiting your drinking, taking the bus to get around, and doing mostly free activities like swimming and relaxing on the beach. If you plan on drinking, add another 10-20 AWG to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of 230 AWG per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for a couple of meals, enjoy some drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do some paid activities like go diving or take a snorkeling tour.
On a “luxury” budget of 420 AWG or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink as much as you want, rent a car or quad to get around, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in AWG.
Aruba Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Aruba caters to vacationers and luxury travelers, so there are not a ton of options here for cutting your budget. Here are the few ways to save money in Aruba:
- Eat local fish – You’re on an island, so local specialties such as grouper, mahi-mahi, and snapper are less expensive than other seafood options (plus, they’re fresh)!
- Get the VisitAruba Plus Card – The tourism board has a visitor’s program that offers discounts at more than 85 locations in Aruba, including restaurants, shops, activities, and attractions. The card is 31 AWG plus a 7 AWG delivery fee to your hotel or home address.
- Enjoy nature – Relax on the beach, go for a hike, or take in a sunset. Aruba’s natural beauty is breathtaking — and free!
- Book online – If you’re planning on going diving, or doing any other expensive activities, be sure to check online for discounts before. Some companies offer discounts for direct bookings.
- Stay with a local – There isn’t a huge Couchsurfing scene here but if you can find a host that can let you stay for free you’ll be able to cut your costs drastically. It’s a great way to meet locals too!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
- Cokk your own food – Eating out adds up, so book accommodation with a kitchen so you can buy groceries and cook your own meals. It won’t be luxurious but it will be cheaper!
Where to Stay in Aruba
There are only few hostels in Aruba so you’ll want to book early if you’re on a budget. Here are my suggested places to stay in Aruba (all located in Oranjestad) are:
How to Get Around Aruba
Public transportation – Arubus is the public bus in Aruba, and it gets you everywhere you need to go. Their website, Arubus.com, has a full list of schedules and routes. You can purchase a return ticket for 8.75 AWG, or an unlimited day pass for 17.50 AWG. You pay the driver when you board.
Oranjestad has a free open-air trolley that runs the length of downtown’s main street. It runs every 25 minutes between 10am-5pm.
Taxis – Taxis in Aruba are safe and reliable, but they do not have meters as rates are set by the government. The minimum fare is 12.60 AWG, but you should ask your driver beforehand what the total amount will be. A taxi to or from the airport costs anything from 32-89 AWG.
Car rental – Cars can be rented here for around 75 AWG per day for a multi-day rental. You don’t need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to rent a car here but drivers must be at least 21 and have had their license for two years.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking is safe here but it’s not very common. You’ll want to be flexible with your schedule as waits will likely be long. Check Hitchwiki for more tips and advice.
When to Go to Aruba
Peak season is January to March when temperatures average in the high 20s°C (mid-80s °F). Expect room prices to soar and for the island to be full and lively.
I think April to August is the best time to visit Aruba, as this is considered the off-season and prices decrease during this time (there are fewer tourist crowds also). Aruba isn’t part of the Caribbean’s hurricane belt, so there’s not much risk of tropical storms either.
This is the hottest time of year, with temperatures averaging 32°C (90°F). Fortunately, Aruba is usually pretty breezy, so there’s some relief to the humidity.
How to Stay Safe in Aruba
Aruba is considered one of the safest places to visit in the Caribbean as it’s a small island with a low crime rate. However, it’s still best to not leave your valuables out and unattended at the beach (or anywhere) to avoid petty theft.
As in any destination, keep your valuables secure and out of sight when on crowded public transportation.
The San Nicolas area is best avoided at night if you’re alone.
If you are traveling during COVID and need a Health Visa, this post has more information on that process.
When out at the bar, never leave your drink unattended. Also, never walk home alone if you’re intoxicated.
Scams here are rare, but if you’re worried about getting ripped off, you can read about common travel scams to avoid right here.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
Remember to always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Aruba! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Aruba Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Aruba. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
Aruba Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Aruba Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under a Blue Flag, by Daniel Putkowski
Fifteen years ago, Luz Revilla, a young sex worker, sent her son off to be raised by a tugboat captain. Now he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba and Revilla’s life has become ruled by worry and the anticipation of reuniting with her son. This is the darker side of Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after Jamaican independence in 1962. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. The book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading and explores postcolonial issues, but it’s a beautiful book.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof
In the mid-1990s, the author and her husband decided to take a break from their soul-sucking corporate jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean. During the trip, they traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries, and adapted to “island time.” What I loved about this book was the noticeable change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to learning to go with the flow as they realize they don’t need a lot of stuff to be content. This book is well written, smart, inquisitive, and paints a vivid picture of the Caribbean. Highly recommended!
Out From Nassau, by Fia B. Scheyer
Out From Nassau takes you back to the Bahamas in the 1920s, when Prohibition was happening in the United States and much of its illegal booze was being smuggled in from here. The book focuses on the lives of people in Nassau and the Out Islands, including the McKenzie family, as they become entangled in this dangerous trade. It’s a real page-turner, and although it’s fiction, much of the story is rooted in reality.
Aruba Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Caribbean and continue planning your trip: