They call Aruba the one happy island and it’s easy to see why—this tropical island is sunny 365 days a year, boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and lies outside the Hurricane Belt, ensuring the safety of island natives and tourists alike.
A lucky little Bitch, I spent five days on the tiny island of Aruba with a group of journalists exploring its beaches, natural parks, seafood, and beach bars. A Florida beach bunny, I love nothing more than a few days sunning, reading, running, and drinking tropical cocktails at a beach locale. And, I’d be lying if I didn’t relish the opportunity to break out my slew of sundresses and swimsuits as all that time in the South means I have quite the repertoire.
That’s what I did—and then some, as Aruba packs plenty of adventure. Video cameras, cameras, and iPhones in hand, we had an absolute ball, enjoying a jam-packed itinerary of outdoor adventures like paddleboarding and snorkeling, eating deliciously fresh seafood on the beach, singing karaoke at beach bars, and taking in the beaches.
The child in me loved family-friendly Aruba for all the animals. On our brief visit (five days is not enough for this beach bum!) I played with parrots, fed flamingos, was startled by iguanas and pesky crabs, and road horses at sunrise. I had an absolute ball—as will kids of any age.
Moreover, the Aruban islanders are warm and friendly—and not in that disingenuous way that exists in some tourist cultures.
Equally important to a Bitch, Aruba has a brunch culture. The island is a former Dutch colony, which means there are quite a few Dutch pancakes shops. Dutch pancakes are effectively enormous crepes, thin and eggy and topped with sweet or savory toppings of your choice. Read our review of the charming hole-in-the-wall, Diana’s Pancakes Place, here.
As I write this, I am dreaming of a return visit and it’s easy to see why Aruba is one of the most revisited Caribbean islands. Sometimes, you just want to be warm, happy, and relaxed. (OK, all times!)
Want to plan a trip? Here are our must-dos when you visit Aruba.
With its diverse geography of rock formations, natural pools and caves, and small-enough-to-hike mountains in its natural parks, Aruba offers plenty of activities for the outdoor enthusiast or anyone who may want to take a break from sunbathing—and we suggest you do.
Banana Boating on the Beach
We stayed at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort, which hosted us for a beautiful sunset tiki bar dinner on the first night. It lies on the main strip of hotels and restaurants—just stroll out to the beach, rent a palapa, and, before or after a few piña coladas, head down to the beach rental shops. There, you can rent jet skis and a number of waterfront activities like banana boating or tubing. Having immensely enjoyed banana boats on a number of childhood beach vacations, I was hell bent on that. Instead, I got roped into intertubing behind a maniacal driver. I legitimately thought I was going to die, I was so terrified. When in actuality, we weren’t going that fast, and we were wearing life jackets—but I am turning into quite the scaredy cat in my old age.
Flamingo Island at the Renaissance Aruba
We knew we wanted to experience the famous flamingos of Aruba, which reside on an island owned by the Renaissance Hotel. You can opt to stay at the Renaissance, or get a day pass and take the boat to the island, which leaves from inside the posh modern hotel. We took a boat in the morning, and arrived to the island, which featured a pristine lagoon and plenty of hammocks and palapas to go around.
Stand Up Paddle Boating at Mangel Halto Drift
“We’re going to Mangel Halto,” the Visit Aruba girls kept saying. And, I kept wondering to myself what language they were speaking enthusiastically. You see, I was on vacation and I refused to read the detailed itinerary. No working, no thinking, just sunning.
Mangel Halto is a charming, secluded lagoon that’s popular with the locals to get away from it all. It’s a great spot for floating, snorkeling, or in our case, stand up paddle boarding. I love stand up paddle boarding, and If I’d had more time, I would revisit the drift for stand up paddle board yoga and a snorkel.
Horseback Riding to Conchi
I’m not a morning person, nor am I ever on time, but I was up at 5:30 a.m. for a sunrise horse back ride. We crossed the island to a lovely plantation and selected our horses. Expectedly, I selected the difficult, sassy lady, and off we went.
We rode our horses for an hour or two through the secluded national park and the views were breathtaking. Eventually, we arrived at a secluded beach and stunning lagoon called Conchi. The entire experience was breathtaking.
Aruba is not a large island, by any means, as it’s 19.6 miles long. It’s teensy capital, Oranjestad has high-end shopping (Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton) and the like for those of us (like me) who can’t avoid engaging in a little retail therapy during their travels.
