Aruba, located in the Netherlands Antilles, is filled with white sandy beaches, clear water, colorful fish, and picturesque views. Pastel-colored Dutch houses juxtaposed against the natural backdrop transport you to a tropical version of Amsterdam.
Visiting Aruba is the quintessential Caribbean experience.
But, like most other Caribbean islands, Aruba is very expensive. This is a destination where grandparents and honeymooners go to relax so the island caters to luxury end of the tourism spectrum. 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. It’s just a lot harder. By eating local food, staying in cheaper guesthouses, and cutting a few other expenses, you can make your trip to paradise a bit more affordable.
But, no matter your budget, this Aruba travel guide will give you all the practical information you need to help you plan your visit so you can make the most of what the island has to offer!
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’ll get to 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.
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 ($25 USD) 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 paddle costs 108 AWG ($60 USD).
3. Rent a quad
A quad lets you get off the beaten track and explore some of the smaller beaches and jungles on the island. While getting a guide is a better option, you are also free to roam around the island on your own. A half-day rental from Arubiana is 198 AWG ($110 USD), while it’s 234 AWG ($130 USD) for the full day. Pretty much any tour starts from 216 AWG ($120 USD) per person. Around Aruba and Action Tours are my two recommended companies.
4. Go golfing
Expensive holiday resorts and golf go hand in hand, right? Expect to pay up to 180-285 AWG ($90-158 USD) per round at the island’s championship course, Tierra Del Sol, with its 18-hole course right on the ocean. For something cheaper, you can do a round of 18 holes at the Aruba Golf Club for 55 AWG ($30 USD).
5. Visit the Archaeological Museum
This former family home has been transformed into a museum displaying a variety of stone, shell, and ceramic artifacts from Aruba’s history, dating back to 2,500 BC. If you want a better understanding of the island’s history, stay and watch the documentary film on ancient Amerindian 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, walk mindfully through the intricate outdoor labyrinth of stone, which is meant to serve as a sort of meditation. The grounds are free to wander. The entire Labyrinth fell to disrepair in recent years, but in 2019 volunteers gave it an overhaul so it looks great again.
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 came to Aruba, donkeys became less needed, and the population hit record lows. Now, donkeys live primarily in this non-profit sanctuary. This is 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 tour by jeep
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 quite an adrenaline rush as you tear up the backcountry, pause to visit caves and go for a swim or explore hidden beaches. Tours start from 125 AWG ($69 USD).
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
Aruba Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Aruba has very few hostels. A bed will cost about 54 AWG ($30 USD) per night for a room with four-six beds. A dorm with eight beds or more costs from 36 AWG ($20 USD) per night.
A small double or twin bed with an ensuite bathroom costs about 72 AWG ($40 USD) per night for one person, or 90 AWG ($50 USD) for two people.
Camping is not available on Aruba.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about 180 AWG ($100 USD) in Oranjestad, but start at about 216 AWG ($120 USD) near beach resort areas.
There are a handful of Airbnb properties in Aruba, with shared accommodation (like a bed in a dorm) starting at 60 AWG ($34 USD) per night. For a private room expect to pay from 72 AWG ($40 USD) per night, while a full apartment averages about 270 AWG ($150 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – Most hotels offer free breakfast for guests. Breakfast spots around Oranjestad offer breakfast for as little as ($5 USD). A bagel sandwich at a café starts from about 7 AWG ($4 USD), while you can grab a ham-and-cheese sandwich at Superfoods for 4.40 AWG ($3 USD). A meal at McDonald’s costs about 14 AWG ($8 USD).
Dinner at an inexpensive restaurant will cost you around 22 AWG ($12 USD). Dinner at an upscale restaurant will cost about 54 AWG ($30 USD) for a seafood entree, although the more top rated places can cost up to 108 AWG ($60 USD).
A beer to go with it will cost 7 AWG ($4 USD), while a glass of wine is double that.
Basic groceries for the week (milk, eggs, bread, chicken, fruit, and veggies) will set you back about 108 AWG ($60 USD). Tap water here is safe to drink.
