THE LOCAL TRAVEL GUIDE TO ARUBA
They say money can’t buy happiness but it can buy you a ticket to Aruba, which is basically the same thing! Blessed with consistent sunshine and beautiful nature, Aruba is officially known as ‘One Happy Island’. We were lucky enough to be invited by the Aruba Tourism Authority to explore the island like a local and we can’t wait to share all our favourite tips and spots with you.
Getting around on Aruba
Getting to Aruba from the Netherlands is simple. You can find many non-stop flights from Amsterdam and that will take you directly to Queen Beatrix International Airport in just 10 hours. Once you arrvive, everything is only 15 minutes away by car. You can also get around the island by public buses, taxis and bicycles. Some areas, such as Aruba downtown (also known as Oranjestad and definitely a must-visit given it is filled with historical sites) are very walkable. However, we wouldn’t recommend walking long distances on the island due to Aruba’s heat.
Where to stay
On an island filled with luxury resorts, why not try something different and uniquely local at Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Boardwalk is a family-run eco boutique hotel located just across Palm Beach. The hotel opened its door over 30 years ago on a former coconut plantation (you can still find the original building and trees on site!) and has since expanded with 46 private casitas, two pools and other onsite amenities.
We loved the fully equipped casitas and the tranquil and tropical surroundings that Boardwalk offers. You have your own living room, kitchen, a spacious bedroom, as well as an outdoor dining area and a hammock to relax in! Guests can stop by The Coco Café for breakfast or the treatment room for a relaxing massage. Activities like kitesurfing and SUP yoga can be booked. One of the highlights of our trip was a private dinner at the hotel with Chef Taki (more on this below).
WHERE TO EAT
One of the best things about Aruba is the diverse selection of food, a true reflection of its multicultural influence. From local bakeries to fancy restaurant bars, here are our tried and tested recommendations.
This bakery is a local’s favourite. Here you’ll find all the local snacks and cakes, such as pastechi (Aruba’s version of empanadas) filled with all kinds of protein and vegetables, arepa, croquettes and pan bati (an Aruban style pancake). The selection is endless and there’s also cakes and fresh juices! This is the perfect place to go to for an affordable, local breakfast.
Taste My Aruba
This family-owned farm-to-table restaurant is truly a hidden gem. As the name suggests, Taste My Aruba offers authentic aruban dishes. Walk in and through the dining room to find a beautiful outdoor garden. It’s a wonderful spot to relax with a cocktail and catch up with friends over a good quality meal.
You can’t leave Aruba without visiting the most iconic local fish restaurant there. Each day, Zeerovers serves up freshly caught fish and prawns, along with fries, plantains and pan bati. Grab a seat by the sea, a bottle of Chill (an Aruban local beer), and dig in (don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – it’s part of the experience)!
The West Deck
Imagine a tranquil Caribbean lunch by the sea with margaritas that keep on coming. This is exactly what The West Deck offers. With picnic tables and a wooden deck overlooking the white sand beach, come here for lunch or dinner and enjoy a casual and laid back meal with the locals. Here we tried some of the local snacks, including funchi (made of cornmeal) and keshi yena (which means stuffed cheese), a pretty heavy but delicious dish.
Private Dining with Chef Taki
Chef Taki probably gave us our favourite dining experience on the island. Born and raised in Aruba, Chef Taki is a local forager and private chef, best known for his fresh seafood and vegetarian specialties. We drove up to the north coast of the island where he foraged fresh seaweed, bay lavender, nettles and sage for our dinner, which he prepared and grilled in the comfort of our casita back in Boardwalk. Not only was the food excellent, Chef Taki was also extremely personable and friendly. You’ll find yourself laughing at his anecdotes and having the best time! You can instagram message him (@taki_aruba) to book your very own private dining session or via Boardwalk if you’re staying there.
If you like watching your food being prepared, welcome to Azar. This darkly lit restaurant has a mysterious vibe and uses ancestral open fire cooking mixed with contemporary techniques. The food was absolutely delicious and the portions were generous. They also have a bar area if you’re just looking for something to drink.
This beautiful, Tulum-beach-club-inspired restaurant and bar is definitely a must-visit. Despite only opening this year, CAYA House has quickly become a hotspot on the island. Here you’ll find the most aesthetically pleasing food that is both innovative and delicious! Paired with a list of impressive cocktails and a live DJ, you’re sure to have a good night.
WHAT TO SEE & DO (the local way)
Despite being the smallest of the ABC islands, Aruba has so much to offer and you can easily fill your day with activities.
