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I've been dying to write this post because I couldn't wait to share with you what a gem Aruba is. It honestly exceeded all of my expectations. Aruba, often referred to as "One Happy Island" boasts the highest return visitor rate in the Caribbean, and I can see why.
So, I'm going to break down where to stay, play, and relax on this happiest of islands. It's a long one, grab a snack, an umbrella drink, and get ready to book your next trip to Aruba!
Stay: Beach House Aruba
When we started researching hotel options, we found there are generally two: High Rise or Low Rise. High Rise being your big mega resorts and Low Rise being your small motels and hotels. I started honing in on where we wanted to stay based on the beaches, and where we could find the best snorkeling.
What we found was neither High Rise or Low Rise, but the best combination: Beach House Aruba. It's considered apartments, but it really felt like individual beach bungalows.
Beach House Aruba is just north of the High Rise hotels which means you are only a short walk from all the music, activities, and restaurants you could ever want, but you're also far enough that you've got a tranquil slice of heaven all to yourself. The apartments have outdoor kitchens and sitting areas. In fact, I think our outdoor living area might have been bigger than our indoor area, which was perfect. The rooms have a casual, rustic, tropical feel to them. It really makes you feel like you're living in your own tropical paradise.
From the moment we arrived and were greeted by the owner, Ewald, we felt totally at home. We even had mystery deliveries of fresh croissants in our kitchen a couple of mornings. The kitchens are outfitted with full size fridges, a two burner hot plate, microwave, dishes, and cookware, coffee maker...basically everything you could possibly need.
You'll be delighted by the birds and little lizards running around the grounds, (you'll see them all over the island). You'll find beautiful nooks and crannies all over to lounge by the pool, in a hammock, or under a cabana right on the beach.
During our stay, we ended up walking by the High Rises nearly everyday. They did always have activities, music playing all day, and some like the Holiday Inn, provide free bike rentals, which is really cool. We did talk to a couple from Connecticut who were staying there and they said it was really nice, but felt a bit too much like home. They said it could have been a resort anywhere. They were on a tour with us and when we were dropped off, their mouths went agape and they said " How did you find this place?!"
Really, it comes down to what you're looking for. If you want a bunch of activities laid out for you each day the High Rises might be perfect. And I'll be honest, we did take a liking to the hammocks at night with live music playing. But, I would stay at Beach House Aruba a thousand times again. It made you feel like you were in Aruba, not just any tropical location. It was a quite, relaxing reprieve from the husell of the busier areas. There was another couple staying there that only left to go to the grocery store, and spent the rest of the time at Beach House Aruba soaking up the amazing tranquil ambiance...and they looked totally blissed out.
I honestly could write a novel about the things I loved about this place. But, there's so much to cover, so let's keep in keepin' on
Aruba is great because there is something there for everyone. Which is amazing, when you consider how small it is (19.6 miles long X 6 miles across). Aruba is a huge destination for wind surfing and kite surfing. We could see the kite surfers flying by right from our hotel every day, all day. It's also great for mountain biking, snorkeling, scuba diving, or just laying in a hammock reading all day.
Our favorite beaches for snorkeling are: Malmok Beach and Arashi Beach.
Malmok is smaller but has great snorkeling right off the beach. Arashi is bigger and you'll have to swim out a bit further for snorkeling but Pat saw a sea turtle there, we saw tons of starfish and sea urchins. Arashi is also great for just swimming. The sand is powder soft and the water is shallow for ages. I spent a considerable amount of time just floating on my back, near sleep, in the bathtub warm and exceedingly calm water.
Boca Catalina is between Malmok and Arashi and is also great for snorkeling. Each of these beaches have thatched cabanas for shade and were really nice and clean.
I took a snorkeling excursion with De Palm Tours. It was pretty great. My favorite stop was the shipwreck. SO COOL! It was shallow enough that you could see it really well. It helps that the water in Aruba is crystal clear too. But, as you can see, I was able to get pretty close. There were tons of fish there. That was my favorite. The other stops took us to Boca Catalina and Malmok, which if I wasn't already snorkeling those everyday, would have been even cooler. The crew was really nice and the lunch they provided was some of the best I've had on a sailing excursion.
Seriously though, that shipwreck, amazing! They also offered participants the chance to snuba...which is really cool. I'd highly recommend the tour
The other excursion we did was with ABC Tours. We did the Island Safari, which was an all day tour.By the end of the day we were exhausted, filthy, and so over the moon with how much fun we had. This is a MUST DO tour. We didn't rent a car while we were on the island (more on that later), so this tour took us to basically everything we would have missed otherwise. And we would have missed some AMAZING things. Like this hidden swimming hole hidden under a cliff near the Gold Mine Ruins. You had to climb down a wooden ladder on the side of this cliff, climb over some rocks, and then you'll find this natural and protected swimming hole carved by the ocean. It blew our minds!
When we got there, all we could see was the jagged cliff and the crashing waves of the ocean. Our guide said " Ok, you're going to be swimming here" we laughed " haha, funny joke". We soon found out that he wasn't the joking type and was completely serious.
Pat didn't need to be told twice. As soon as he saw the pool, he immediately stripped down and was the first one in the water.
