Aruba is an autonomous island in the Southern Caribbean, 29 kilometres north-west of Venezuela. Until 1986, it belonged to the Netherlands Antilles, and although not currently part of the European Union, all citizens of Aruba have a Dutch passport. The languages spoken on the island are Papiamento (a Creole language), Dutch, English and Spanish.
Aruba is famous for its crystal clear beaches and tropical scenery, such as Palm Beach, for example. On this island, you can relax on Eagle Beach – one of the best in the world – go snorkelling among the wonderful crags and calm waters of Mangel Halto, or escape the chaos and crowds for some alone time on Baby Beach. Perhaps the most famous island in the Southern Caribbean, Aruba offers visitors an all-round experience, from scuba diving and snorkelling to coral reef adventures, fun cross-country drives in a 4×4 and trips in the Atlantis VI submarine.
Aruba’s beauty has strong ties to its history. The first people to inhabit the island were the Arawak people. In 1499, Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda claimed the territory for the Spanish crown. Almost 200 years later, the Dutch conquered the islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire from the Spaniards. Today, much of its heritage lives on in typical European buildings and architecture. Carry on reading to find out what treasures are hiding on the magical island of Aruba.
- The Capital, Oranjestad
- California Lighthouse
- Arikok National Park
- Aloe Factory and Museum
- Butterfly Farms
- Casibari Rock Formation
- Zoutman Fort Historical Museum
- Gold Mines
- Natural Pools
- Snorkelling and Diving
- Jeep Safari
The Capital, Oranjestad
There are many destinations in the world that are perfect for water sports enthusiasts, and fans of snorkelling, boating and fishing, in particular. One of these destinations is the city of Oranjestad, the capital and largest urban settlement in Aruba, which you’ll find on the southern coast near the west point. It boasts twelve kilometres of beaches and crystal clear waters, and it’s such a beautiful city, thanks to its vibrant streets. Its name also literally translates as Orange City. One of the places definitely worth visiting is Surfside Beach. Relax in the refreshing shade of kiwi trees while you enjoy the beautiful sunset. This is a long and narrow beach and it’s perfect for a picnic under the trees and near the calm waters, making it a great place for families. This central beach is located near the famous Linear Park. Aruba island prides itself on its respect for the environment. Its beaches are clean, and tourists are made aware of the local ecological work.
Construction on the city began in 1796. The first building was a fort called Zoutman, which has survived to this day, and which once defended the island from pirate offensives along the coast. Residential neighbourhoods have since cropped up around it. Small, coloured houses gift this area with charm and simplicity thanks to their inlaid wooden doors and picturesque roofs featuring Dutch tiles, adding to an already welcoming atmosphere. One of the city’s main attractions is Queen Wilhelmina Park, a tribute to the Dutch queen, who played an important role in developing the city. One of the most important buildings in town is St Ann’s Church, which was built in the eighteenth century and is a true neoclassical architectural masterpiece. The most famous monument in Oranjestad is perhaps the statue of Simón Bolívar.
It’s worth paying a visit to the Archaeological Museum, which houses a series of utensils, household items and other ethnographic objects found on the island. Equally valuable are the collections exhibited in the Numismatic Museum, where you’ll find banknotes, coins and stamps, with the collection exceeding 30,000 artefacts.
A guardian, symbol of Aruba and now an indispensable tourist attraction. The old stone California Lighthouse stands 30 metres tall and is located in the north-western part of the island. It receives hundreds of daily visitors, who are attracted by its unparalleled views, especially at sunset. The lighthouse’s name dates back to the California shipwreck in 1891, which was the name of a British steamboat that went down in nearby waters. The lighthouse was built to prevent future disasters.
It’s located in a very specific spot: on a plateau 10 metres above sea level with a panoramic view of the enchanting beaches and coastline. In addition to the surrounding natural beauty, it’s also a good place to admire the lush grounds of the nearby golf club.
Arikok National Park
An immense green area full of natural beauty, caves, beaches and hidden treasures, Arikok National Park covers almost 20% of Aruba and is home to thousands of animal and plant species (snakes and birds deserve a special mention). Inside the park, you will come across a variety of landscapes, including charming bays, picturesque lava and limestone formations, and various ancestral cultural heritage sites, including ancient cave drawings. A guide will accompany you through dry riverbeds to the protected bays of Moro, Boca Prins and Dos Playa. A portion of the entry price goes towards maintaining the park, as well as special initiatives to protect and safeguard the animals.
Inside the park, you’ll find several caves, including Quadirikir. Hidden at the bottom of a cliff, it’s around 150 meters long and is a real sight to behold thanks to the play of light shining into an almost suspended atmosphere. The sunlight breaks through holes in the roof of the cave, creating a magical environment. Small bats build nests in darker areas and the cave is also famous for a myth dating back to ancient times.
Legend has it that an Indian chief once locked his daughter in this cave because she fell in love with a man he did not approve of. The two youngsters supposedly died in the cave, and their souls rose to heaven through the holes in its roof. You can also visit the Fontein caves to check out their stalactites and stalagmites, which are also famous for their Arawak engravings.
Inside the park is Boca Prins beach, which takes its name from a former plantation. You can access it via a wooden staircase. Here, you can marvel at the contrasting white sand dunes and rocky coastline while you take a moment to relax among the luxuriant vegetation. However, its beauty doesn’t stop there, it’s also home to a natural swimming pool a little further down the way. And if you’re feeling peckish, you can enjoy local specialities at a nearby restaurant, which is blessed with a pleasant breeze while you admire the spectacular views.
Aloe Factory and Museum
What is aloe? What are aloe plantations like? What is aloe even used for? You can find all of this out in the museum and factory dedicated to aloe vera! But first, it’s worth mentioning its historical importance.
Aloe vera arrived in Aruba in 1840, over 180 years ago. Within the space of a few years, two thirds of Aruba was covered in aloe and the island soon became its primary international exporter. You can explore the aloe plantation with daily guides and visits to the museum and factory. Local guides provide detailed information about aloe, as well as a few anecdotes. And in the museum, you can read all about its important history.
Inside the museum you’ll find ancient tools, utensils and equipment, as well as a library if you still have a few unanswered questions. In the factory shop, you can purchase a whole range of aloe-based products, gels and lotions for the body and face, as well as great sun and hair care. The very first aloe vera plants were planted at the Hato Plantation, which occupies sixty hectares of land and is still used to grow the plant to this day.
Animals definitely have a key part to play in Aruba. And a great place to really enjoy yourself is a butterfly farm. This is a fun way to explore nature in all its beauty. These farms are equipped with tropical gardens full of colourful butterflies of all different kinds. Here, you can observe the entire life cycle of a butterfly, while local guides tell you all about the metamorphosis process: from eggs to larva, and from chrysalis to butterfly. In some cases, you can even witness the latter phase of the transformation and a butterfly’s first flight.
Another great place to take children is the local ostrich farm, where you’ll find over eighty of them. Here, your little ones can take pictures and learn how to take care of these big birds. And of course, the best part of the day is when you get to feed them. The ostrich farm also has a lot of space to relax, as it’s located in a very picturesque, natural area surrounded by mountainous landscapes. The farm also has an African art market and a shop where you can buy eggs.
If you’re still looking for your animal fill, look no further than the donkey sanctuary, where over 130 donkeys are looked after and ready to meet visitors. Donkeys have historically been a primary means of transport for Aruba residents, and although they’re now retired from duty, tourists can explore (on foot or by car) the same cacti-lined routes donkeys travel pulling carts or carrying passengers. The idea for a protected animal reserve came about in 1997, and after almost 20 years in Santa Lucia, the reserve moved to a larger spot in Bringamosa.
Casibari Rock Formation
Aruba has a very varied landscape, alternating between wild hills and large misshapen rocks, and the Casibari rock formation is a perfect example of the latter. These huge boulders are found in a residential area near the main road to Santa Cruz. Here, hikers can enjoy breath-taking views via steps and trails running alongside the boulders. Two rock formations are available to climb: Ayo and Casibari. You’ll be interested to know that experts have failed to formulate any sort of theory explaining how and why these huge rocks exist on the flat, sandy island of Aruba.
Along the trail, you’ll also find caves containing rock carvings that date back thousands of years. The huge, round Ayo rock formation really makes an impression and is fairly awe-inspiring. It also goes some way to explaining why this particular area was considered a sacrosanct site by original island inhabitants. Some of the boulders are also snake or dragon shaped, with a reddish hue tending towards brown. The surrounding area is equipped with a number of spots to relax and take a break with a snack or local speciality.
Zoutman Fort Historical Museum
Once you enter Fort Zoutman, you can’t help but feel as though you’ve been suspended in time and there’s no doubt you’ll want to read all about its history and admire the artefacts contained within. That being said, the Archaeological Museum is perhaps the best place to study the history of Aruba. The fort owes its name to Admiral Johan Arnold Zoutman, who defeated the English in the North Sea. The fort was built by African slaves (brought over from Curacao), while Amerindian slaves provided the building materials. After the complex was extended and reconstructed (1826), three underground prisons were added (1859), which allowed Fort Zoutman to function as a prison for slaves.
