When I decided to plan my first trip to Aruba, I knew I had made an excellent choice for my vacation. After all, it’s one of the safest islands in the Caribbean and has some of the best weather year-round.
With its white sandy beaches, scuba diving, vibrant culture, and an abundance of natural wonders, Aruba has become a top travel destination in recent years. Now, before you grab your swimsuit and sandals and head off on your trip, you’ll want to brush up on my pro tips on the island.
In this Aruba travel guide, we’ll share the ten most important things to know before visiting One Happy Island. With multiple trips to the island under my belt, I’ve also included a few extra travel tips at the end! Especially if this is your first time in Aruba, read carefully to guarantee a hassle-free trip.
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You’ll most likely want to rent a car.
If you’re planning to stay at a beachside resort on your Aruba visit, you may wonder: do I need a car? Although some tourists can manage by hiring taxis or taking the bus during their stay, we highly suggest renting a car.
With a car, you’re free to explore the island at your speed, including discovering lesser-known spots and taking spontaneous detours. After all, one of the top things to do in Aruba is to go beach hopping!
With this in mind, a car also allows you to escape the cruise ship passengers in Oranjestad (the capital city). We suggest driving to the beaches on the southern end of the island–like Baby Beach and Rodgers Beach– which typically aren’t as crowded.
Having a rental car also allows you to grab groceries, check out local restaurants, and even visit the natural pools without a tour. Think of it this way: do you want to spend your vacation waiting around for taxis or buses?
Moreover, Arubans drive on the right side of the road–the same as Americans–making navigating the island easy and stress-free. However, definitely be prepared for lots of traffic circles!
Note that when renting a car in Aruba, American tourists can use their U.S. driver’s license. The great news is that car rentals here are pretty affordable, so there’s no downside to having a car for your vacation.
We rented an economy car from Thrifty Car Rental at the airport and paid approximately $350 USD for one week. It was super convenient to pick up and drop off the car at this location.
Even if you rent a car, you may still want to consider a jeep tour at the beginning of your trip. These guided experiences are a fantastic way to get your bearings around the island.
You don’t have to stay at a resort to have a good time.
When you first start looking into vacationing in Aruba, it may seem like there’s no way to make your trip budget-friendly. In fact, most of the advertisements you’ll see are probably for the larger and more expensive resorts.
Now, if you can splurge, you may want to stay directly on Eagle or Palm Beach at one of the more exclusive luxury hotels. For example, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort (adults only), the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort, Riu Palace Aruba, and Barceló Aruba can be perfect options.
However, you don’t have to shell out the big bucks for excellent accommodations in Aruba–there are plenty of affordable vacation rentals on Airbnb. You can find the link to the Airbnb we stayed at here if you’d like to check it out.
My husband and I wanted to find a budget-friendly apartment close to the main beaches and the Renaissance Mall & Marketplace. This place was perfect for us, with a large grocery store across the street, ample street parking, and Eagle Beach and other top activities were just a short drive away.
Plus, the apartment had a kitchen, so we could also cook our own food to save money. So, there you have it: your vacation to Aruba doesn’t have to be expensive, and you don’t have to stay at a resort!
Flamingo beach is in Aruba, and you’ll want to visit!
If you’ve ever seen pictures on Instagram or Facebook of people feeding flamingos, you’ve seen the famous Flamingo Beach! However, you may not realize that you can only find flamingos at one place in Aruba: the Renaissance Aruba Private Island.
Here, you can spend the day relaxing on a private beach while surrounded by flamingos. Plus, the island also offers cabanas, a spa, and plenty of water sports. If you can only choose one excursion or activity on your trip, we would highly recommend this!
So now that I’ve convinced you to go, how can you visit Flamingo Beach? Well, the easiest way to visit is to stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort. If you’re a guest at the hotel, the entrance to Renaissance Island is included in your stay.