The tour took us off road through Arikok National Park, and to the Natural Pool. Also a huge highlight of the day. Anyone who knows me knows that I ALWAYS chicken out when it comes time to jump off of some rocks and into an unknown depth. Pat always puts me to shame in that department. But the adventurous spirit of the day took over....it totally seemed higher than it looks here, I swear!
You'll also visit a historic church, the lighthouse (which is currently under renovations), the gold mine ruins, and Baby Beach. Baby Beach was ok, but if you have to pick between that and Arashi, Arashi wins every time. Tips, do not wear white. Pat wore a white t-shirt and it was brown from the dust at the end of the day. Wear your swimsuit under your clothes, there's 3 swimming stops during the day. The lunch was fantastic. They even greeted you with cold damp towels so that you can wipe the dust away before lunch. It was a thoughtful and much welcomed touch!
You're going to feel like you've been through a paint shaker by the end of the day, but it was so fun. I can't even imagine missing some of those stops. Some of them are my favorite on the island and I would have missed them completely without this tour.
We deciding against renting a car. We wanted to be able to play each day by ear, and some days we just wanted to lay in the hammock at Beach House Aruba and never leave. We figured renting a car every day would be a waste, and it would have been for us.
What we decided to do was rent mountain bikes. Aruba Active Vacations, which has a stand just a short walk from Beach House Aruba, and provides discounts to Beach House Aruba guests is where we got our bikes for a whole week. It was great. We were able to ride to Super Foods, a spectacular grocery store. It has everything you could want and was really affordable. I swear it's cheaper than what food is here on the Oregon Coast, unbelievable.
We road to beaches that otherwise would have been a really long walk. We road all the way up to the lighthouse, to the butterfly sanctuary, through some dunes and along the coast. It was a ton of fun!
Beach House Aruba can arrange for a cab to pick you up at the airport. They were even standing there with our names on a sign. That always makes me feel so fancy. A ride to or from the airport from Beach House Aruba was $30.
If you decide against doing the ABC Tour (which is crazy), but if you do, or you simply want to go back to some of the spots they took you, a car rental is a good idea. The island isn't huge, but it is really warm and you'll enjoy a car to take you to the further spots on the island. I would recommend renting a jeep. The roads at Arikok National Park are rough and rugged. Some of the roads there are not suited for a regular car. Driving didn't seem crazy. Traffic is relatively slow, and they drive on the right. Even for me, who hasn't been on a bike with any regularity since I was 14 did ok riding my bike along even some of the busier roads.
There is also really regular bus service. We didn't take the bus, but they looked nice and ran frequently.
Heading into things I expected the people of Aruba to be friendly. I mean you don't get the name "One Happy Island" if you're a bunch of grump curmudgeons. Like everything else, my expectations were exceeded on all accounts. I have two short stories to tell you.
One day, Pat and I decided to ride our bikes up to the lighthouse, check out the dunes, and then stop off on the way back for a swim. We road up to the lighthouse and by the time we got there, we were a hot sweaty mess...well I was anyways. When we got there, I noticed a food truck called Yum Yum's. I immediately started kicking myself because we didn't bring any money with us. We were just out for a ride and didn't expect to buy anything while we were out.
This was unfortunate because they were chopping open fresh coconuts and I was DYING for one. I knew that this wasn't going to be the last time I wanted one, so I walked over and asked if they would be back tomorrow. They said they wouldn't be back until Sunday (I think it was Wednesday that day). I said ok, and that I'd try and come back when I had money.
The lady said "just a sec" and walked back in the truck and had one of the guys there grab a coconut. I wasn't sure what was happening at first, but then he came over and just gave it to me.
I was shocked! This is how they make their living and here's some sweaty stranger with no cash and they just gave it to me. It was SOO nice. Not only that, but after I slurped it all down, they cut out the meat and gave that to me too. I've been trying to find them online so that I can repay them or pay it forward or something. If you know how I can reach out to them please let me know!!
I Just Wanna Dance!
For those of you who know Pat, you probably know that he doesn't dance. I think the only time he's danced in public with me is at our wedding. That didn't keep me from nagging him to dance with me all week. There's music everywhere and it just felt like the peak of romantic moments to dance on the beach in Aruba.
He wasn't having it. Sigh, this is my lot in life.
On our last night in Aruba, we were walking down the beach and were getting towards the end of the High Rise area near the Ritz Carlton. There was some fun music playing and all of a sudden, Pat threw his flip flops down and started dancing. It was the best! He was giving it his all, when all of sudden he saw a person emerge out of the shadows walking along the beach.
Pat immediately stopped and did his best "there's nothing to see here act"
The guy who was now more visible to us just laughed and said "that's the spirit of the island right there. Enjoy yourself, enjoy Aruba!"
And then he passed and faded into the night just as quickly as he arrived.
It was honestly like a moment out of a movie and was the most magical way to end our trip in Aruba.
This was our fourth trip to the Caribbean and by all measures, our favorite trip. I don't think it's possible to have a bad time in Aruba.
Woah! This was a long post. I seriously could write a novel about all the ways I love Aruba. Thanks for hanging in there. If you're thinking about taking a trip to Aruba, hit us up with your questions.
If you want to see more pictures from our trip to Aruba and see where we are off to next, be sure to follow us on Instagram @2happytravelers.
I want to thank the Aruba Tourism Authority for helping us plan a great trip. We'll never forget it.
No matter where you're heading to next, don't forget to travel happy!
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz