All photos courtesy of Taryn Pire unless otherwise noted
If you live in New Jersey and love a good Caribbean vacay, chances are you’ve been to Aruba. For many New Jerseyans, the tiny island is a go-to getaway thanks to its gorgeous year-round weather (as in no hurricanes ever), cool tradewinds and amazing food and drink scene. But there’s another side to Aruba you might not know about yet. From authentic cuisine to a rich history, here’s what to check out on your next trip to One Happy Island.
What to Do
Make your first trip off the resort to the Sunrise City, where you’ll find tons of authentic food, history and culture. Local and international artists alike contribute public murals to the Aruba Art Fair. They’re as unique as they are stunning, and tend to pay tribute to the area’s marine life, heritage and people. Stroll the quaint streets of this gorgeous neighborhood, snap some fun pics, peruse shops full of local vendors’ works or even make a stop at Baby Beach, a nearby beloved sandy spot located in a serene lagoon. Don’t forget to pack towels and snorkel gear!
Learn Island History at the Museum of Industry Bernhardstraat 164, San Nicolas +297-584-7090, $5
Just opened in 2016, the Museum of Industry makes for a great educational day trip with the kids (especially if you’re already heading to the area for the art). The museum is located inside the water tower of San Nicolas. From its world-famous aloe to gold and of course, tourism, you’ll learn about the industries and native resources that made Aruba what it is today. See photos and history on the bottom floor, photos of Aruban locals in the vertical shaft stairway and video interviews in the top tank of residents who saw the rise of the island.
San Fuego #71, Santa Cruz +297-585-1234 DePalm Off-Road Tours range from $81-76 for kids ages 4-12, $99-109 for adults
It doesn’t get much more adventurous than exploring the Aruban outback from the seat of an open-air Land Rover. While you can rent your own UTV and sit in the driver’s seat yourself, hopping in the back of a Jeep while a local tour guide drives you through rugged terrain with views of both desert and sea is great for families and groups with kids in the mix. Explore the ruins of Bushiribana Gold Mill, both Natural Bridges, Alto Vista Chapel (the first ever on the island), California Lighthouse and the Natural Pool, a gorgeous spot for swimming and snorkeling. You’ll get there via a bumpy (but thrilling!) ride through Arikok National Park, which consists of nearly one-fifth of the island. Don’t forget to check out the stacks of wishing rocks!
Santa Cruz +297-585-1234
This stunning spot is also known as Conchi in the native language, Papaimiento. This gorgeous swim and snorkel spot was naturally created by the volcanic rocky coastline of the island. Whether you off-road right to the pool or drive to Daimari Beach and then hike, this is a serious can’t-miss for anyone who wants to experience the resort-free side of Aruba. Bring snorkel gear to see sea critters swimming below you (DePalm Tours provides this for you!). But bring good sneakers or water shoes; the terrain is super rugged and gets very slippery by the pool.
Papaya 30, Paradera +297-587-1142 Regular tours range from $80-95; private tours range from $120-130
Venture to Wariruri Beach, the Natural Bridge, ostrich farm and more on horseback for jaw-dropping views of the north coast. Learn local history from a guide, or ride solo with the fam if you have experience. These Paso Fino horses will take you through rugged terrain, sandy shores and mysterious Aruban ruins.
Bringamosa 2Z, Santa Cruz +297-593-2933
Though donkeys aren’t native to the island, they were introduced more than 500 years ago for transportation. Once cars came to Aruba, the donkeys were out of work, and then almost went extinct in the ‘70s after an illness lowered the wild donkey population to 20. In 1997, the sanctuary (a completely volunteer-run nonprofit) was formed to keep the donkeys safe from disease, road accidents and more. Head there to feed and pet them (they’re super friendly, and many will come right over for some love). If you get there early enough, the kids can help volunteers complete daily chores onsite.