If you get a chance, order seafood at Zeerovers. They charge by the pound, and you can get a hearty meal for 27 AWG ($15 USD) or less.
Backpacking Aruba Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Aruba, my suggested budget is around 126 AWG ($70 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, local buses, grab and go meals, cooking most of your food, free attractions, and a paid activity or two.
A mid-range budget of about 261 AWG ($145 USD) will cover staying in a private Airbnb room, eating at inexpensive restaurants, a few drinks, and more activities (including a sailing trip).
For a luxury budget of about 639 AWG ($355 USD) per day or more, you will stay in a nice resort, eat out for all your meals, enjoy some drinks, and do lots of activities like diving or sailing. After that, 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’ll spend more, some days you’ll 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 USD.
Aruba Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Aruba caters pretty heavily 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 (and it’s fresh)! At the Daily Fish market, you can get calamari rings for 8 AWG ($4.50 USD), or a fried cod filet for 10.50 AWG ($6 USD).
- Get the VisitAruba Plus Card – The tourism board has a visitor’s program where you can get discounts and special offers at more than 85 locations in Aruba, including restaurants, shops, activities, and attractions. For example, you can get 15% off diving packages with some of their dive partners. The card is 31 AWG ($17 USD) plus a 7 AWG ($4 USD) 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.
- Couchsurf – There are a surprising number of Couchsurfing hosts in Aruba. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Drink the tap water – Tap water is safe here! There’s no need to purchase bottled water.
Where To Stay in Aruba
There are only few hostels in Aruba, but those that are available often come with extra perks like swimming pools. My suggested places to stay in Aruba (all located in Oranjestad) are the following:
How to Get Around Aruba
Bus – Arubus is the public bus in Aruba, and this will get you everywhere you need to go (Aruba is a very small island). Their website, Arubus.com, has a full list of schedules and routes. You can purchase a return ticket for 8.75 AWG ($5 USD), or an unlimited day pass for 17.50 AWG ($10 USD). You’ll pay the driver when you board.
Trolley – Oranjestad has a free open-air trolley that runs the length of downtown’s main street. It runs on limited hours 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 10 AWG ($6 USD), but you should ask your driver beforehand what the total amount will be. A taxi to or from the airport costs about 54 AWG ($30 USD).
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking is safe to do on the island, but you’ll likely end up waiting a while as most people don’t pick up people. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Aruba
From 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 tourism crowds also). Aruba isn’t part of the Caribbean’s hurricane belt, so there’s not much risk of tropical storms either. This is also the hottest time of year, with temperatures averaging about 90°F (32°C) per day. Fortunately, Aruba is usually pretty breezy, so there’s some relief to the humidity.
Peak season is January to March when temperatures average in the mid-80s °F (high 20s°C). Expect room prices to soar during this time.
How to Stay Safe in Aruba
Aruba is considered one of the safest places to visit in the Caribbean. It’s a small island with a low crime rate. However, it’s still best to not leave your valuables out in the open at the beach (or anywhere) to avoid petty crime like theft. The San Nicolas area is best avoided at night if you’re alone.
Currently, Aruba is considered an at-risk country for the Zika virus, so if you’re a woman who is pregnant or who intends on getting pregnant soon, avoid travel to here for the time being!
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
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 will protect 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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the Caribbean, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
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
- 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 prostitute, sent her son Hernán off to be raised by Nathan Beck, a tugboat captain who brings him up to “become a man.” Now she learns he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba, and Revilla’s life becomes ruled by the anticipation of reuniting with her son as he learns about her life in the red light district. This is the darker side to Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after the Jamaican independence of 1962, and it explores some of the postcolonial issues from that time. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. Antoinette Cosway is a sensual woman sold to Mr. Rochester, and this book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a beautiful one.
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 jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean and back again. 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 change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to just going with the flow people who realize they don’t need a lot of stuff and loved the freedom of their journey. 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 on 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:
Photo credits: 6 – Todd42013