Best Things to Do in Aruba

There’s plenty to keep visitors happy on this sunny southern Caribbean island, where romance and adventure are set against a backdrop of spectacular beaches and an eclectic food scene.

Aruba’s Arikok National Park
The natural pool at Aruba’s Arikok National Park is a must-visit attraction.Shutterstock

It's possible to become a "chaise potato" while vacationing in Aruba, applying sunblock and sipping rum cocktails while enjoying views of the warm turquoise Caribbean and the cool-blue sky. But those who do will miss out on all the fun things to do on this sunny and arid Dutch island. Aruba's constant trade winds have made it a hotspot for windsurfing and kiteboarding while its national park features landscapes ideal for getting Instagram likes.

Families can enjoy nature-based activities (kids who love butterflies are in for a treat) and honeymooners (or other romantics) can mix spa pampering with wining and dining, or even adrenaline-rush adventure if so desired. After dark, Aruba shines, literally, as its 12 casinos become a glittering playground for anyone who's feeling lucky. Here are the best things to do in Aruba.

Relax on a Beautiful Beach

The Caribbean is blessed with beautiful beaches, but the two most-celebrated strands on Aruba—Palm Beach and Eagle Beach—blow most of the competition out of the water. Two-mile-long Palm Beach is the more developed of the two, known for its calm, brilliant blue water and lined with the island's largest high-rise resorts, many featuring beach bars right on the soft white sand. It's a great option for couples and families who enjoy socializing as they soak up the sun.

And then there’s Eagle Beach, an ahh-inducing stunner that’s wide and sweeping with sugar-like white sand and only a few low-rise resorts catering mostly to adults and couples. It’s also home to two of the most-famous (and photogenic) divi divi trees on Aruba, their gnarled trunks bent and twisted by the wind.

Enjoy a Variety of Watersports

If it takes place on, in, under or high above the water, you can try it on Aruba. Speed-loving vacationers can rent a Waverunner or even a speedboat—or enjoy waterskiing, wakeboarding, tube-riding, windsurfing and kiteboarding. Those who prefer to take things slower can try stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking or sailing.

Visitors who want to check out the sea life that resides in the island's warm, clear waters can snorkel gear or take a scuba excursion to top dive spots such as the Antilla shipwreck or Mike's Reef. And to see Aruba from a lofty perspective, harness up and soar above Palm Beach on a parasailing adventure.

Explore Arikok National Park

This rugged and protected 7,907-acre landscape makes up 20 percent of the island and is a must-see for the visual surprises nature offers. Visitors can explore Arikok National Park on their own, but the best way to learn about its flora, fauna and geologic complexities is on a guided tour. Top sights include quartz and limestone rock formations that are visually captivating, as well as the two tallest hills on Aruba (Jamanota at 617 feet and Arikok at 577 feet).

On the north shore, there are bocas (bays) with incredible white-sand beaches, Conchi a natural pool (reachable only by foot, horse, ATV or 4x4 vehicle) and ancient caves, such as Fontein, with rock paintings by the Caquétio Indians. One can also expect to see plenty of candelabra cacti and dozens of bird species, but also assorted reptiles (including iguanas and snakes) and wild donkeys and goats.

Play After Dark in Vibrant Casinos and on a Party Bus

Game on. Visitors to Aruba don’t have to walk far to place a bet and hope that Lady Luck is on their side. Most of the island’s 12 casinos are inside or adjacent to its top resorts, and some are even open 24/7. Resorts with casinos include the Hilton, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Divi, Riu Palace, Hyatt and Holiday Inn.

All the usual gaming options are offered—blackjack, poker, craps, roulette, baccarat and all manner of slot machines and video poker—and the legal age to gamble is 18. But Aruba has other nightlife options, too, including live musical entertainment at most resorts and a bar crawl bus called Kooku Kunuku that travels the island each night in search of the best music, dancing and partying.

Dig into the Restaurant Scene

With more than 250 restaurants—and more than 100 nationalities comprising its melting-pot population—Aruba has a cuisine to satisfy every craving. Yes, there are restaurants serving truly authentic Caribbean cuisine as well as those specializing in Aruban fare (such as spicy fishcakes, seafood stew or curried goat), but if you crave a gourmet tasting menu, sushi, or filet mignon and lobster tail you can find it at the best restaurants in Aruba. And if you just want a burger or fish tacos, they're available, too.

Visit the Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations and/or the California Sand Dunes

You don’t have to be a budding geologist to appreciate two of Aruba’s most famous natural sites: the Ayo and Casibari rock formations and the large and windswept California Sand Dunes. The former, located in the center of the island, are giant monolithic boulders that can be climbed for stellar views and feature drawings dating back thousands of years.

The latter, located on the island’s remote and rugged north shore and named for the wreck of the ship California just off shore, is also home to a landmark lighthouse of the same name. If you visit by ATV or UTV, respect the landscape and don’t drive on the dunes—but running and jumping is allowed.

Check Out the Butterfly Farm

Nature’s beauty and scientific education mix at this attraction that’s popular with families. Located near Palm Beach and open daily year-round, the Butterfly Farm is home to hundreds of brightly-colored butterflies—including the distinctive orange Monarchs of North America and iridescent Blue Morphos from the rainforests of Central and South America—with new ones emerging from their chrysalis daily (visit first thing in the morning to see this) and guided tours lasting 15-20 minutes included in the admission fee.

Go on an ATV or UTV Off-Road Adventure

Adventure-seeking visitors can book a half-day or full-day off-road adventure on at ATV (all-terrain vehicle, which is like a motorcycle with four large wheels and offers no sun protection) or UTV (Utility-Task Vehicle, which has a top but no sides). Several companies on the island offer guided excursions that take in the major sites, including Arikok National Park and the Cochi natural pool as well as Baby Beach and the stone arches of the north coast.

The most famous of these, the Natural Bridge, collapsed in 2005, but is still worth seeing and the smaller Baby Bridge remains in tact. Packing plenty of sunscreen and water is a must.

Try Land Sailing

Aruba has a sport most people may not have heard of and probably can’t try back home: land sailing. Basically a lightweight, three-wheel go-kart with a sail attached, these vehicles are propelled by the island’s steady winds and can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour as they cruise across the flat and arid Aruban plains. Steering is with the legs and a rope attached to the sail, so a bit of instruction is required at first, but adventurous types of any age can try this unique sport, available via Aruba Active Vacations.

Indulge in a Spa Treatment with Local Ingredients

The hot sun and steady wind on Aruba can take its toll on the skin, but the island’s top spas have a remedy: treatments formulated with local ingredients such as aloe, cactus, seaweed and tropical fruits known for their healing, cleansing and soothing properties.

Most resorts on the island have a spa—such as eforea at the Hilton, Mandara at the Marriott and ZoiA at the Hyatt Regency—so indulging in a treatment with your significant other or planning a girls’ day of pampering is a breeze.