In 1868, Willem III Tower was added to the complex and was the focus of an important restoration project in the 1980s. Fort Zoutman is the most prestigious historical building in Aruba, and you’ll find it in the centre of Oranjestad. Every week, the Bon Bini-Festival is held here, both for tourists and local people and functions as a sort of ‘welcome’ to the island. The historical museum is visited by both tourists and residents and has recently launched educational initiatives for primary schools. The Aruba Museum Foundation has managed the facility since 1983 and receives help from various governmental and non-governmental organisations, including UNOCA and the Prins Bernhard Foundation.
Not just pirates, but also adventurers, thugs and gold diggers – the history of Aruba is full of characters in search of treasure on this island, dating all the way back to the 1400s and 1500s. That’s why you’ll often hear talk of the island’s gold mines. Arikok National Park is where the remains of the historic Miralamar Gold Mine can be found. And this isn’t the only place with a shining past.On the north coast, you’ll also find the abandoned Bushiribana Mine, which once processed gold from nearby hill mines during the Aruba gold rush in the 1800s.
The second site, Balashi Mine, was built at the end of the Spanish lagoon. The remains of the foundry are still visible today in picturesque surroundings near the narrow rock canyon known as French Step. An interesting fact: gold was finally discovered in Aruba 1824, and the industry ended up producing almost 1.5 million kilograms of it.
Aruba is full of surprises, and also natural pools. In Arikok Natural Park, you’ll find the famous Conchi natural swimming pool, reachable via an off-road dirt path. This is a magical place that is a popular activity among tourists due to its beauty, but also the sense of adventure required to reach it.
The Natural Pool is a formation within the sea, boasting beautiful crystal clear waters and surrounded by rocks battered by waves, creating a unique spectacle. Once you arrive, you will feel a great sense of calm surrounded by its scenic beauty.
Snorkeling e diving
The seabed on the west coast of Aruba is tranquil and bustling with fish and marine vegetation, making it the perfect place for snorkelling and diving. This particular area also offers sheltered beaches and calm, pristine waters. All of Aruba’s snorkelling spots are located on the west side of the island for this very reason. Most of the best locations are concentrated on the northern tip of the island, a few kilometres north of the main resort area.
Boca Catalina – with its beautiful reefs teeming with colourful fish and the chance to spot a turtle or two – is one of the best spots on this section of coastline. However, Malmok Beach (a little further south) and Arashi Beach (a little further north) also offer some great snorkelling opportunities, plus fantastic sandy beaches and various facilities. In the same area, you’ll find Tres Trapi, which is home to a community of starfish living on its sandy seabed. This is a must-visit if you’re a fan of fascinating marine animals.
Aruba’s fabulous diving ‘tradition’ – second in the Atlantic only to Bermuda with regard to the vast number of shipwrecks you’ll find, from aeroplanes to WW2 merchant ships – offers so many great opportunities to explore. It boasts 42 dive sites in total, concentrated mainly on the west and south coasts, which are the best protected. Among the most fascinating wrecks to visit, including at night, is a German merchant ship, sunk 122 metres underwater. Another interesting ruin is the SS Pedernales, which is perfect for beginner divers. Imagine how amazing it would be to dive inside an aeroplane? Well, in Aruba, you can do it in real life! The Arashi plane wreck lies in shallow waters and is also ideal for beginners looking to swim among the fish. Meanwhile, Sonesta wreck – which is broken into three parts – is surrounded by coral and sponges.
Beaches are the main attraction on this island, and you can’t really go wrong with them. Crystal clear waters, soft sandy beaches, luxuriant nature. But that’s not all. As mentioned, Oranjestad is a colourful city brimming with colonial architecture, as well as restaurants and clubs serving typical dishes. Aruba is also a place to meet the locals, such as at the weekly market, for example, which is a great place to come together with residents. You can buy fruit and vegetables here, along with artistic artefacts from the island.
Aruba is home to many nationalities, more than 90, in fact. In addition to Europeans, you’ll find communities from the East Indies, Philippines and China. Each culture and tradition is respected and celebrated, as is its food. The Aruban diet has been heavily influenced by Indonesia, a Dutch colony. Here, you can sample keshi yena and Dutch croquettes, which are two of the culinary traditions most appreciated by local residents.
Far from the beaches and picturesque villages that shore the island, inland you’ll find lots of activities if you’re found of hiking. Shrubbery, wilderness and rock formations make this a fascinating place to explore. Add a few adorable donkeys, mysterious caves and underwater adventures to the mix and you’re all set for your holiday!