I don't like to repeat travel destinations, but there's something about Aruba that always draws me back. I've been to this 21-mile long paradise more times than any other location and each time I've found a new slice of heaven. With that being said, I'm not your average traveler and there are some key tips you'll need to plan an epic trip to this happy island. Here are my 5 must-know tips for Aruba vacation planning:
1) Aruba can be a cookie-cutter experience if you're not careful.
I've been confused over the last few years when I started hearing travelers talk about Aruba in a less than positive light. I've heard it coined "Little America" and "overrated," neither of which ring true to me in any of my experiences on the island.
I decided to dig into this more and found Aruba has been a top-choice Caribbean destination for Americans for a long time now, which is why it could also feel a little played out. In fact, it feels like we all know someone who recently vacationed in Aruba and came back with the same story: "It was a one day stop on our cruise," or worse... "I didn't leave the resort."
It's easy to draw a negative conclusion of Aruba based on this cookie cutter version of the island. Cruises and all-inclusive resorts typically offer a watered-down version of a vacation: all the luxuries of home, with a dash of island flavor. This leaves little room to truly experience the culture and energy of the location.
Bottom line - If you just want to sit on a beach at an all inclusive resort, Aruba is a great place for that. But if you want to have more authentic experiences, you have to get out of the resort strip.
2) Stay North
Most of the resorts and hotels are stacked on top of each other in the center of the western coast. If you want to avoid the touristy hustle of this area but still be close to beaches and attractions, you should target the northwestern region of the island.
My favorite rental of all time was a short drive from the California Lighthouse. This area of Aruba is less populated and significantly less touristy. The local beach, Arashi Beach, is well beyond the limits of the resort strip, meaning you'll likely have it to yourself every day. Staying this far north means you'll need to drive or taxi to dinner (instead of walking if you're at a resort), but I promise it's worth it for the rest of the experience.
There are plenty of Airbnb options on the northwestern coast that are guaranteed to satisfy your needs. Beautiful homes with full kitchens, AC, pool access, and it's cheaper than a resort stay? YES PLEASE.
3) Water and Electricity Usage Charges
Aruba is dang proud of their drinkable tap water, but the convenience of having constant access to clean, running water comes at a price. Whether you're staying at a resort, hotel, or Airbnb rental, be ready to tack on a few extra bucks to your bill for final water and electricity usage. (Psst, when your host tells your to turn off your AC while you're gone...do it! Otherwise, you'll be paying for all that wasted energy).
These charges were a bit of an unexpected welcome my first time on the island - I mean all inclusive means all inclusive, right? Nope. But as I learned more about the way Aruba generates clean water and electricity, I quickly realized the usage surcharges are well worth supporting their ongoing efforts to provide sustainable energy and water to the island.
4) Rent a Car
I know driving around a foreign country can be intimidating, but driving in Aruba is incredibly easy. The main roads are in good shape, driving regulations are easily understood, and locals are always willing to help with directions (but you probably won't even need it).
A standard compact car is your best bet for a rental and will serve you well for almost all activities. Your only limitation will be Arikok National Park, where you may not be able to access the whole park depending on the recent weather and road conditions. The park employees will tell you how far you'll be able to go given your type of vehicle, and I strongly recommend you follow that guidance. I've seen a handful of people try and brave the conditions only to end up with a flat.
Bottom line: If you know you're going to be offroading a lot, spending a lot of time in the National Park, or if you're visiting during a lot of rain, it might be worth springing for a Jeep. If you want to see the whole park but stay budget on the car, book a compact car and plan a coordinated tour through the park in a 4x4 instead.
5) One of the most unique climates in the Caribbean
Aruba's climate is definitely different than other Caribbean islands, and most people are surprised to hear that many pieces of Aruba resemble a desert! It's certainly the only desert landscape in the middle of the Caribbean that I've experienced and it offers so many unique experiences because of that. Hiking, animal sanctuaries, off-roading, and exploring the exotic land are just a few.
Remember that deserts come with desert heat, and Aruba is no different. There aren't many towering trees to take cover under so make sure you bring extra SPF and a hat on all your adventures. But just when it feels a little too hot, you can count on a cool trade wind to blow your way. PS - Aruba is also outside of the hurricane belt, and hasn't been hit with any major damaging weather since 2007. Perfect for shoulder season trips you can't take to other islands!
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