Aruba: 4 Day Itinerary
Whether you are looking for a calm and serene time disconnected from the stress and maddening crowd, or a hardcore water-sport enthusiast, your time in the Caribbean can be rewarding if you choose carefully. While you cannot necessarily go wrong in your choice of the island (out of hundred-odd named ones), a bit of high level planning will help you focus on the goals rather than deal with the travel management.
Some travelers tend to combine Aruba and Curacao in a week long vacation, for good reasons. Some even take advantage of a cruise vacation to see (rather just setting foot on) the island(s). But if you really want to immerse a bit on the culture, learn history, and soak in the pristine waters of the Caribbean, we recommend at least 4 days in Aruba. Here is a suggested itinerary (especially if you are traveling with kids or elderly) –
Arrive in Queen Beatrix International Airport which is located in the middle of the island on the western side. Unless you are planning on staying in the resorts in one of the ‘all inclusive’ packages, please consider renting a car as taxi fares are exorbitant and hard to hail at some times during the day.
Head to the hotel/Airbnb or accommodation. If you arrive before sunset, get to a beach close by or check out one of the fabulous beach-side restaurants while sipping on those Aruba Ariba’s. No better way to feel welcome to the little Caribbean getaway. Relax, walk around and get some groceries from one of the local supermarkets.
Start your day early today, get breakfast from one of the dutch pancake houses, and start driving. We are going to skip the beaches for now, rather indulge in some history.
If you are staying in the north (Noord area), head to the Old Dutch Windmill for a quick stop and photo ops. Unlike other tourist attractions, this is a barely maintained artifact, but depicts the history of the island from the 1700’s when it was under Dutch regime. 15-30 minutes later, drive to Casibari Rock Formations on the mid-eastern side. This site is not marked that well, but GPS should take you to the right spot through the unpaved roads. Spend about an hour, hike the stone formations to get a 360 degree panoramic view of the island.
Grab a cola or a beverage of your choice from the shop across the street, and head East towards Bushribana Gold Mill Ruins by the coast. The ruins are in fairly dangerous situation, so climbing not recommended. But a stop here is absolutely necessary due to something more than the ruins themselves. Walk towards the coast and you will start to step on some rocks with sharp edges. Take a deep breath, you will be standing atop a dead coral reef! We talk about climbing a glacier and standing at the top of a mountain, but how many times would you be walking over Coral reef without damaging it further? Walk around closely keeping an eye on where you step; one mis-step could lead to some injuries due to slippery rocks and sharp edges. In this wide expansive reef, you may spot some crabs and shells, but may also spot some solidified fresh salt deposits. Pretty cool, huh?
While you are here, don’t forget to drive up to the “Natural Bridge”. It is recommended to use a 4×4 to get there, but a regular car/SUV can handle the bit of unpaved roadway. But you cannot go farther than the Natural Bridge and the gift shop. If you are carrying your swimsuit and water shoes, take a plunge in the Natural Pools created because of the presence of the limestone. Proceed with care though, as the rocks are slippery, no lifeguard and no structured access points. On your way back to the Western side of the island, stop at the Ostritch Farms and take a few pictures with the huge cacti all around you.
If you have started early enough, grab some packed lunch from a supermarket, and head to the Arikok National Park. Please note, you will need a 4×4 to access the attractions (Natural pool, Fontein Cave, etc.). It is a protected environment so car traffic is controlled. The entrance to the park closes at 3.30pm, so get in as early as possible. You can rent a 4×4 ATV to tour the park. You will need a solid 3 hours to even graze the surface of what the park has to offer.
But after all, you are here to enjoy the beaches too, and we are right about on time to hit the western coast and enjoy a brilliant sunset. Head south to Baby Beach. On your way down there, you can either stop for a drink and snack at Kamini’s Kitchen or stop for a refreshing coconut from a street-side vendor. Beware, they’ll ask for exorbitant prices, so haggle a bit beforehand. While Baby beach is more tourist friendly, and attracts snorkelers, it does not have a good vantage point for sunset. Closer to sunset, head to Rogers beach, literally 2 minutes away. There are no restaurants/establishments here, so not quite the sunset experience you may be looking for, but a quiet experience nevertheless.
More pancakes to start the day, followed by some tanning time on the beach. For snorkeling, we found Mangel Halto beach to be interesting. There is not much of a signage around, so is a quiet beach with not many people around. The expansive beach may not be the most picturesque but the shallow waters surrounded by mangroves makes it a fantastic spot to snorkel or just enjoy the warm waters. Need to get there a bit early to reserve a nice spot under the palapa’s.
For some refreshments and some beachside lunch, head up to Manchebo Beach where Matthew’s beachside restaurant serves nice lunch fare. For the afternoon siesta, head to Eagle Beach which is also a great place to watch the sunset.
Indulge yourselves for some late evening dinner in the classy on-the-beach restaurant Barefoot Cafe.
Grab some coffee, and head north to the California Lighthouse. Have breakfast in the Faro Blanco restaurant while admiring the panoramic vista of the island. Walk up the lighthouse and try to see if you can spot Venezuela coastline.
Depending on whether you are looking for a casual day on the beach, or some water-sport, drive down to Arashi Beach or Palm-Eagle Beach. Rent an umbrella for merely $20-$25 for the day (less than half that of Miami South Beach), and sip on those Ariba Aruba’s or Aruba’s local lager, Balashi. If you are in Eagle beach, snorkel or dive to the ship wreck Antilla. We were traveling with a 4 month old, so had to skip this but heard about the coral formations and the abundance of marine life.
Instead, we headed down south again to the restaurant Flying Fisherman for some dinner while watching sunset, with either dipping our toes in water or sand. Incredible experience albeit at a fairly high cost.
Next day, we pack up and head back to the airport. This itinerary can technically be consolidated into three full but hectic days, or one can head down to Curacao for 3 more days.