Aruba has a reputation for being "one happy island," and I can assure you that’s the case. Everyone on the island is very friendly, and the service you’ll receive everywhere you go is excellent.
Aruba is also very easy to navigate as a native English speaker. Amazingly, most residents of the island speak English, Spanish, Dutch, and the island's native Papiamentio. Most jobs on the island are somehow related to the tourism industry, and most visitors come from English-speaking countries. You will most likely be addressed first in English by anyone you come across.
Aruba is a lovely place to vacation if you don't mind being surrounded by people from your home country and if you like to relax on the beach. If you enjoy a more active or exotic vacation, you might want to consider a shorter trip to Aruba, as the beach really is its main attraction. But it's a short flight over from the east coast of the United States and is fairly affordable. The weather is great and the people are friendly.
If you’re headed to Aruba, here are ten things you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
1. A bus tour of the Northern side of the island.
Aruba is the kind of place where you can have a glorious vacation without leaving the beach. But you’d be missing out on a chance to explore a beautiful place if you did that. I recommend taking a bus tour to get your bearings instead, and then focusing the rest of your vacation on the beach. We took a half-day tour of the island through De Palm Tours, which seems to run about half of the transportation and tour options Aruba has to offer. Our bus driver was also our tour guide, and narrated the entire trip in multiple languages. We were shown the Butterfly Farm, Alto Vista Chapel, California Lighthouse, Hooiberg Mountain, the Natural Bridge, and downtown Oranjestad.
2. Eat at Gianni's Ristorante Italiano.
Gianni's was a very well-appointed Italian restaurant in the shopping area on the north side of J. E. Irausquin Boulevard, near most of the hotels along the beach. I had a four cheese rigatoni there that was quite delicious. One of the more interesting dining options at Gianni’s was a piping hot parmesan pasta dish swirled in a giant wheel of cheese tableside. The spectacle is half of the appeal, but fear not: if you give Gianni’s a try and opt for a different meal, you’ll likely see someone else giving the cheese wheel a try.
3. Get some gelato.
Due to its proximity to the equator, Aruba is hot. There’s no better way to cool off in a hot place than by eating delicious gelato. Operated by the same company as Gianni’s, a gelato shop called Gelatissimo serves what is quite possibly the best gelato on the face of the planet. We tried a flavor called dragonberry, as well as both the Ferrero Rocher and Nutella flavors. They were out of this world. If you're ever in Aruba, just go. You won't be sorry.
4. Dine on the beach.
We splurged for one night during our trip and reserved a private cabana at sunset at Elements, a beachfront restaurant at the Bucuti and Tara resort. Our waiter was unbelievably friendly, talking to us about our favorite NFL teams and giving us his family's personal recipe for beer chicken. He was from Peru, making this sort of conversation all the more impressive--why did he know so much about the NFL? It's amazing; the world is really a very small place. The meal included wine, bread, soup, salad, a sorbet, an entree, and dessert. It was quite the experience. Watching the sunset over the Caribbean was also something words can’t really describe.
5. Take a sunset cruise.
The beaches themselves were quite lovely, but it’s nice to get away from the sand and view the island from the outside. Many sunset cruises leave the island near the airport, also home to the cruise ship terminals. If you’re staying in the major resort area on the island, it will be a bit of a trek to get to the sunset cruise departure dock. However, companies like De Palm offer transportation from your hotel directly to the various activities they offer. It’s usually included in the ticket price. Most of the sunset cruises departing from Aruba are all-you-can-drink excursions, making such a boat ride a bit like a slightly classier version of a fraternity party. The drinks are often things like rum punch, made of unrecognizable brands of liquor and poured strong. Proceed with caution, take the free snacks, and focus on the sunset. You won’t regret it.
6. Walk along the boardwalk.
The portion of the island that is home to the majority of the resorts is also home to a well-maintained boardwalk between the backside of the resort row and the ocean. It makes for a nice place to take an afternoon stroll and check out the other resorts. If you need to stop for a cold beverage, there are many frozen drink and acai bowl stands along the way.
7. Indulge in frozen drinks.
Drink as many frozen drinks as you can. It’s hot on the beach, and nothing will make you feel so relaxed as drinking a frozen daiquiri with the Caribbean stretched out before you. Be sure to drink plenty of water, though. You need to stay hydrated!
8. Watch the sunset.
The sunset in Aruba makes for a dramatic show. The sun sets in so many stages, each with unique colors and a beautiful finale. It’s stunning. Since Aruba is so close to the equator, it sees sunsets like nowhere else in the world. A lot of visitors take the sunset as an opportunity to get cleaned up from the beach and head to dinner. Don’t do that. Make reservations for a late dinner and stay to watch nature put on a show.
And there you have it! I hope you enjoy Aruba, get to know its wonderful inhabitants, and relax as much as possible!