Nos Isla Private Island Tour
Only opened to the public in August 2023, Nos Isla is a beautiful island, privately owned by the Merryweather family. Arrive from the pier at Barcadera, close to Atco Concrete and you will be taken to the island by boat. We were greeted by their wonderful mother, a glass of Aruba Ariba (the island’s signature cocktail) and a stunning view of the ocean. You can paddle boarded down the mangrove forest and went snorkeling in the ocean before a delicious meal by the island’s private chef.
Nos Isla offers half day tours, day tours and sunset tours. You can book them via instagram @nosislaprivatetoursaruba or via whatsapp +297 569 3762. TIP: make sure to top up your SPF and spray yourself with insect repellent or wear a shirt before going into the mangroves! Book your trip here.
Visit the Aruba Art Fair
We were lucky to be there for this year’s Aruba Art Fair. This is an annual event where islanders gather together to celebrate art and culture. It lasts three days, and features over 100 artists and showcases 12 new murals produced by local and international artists. Each mural is related to Aruba in one way or another, be it the island’s beautiful nature or its history. Street performances and competitions are also a feature at the festival. The entire experience is both eye opening and electrifying.
Explore the authentic island with a hike
Aruba is a geological haven. Start your hike at Aruba’s Natural Baby Bridge, then make your way to Andicuri Beach and Blackstone Beach before returning. We were amazed by the diversity of the landscapes – you’ll see volcanic rocks that wouldn’t be out of place in Iceland next to a coastline resembling Croatia. It’s truly a place like no other. Every few steps reveals a different view. Be sure to wear your sturdiest pair of outdoor shoes and bring lots of sun protection.
Jeep Island Tour
If you want to leave the hard work of planning to someone else (more specifically Isla Aruba) then sign up for one of their jeep island tours. We took this tour with them and covered so many local spots and hidden gems that would be hard to get to without a jeep (yes, even if you have a car, you can’t enter National Arikok Park) You can walk some of the routes but we would highly discourage you to do so given the sun.
Contrary to popular belief, Aruba is mostly a desert island and 20% of its land comprises the National Arikok Park. This is one of the best locations on the island to enjoy all that nature has to offer. Make sure to bring your swimsuit because you will want to dive right into the Conchi – a unique natural pool inside the park. You have to pay for entrance but if you go with a tour, the ticket price is usually included.
There are two famous caves in Aruba that you should visit. The first is Fontein Cave, where you can get a real sense of the island’s history. This is the only place on the island where you can discover original drawings of Arawak Indians from over 2000 years ago. After, make your way to Quadirikiri Cave where you may be greeted by bats, but don’t worry, they are harmless and often stay hidden in the dark. The cave has two naturally illuminated chambers which light up the colourful interior of the cave. The limestone formations are fascinating and you’re sure to be left in awe by your visit.
Natural Fish Pedicure
Yes, you read that right. Just outside the Fontein Cave you’ll find a small pond where you can enjoy a natural pedicure. I must say, it was quite an unusual experience having your feet nibbled by the fish. However, rest assured, it is absolutely pain-free, only quite ticklish!
One of the most iconic activities to do whilst visiting Aruba is to join a sunset cruise. Watch the sunset that will involve one of the most beautiful scenes you have ever seen! Rather than joining a commercial cruise with free flowing alcohol, consider booking a private tour with Nos Isla and enjoying the experience in a more serene and intimate setting.
Visit Downtown (Oranjestad)
Oranjestad is not only the largest city in Aruba but also the capital of the island. Here you will find a concentration of shops, from luxury brands to street vendors, as well as the famous Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. This is the very hotel that is responsible for Aruba’s popular (albeit not entirely correct) association with flamingos. Non-hotel guests can purchase day passes to this private island at the hotel lobby for $125 per person. Yet, there is so much more to this capital city. Next year, it will be celebrating 200 years of being named Oranjestad. The town was once called Playa Caballos. To commemorate this, you’ll find 8 horse sculptures all over, representing different virtues and Aruba’s local and international business trade.
National Archeological Museum
If you’re looking for something cultural to do, the National Archeological Museum is a free museum that celebrates over 3500 years of history and culture in Aruba. You’ll find an extensive museum collection dating all the way back to 2500 BCE.
Aruba is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Whether you want to kayak, parasail or simply take a stroll or have a relaxing swim, there are plenty of options for you to choose from. We published a separate article about Aruba’s best beaches.
All in all…
It’s got the easygoingness of the Caribbean, the passion of Latin America and the soberness of the Netherlands. Aruba is truly a magical place. Whether you are looking for adventure or relaxation, you’ll find both in Aruba. Let us know if you found any of our local tips useful!
*Chantelle is one of our amazing travel editors, based in London. She travels the world for us, looking for the best spots, unique places and knows how to tell a story. You can follow her quirky finds at @chantelle_pang