Insider tip: There’s only one main road through the island, and it gets quite backed up around Oranjestad midday. If you plan to shop or peruse downtown, it’s best to go, park, and get a pass for Flamingo Island at the Renaissance Hotel, which is also located downtown.
I stayed at the Hilton Aruba Resort & Casino, located on Palm Beach, which is where you’ll want to stay if you visit Aruba. The four-star hotel has large, spacious rooms with balconies looking out onto the beach. There are two enormous pools, several outdoor pool bars, and a large expanse of beachfront allotted to hotel guests to cozy up on beach chairs in palapas. On our first night, we enjoyed a spectacular sunset tiki party—with live music—hosted by the Hilton Aruba team, who do quite a lot of weddings. It was perhaps my favorite night of the trip. And, while there, we visited the spa for massages and pedicures as well.
Escape to Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino and enjoy well-appointed accommodations in a tropical paradise. This Aruba resort features two distinct hotel zones: one for adults only and one family friendly. Adult-only areas are designed to create an ideal private-island resort experience. Embrace convenience with a swim-up bar and complimentary WiFi. Brand name boutiques within the resort make it easy to bring a slice of paradise home, and its celebrated restaurants cater to lots of tastes.
The other place we can certainly recommend to stay is the Ritz-Carlton, as we always recommend the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons when it’s an option. The new hotel is located on Palm Beach, which is the main drag of beachfront shared by the Hilton. It’s one of the newer, nicer hotels on the island, includes a casino (if that’s your sort of thing) and is, expectedly, the most luxurious.
Diana’s Pancake Place
Be sure to leave your hotel for breakfast or brunch at one of Aruba’s pancake shops, which are scattered along the main road if you pay close enough attention. We loved the sweet and savory enormous pancakes at Diana’s, owned by a petite, hard-working Danish woman by the same name. Be sure to order the savory brie, apple, and walnut pancake. Read our review here.
For a true foodie, no trip is complete without a meal like the locals. On an island or beach town, this usually means finding a divey beach bar that serves seafood fresh off the boat. The best spot for boat-to-table fare on the island is Zeerover’s, a fisherman’s wharf where you order the catch of the day from the window.
Your fish and shrimps (peel-and-eat, of course), are fried and tossed in an enormous bowl with french fries and plantains. On our visit, we had barracuda, which is not my favorite fish, but it was deliciously fried.
Order a beer and make your way back by the water to sit and watch the boats go by. It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
This upscale restaurant is an establishment in Aruba. The expansive indoor-outdoor restaurant is famous for its classic, upscale seafood—most notably the bang bang shrimp and the almond-crusted grouper. Madam Janette’s outdoor space is stunning with its string lights hanging from the tropical trees and live music in the evenings. On this particular evening, the crooners were playing my favorite oldies tunes and ’80s rock.
We started our night with cocktails on the patio—made by hand by a charming bartender—as there was a local art show in the courtyard. Then, we made our way back to the patio for a hearty group dinner of seafood and tropical cocktails. That bang bang shrimp was to-die-for.
Madam Janette’s is an absolute must for a dinner out in Aruba. Every element of the evening—from the service to the ambiance to the delicious seafood—was utter tropical perfection. So, put on your fancy island wear and make a reservation.
The perfect place to watch the sunset is at Piet’s Pier Bar, the bar at the end of the dock at the Hyatt hotel. Despite its hotel ownership, Piet’s is a popular place for locals. The cocktails are great and the view is even better. Do note it closes after sunset (7:30 p.m.), so this is not late night establishment.
Beyond the food, cocktails, and fun ambiance, Bugaloe hosts live music, karaoke, salsa and meringue lessons, and volleyball tournaments. On the night we visited, it was karaoke night and I had an absolute ball. The talented karaoke duo (male and female) were set to a live band. They kicked off the evening with Grease rendition that would make Danny Zuko proud. And, while I am hands down the worst singer of all time—but I had a ball as a back-up dancer and then salsa danced my little heart out. I’m a sucker for a Latin beat.
It was the perfect lively conclusion to a spectacular few days on the One Happy Island.
BitchBiz: We were hosted by Visit Aruba on this much-needed few days of relaxation as part of an effort to spread the word about this beautiful island and its people! This trip was on them, and for that we’re grateful!