To go, all you’ll have to do is walk down from your room to the lobby with your key card and wait in the dock area. The water taxis pick up passengers approximately every 15 minutes to take them to the private island.
If you’re not staying at the hotel, you’ll need to secure island passes from https://renaissancearuba.idaypass.com/. Unfortunately, you can’t buy these passes in advance.
Therefore, you’ll need to check the website early in the morning of the day you want to visit to see if any passes are available for purchase. The cost is approximately $130 USD per person and includes lunch, a cocktail, and towels.
The most tranquil beaches are the farthest from the cruise ports.
Although Eagle Beach is much less crowded than Palm Beach due to its size, you may still want to check out the beaches on the other side of the island. Especially if you see lots of cruise ship passengers on Aruba for the day, the beaches farther from the ports will be the least busy option.
Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have a rental car (one of our top Aruba tips)! The drive from the Palm or Eagle Beach area to Baby Beach should take approximately 30-40 minutes.
However, my favorite hidden gem would have to be Rodgers Beach. This smaller strip of powdery white sand is the perfect spot for reading a book and escaping the crowds.
Pro tip: pack a cooler and some snacks for Rodger’s Beach, as there are far fewer vendors than on neighboring Baby Beach.
18% of the entire island comprises a national park.
On your Aruba vacation, you’ll want to plan to explore Arikok National Park for at least one day. This attraction is open every day from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., and you’ll only have to pay a small fee to enter (children 17 and under are free!).
Visiting Arikok almost feels like stepping foot on another planet due to its desert landscape and particular fauna. In fact, you can even find particular snake and bird species in the park that are unique to Aruba.
Additionally, the Fontein Cave at Arikok has some of the island’s oldest Arawak paintings on the ceilings. One of the most popular places to visit in the park is the Natural Pool (Conchi), where both Aruba visitors and locals enjoy swimming and snorkeling.
If you have a 4WD vehicle, we recommend entering the park at San Fuego and driving the Northern Loop. However, even if you don’t have a car, it’s still possible to visit the park for the day on a guided tour.
Americans don’t need to exchange money before visiting Aruba.
While the Aruban florin (Afl.) is the official national currency on the island, U.S. dollars are also widely accepted. Furthermore, you can withdraw both florins and dollars from many of the ATMs in Aruba.
Nonetheless, you’ll want to be careful if you prefer to have USD because certain ATMs only offer florins. Florin banknotes are available in denominations of 10,25, 50, 100, and 200. Meanwhile, coins are available in 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents, a 1 florin coin, and a 5 florin coin.
One of the most important things to know when traveling to Aruba is that you may receive change in both U.S. dollars and Aruban florins when paying in cash. On the bright side, we find any leftover local currency to be a fun souvenir to bring home!
We brought a small amount of USD in cash and paid for most expenses with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This credit card has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s perfect for traveling outside the United States. In the end, we didn’t end up using much cash since most establishments in Aruba accept major credit cards.
Many Arubans speak English!
The official languages on the island are Papiamento and Dutch. Nonetheless, one of our top tips for Aruba is that most Arubans speak English–and even Spanish, as well! Papiamento, the mother tongue of Arubans, has been spoken on the island since the 16th century.
However, it wasn’t declared an official language alongside Dutch until 2003. Papiamento is a beautiful creole language that has been influenced by Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and various African languages.
If you’d like to learn a few essential phrases in Papiamento for your trip, check out this guide. Meanwhile, Dutch is also an official language since Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Therefore, Aruba is a multilingual society, where most locals speak at least two–if not three–languages. Due to the expansive tourism industry on the island, you shouldn’t have any problems communicating on your visit.
You won’t have to worry about hurricane season.
When booking a Caribbean vacation, you’ll typically want to consider hurricane season. This time of year, which peaks from August to October, typically involves travel deals like lower rates for flights and accommodations.
However, there is always the risk of your trip being affected by a severe tropical storm. Nonetheless, when planning a trip to Aruba, you most likely won’t have to worry about hurricane season thanks to its location outside of the hurricane belt.
