What’s not to love about the Dutch Caribbean island that the Beach Boys sang about? Don’t act like you don’t know that song. Throughout my trek all over this island, I uncovered beach hotspots, must-do activities and some amazing hidden gems. See below for some great things to do in the popular area of Oranjestad, the country’s capital and downtown hub. (And, stay tuned for Aruba’s unexpected, hidden gems in a future article.)
1. Take a downtown walking tour
Downtown Oranjestad has been revitalized. There’s much to see and do just by walking around. Check out a walking tour offered by a local who knows all the good spots downtown (and good stories of island history) with Aruba Walking Tours. On the tour, check out monuments, museums and sample the local cuisine.
If you’d rather not walk, there are also free trolleys to shuttle you along the main street that makes several stops along the way. The trolley runs from 10am to 5pm every 25 minutes. This way, you’ll have as much time as you need for shopping and eating.
Tip: Get your caffeine fix at Aruba Coffee Roasters, where they roast beans from local Caribbean islands. Try their “Aruba Blend,” which has a rich coconut taste (20% coconut) with coffee beans from Costa Rica, Guatemala and Columbia. Aruba Coffee Roasters is along the main street, off the last trolley stop.
2. Frolic with flamingos
At Renaissance Private Island, your flamingo dreams can finally come true. Your best bet to access Flamingo Beach is by being a hotel guest of the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, the adults-only hotel on the marina in downtown Oranjestad, or the family-friendly sister property Renaissance Ocean Suites.
Guests of both can exclusively go to the island for free by hopping on the resort’s water taxi. There are two beaches on the island. Flamingo Beach is adults-only, but there’s a family-friendly beach called Iguana Beach for adults and kids with a lunch spot. There are designated times at which the kids can go to the adult side, with parental supervision, to see the birds. They’ll also enjoy the scheduled iguana feedings. Check out the snorkel equipment and kayak rentals, too.
To top off the flamingo day, consider purchasing a private cabana for an ultra-luxe private island experience. You’ll get champagne and fruit, snorkel gear, your own personal floatation devices, and more in your private retreat.
Tip: If you aren’t a hotel guest there’s still a small chance to enjoy tropical flamingo paradise. The Renaissance occasionally sells day passes, if the private island isn’t at capacity with hotel guests. To purchase, inquire with the hotel’s front desk or call ahead.
3. Sip the best mojito in Aruba
Yes that’s right: Cuba in Aruba! Cuba’s Cookin’ is located in the heart of downtown and was started 20 years ago by an owner who says it’s his mission to bring the “hospitality, art, music, and dance of Cuba to Aruba.” The shared history of the two islands goes back many years to when Arubans used to go to Cuba in search of opportunity in the sugarcane fields. And the ties remain strong today.
I have to say that the mojito at Cuba’s Cookin’ was one of the best I’ve had! They also serve a great Cuban sandwich, and if you’re hungry the grilled grouper with sweet fried plantains is the item to order. While you’re there, look around the restaurant for some great art collected on the walls that will take you back to 1959 Havana!
4. Swim in the sparkling ocean
Located on the very edge of Oranjestad is the beginning of two all-inclusive sister properties—Divi Aruba All-Inclusive and Tamarijn Aruba All-Inclusive, both with excellent swimming beaches—Divi Beach and Druif Beach. Both beaches are great for a dip in the turquoise sparkling water. And don’t forget the endless number of water activities!
If you’re staying at either of the resorts, you’ll have endless water activities at the ready (along with all the food and drink you can consume!). For example, the Divi Aruba’s water activities include kayaks, guided bike and snorkel tours, and catamarans. When you’re ready for beach time, enjoy the 30-foot beachside rock-climbing wall. Tamarijn Aruba’s activities include beach tennis, beach volleyball, yoga, Zumba, and windsurfing lessons.
5. Get the bird’s eye view
Aruba Heli Tours is located at the back of the seaport marketplace downtown. Their R-44 helicopter can fly with three passengers on 10-, 20- or 30-minute rides. The 10-minute “Eagle Tour” gives you a tour of Oranjestad and Eagle Beach, while the 20-minute “Beach Tour” takes you to Oranjestad, Eagle Beach, Malmok and Aruba Lighthouse. The 30-minute “Island Tour” takes you to all the places the first two go plus Tierra del Sol, the East Coast line and Santa Cruz. You can make a reservation in advance or try to visit same day to see if there are openings from 10am to 6pm (they are closed on Mondays).
Our pilot was very knowledgeable when it came to the history of Aruba and seemed to know every single hotel and photo opportunity in the sky! I found myself quizzing him on the locations of certain hotels, just because I was so amazed by his memory of where each one was located. You may even get some great local recommendations from your pilot.
For more on travel to Aruba, visit aruba.com.