In fact, the last hurricane to come close to Aruba was back in 2007 (Hurricane Felix), and it only caused minor damage. Previously, Hurricane Ivan hit Aruba in 2004. Nonetheless, the storm only caused flooding, with no structural damage or casualties reported.
Therefore, Aruba offers a significant advantage over other Caribbean destinations, such as the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the Dow Jones Island Index, Aruba is ranked among the five Caribbean islands least likely to be hit by a hurricane.
Moreover, this index highlights the island’s relatively constant temperatures throughout the year. Thus, Aruba is also an ideal warm destination to escape the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Wearing sunscreen is 100% necessary, so come prepared.
As with any vacation to the Caribbean, it’s always a good idea to wear sunscreen. So, save yourself some time (and money) and pack suntan lotion in your suitcase–remember, 30 SPF and up is best!
Here’s one of the top things to know about Aruba: since it’s windy there, many travelers make the mistake of thinking that the sun isn’t intense. However, take a moment to remember that this island sits very close to the equator.
In general, the closer you are to the equator, the more direct sunlight passes through the atmosphere. Plus, the white sand on Aruba’s beaches reflects the sun’s rays. So, if you’re planning to go swimming, bring enough sunscreen to reapply after you get out of the water.
As of July 2020, Aruba instituted a ban on suntan lotions, including oxybenzone. This chemical is, unfortunately, harmful to both coral and marine life. Therefore, when you go to stock up for your trip, be sure to search for coral reef-safe sunscreen.
When leaving Aruba, get to the airport early.
While we always recommend getting to the airport three hours before international flights, this is particularly key when flying out of Aruba. Most of the boarding process is typical: you’ll drop off your luggage and then proceed through security.
However, you may not realize that the Queen Beatrix International Airport has U.S. pre-clearance for travelers flying to the United States. Now, what does this mean? Well, you’ll pass through U.S. Customs & Border Protection before actually boarding your flight to the country.
Therefore, one of our best Aruba travel tips is to get to the airport early on your way home and allot more time than usual to reach your gate. Although this means you’ll spend more time at the Aruba airport, it also saves you the hassle of going through customs in the U.S.
Furthermore, when you arrive at your destination in the United States, you’ll come as a domestic passenger. In our case, we arrived from Aruba at the Atlanta domestic airport instead of the international airport.
More quick facts to know:
- Aruba is one of the safest islands in the Caribbean. It has an extremely low crime rate and is outside the hurricane belt, making it an ideal destination for families.
- You can drink the tap water in Aruba! Add a reusable water bottle to your packing list so you can stay hydrated.
- If you’re American, you won’t need to pack a converter or adapter to charge your cell phone, computer, or camera battery. Conveniently, Aruba has the same voltage standard of 110V. Plus, the plugs are almost always the same as those used in the U.S. (types A and B).
- Regarding clothes to pack for your Aruba trip, bring light, breathable options. You may also want a thin jacket to wear in the evenings.
- Gambling is legal in Aruba, and the legal age for drinking alcohol and gambling on the island is 18.
- A gratuity between 10-20% is usually included in your bill when dining at a restaurant. If not, the average tipping percentage in Aruba is 15%.
- Iguanas are native to the island. Don’t worry, though; they won’t bother you and typically run away as you approach.
- Aruba is only 15 miles from Venezuela’s coast. On a clear day, you might be able to glimpse Venezuela from some of the island’s highest points (for example, from Hooiberg).
- Americans need a valid passport to visit Aruba, but they don’t need a visa! You can stay in Aruba for up to 30 days at a time as a tourist.
- Travel insurance isn’t required to travel to Aruba; however, we always recommend purchasing it in case of emergencies.
- There are direct flights from many cities in the U.S. to Aruba. For example, it’s possible to fly non-stop from Charlotte, New York City, Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore, Houston, and Chicago.
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This article was first published in July 2020 and has since been updated.