L.G. Smith Boulevard 101, Palm Beach +297-586-3735 Vela Aruba lessons range from $60-150; rentals range from $35-80
Aruba is a super popular destination for water sports in general, but windsurfing just might be the crowd favorite, thanks to its perfectly calm tradewinds, soothing waters and mild weather. Vela Aruba, located right on Palm Beach near the Aruba Marriott, will get you out on the Caribbean Sea in no time. Instructors will coach you through the three beginner steps of windsurfing if it’s your first time. If you’re already a pro, rent the equipment and head out solo or take a private lesson. Better yet, try a new sport, like kite surfing or paddle boarding.
Where to Eat
L.G Smith Boulevard #101, Palm Beach +297-520-6537
If you want to have at least one romantic night out during your stay, make a rezzy at Atardi. You can even bring the kids, who will love being on the sand. This restaurant is not only right in the middle of the Marriott’s slice of Palm Beach (it’s literally on the sand!), but it’s full of seriously fresh seafood and paradise-caliber cocktails. Drop your sandals in the cubbies by the hostess station so you can feel the sand between your toes during dinner. Start off with the island’s national drink, the Aruba Ariba, and some lobster or crab salad to start. For your main, we’d recommend the red snapper with a side of creamy coconut basmati rice, plantains and pineapple salsa. Save room for desserts like the coconut cake filled with coconut-white chocolate mousse or the peanut butter and chocolate Napoleon.
J.E Irausquin Blvd. 374, Palm Beach +297-582-2297
Head to this new locale for a modern, chic dining experience. +297 has an extensive tapas-style menu, tons of sushi and Insta-worthy cocktails and sweets. Start off with the +Apple to drink, made with white rum, sour apple, lime, mint, prosecco and a slice of Granny Smith. Fill the table with items like braised duck and roast pork gyoza, shrimp tempura, spicy beef carpaccio, passion fruit ceviche (pictured), spicy tuna tacos, truffle mac and cheese and beef wasabi crispy rice. For dessert, just listen to us and order the 5 Ways to Eat Nutella (trust us, it’s as heavenly as it sounds).
B V/D Veen Zeppenfeldstraat #56, San Nicolas +297-584-5086
This family-owned bar and restaurant has been around since 1941, and is beloved by locals and tourists alike. While the menu is limited, it’s nothing short of authentic (or delicious). The chef changes up classic Aruban lunch staples, like shrimp stir fry, every week with diverse ingredients (we tried it with raspberry and chipotle). You’ll get to indulge in sides like sweet potato and funchi, an Aruban signature side that’s like a cross between polenta and cornbread. No matter how full you are, don’t skip Charlie’s ribs; the fall-off-the-bone pork alone is worth taking a flight. And that’s not to mention the decor. The kids will be mesmerized by all the treasures and trinkets on the walls, tables and bar, all of which are completely covered with items left behind by diners past. See everything from soccer jerseys to bikini tops to drivers licenses to nameplates (and don’t forget to add something to the collection!)
Caya di Solo 10, Noord +297-586-7800
Surrounded by rolling hills and cacti, this resort boasts an outdoor terrace, multiple pools and bars and amazing eats. Start with a glass of red and beef carpaccio, thinly-sliced beef tenderloin with truffle aioli, arugula, pine nuts and shaved parmesan. Try the jumbo lump Thai crab cakes next, topped with pickled green papaya, peanuts, mango gel and citrus soy vinaigrette. For an entree, the Chilean sea bass is a can’t-miss, seared with a saffron-parsnip creme and oyster mushrooms in a brown citrus butter sauce. If you’re craving comfort food though, you can’t go wrong with the lobster ravioli, handmade and filled with both lobster and shrimp meats, then topped with lobster chunks, whole shrimp, parmesan cheese, pine nuts and a decadent lobster cognac sauce. And of course, leave room for dessert: the quesillo (similar to flan) and strawberry clafoutis souffle will not disappoint.
Where to Stay
Photo courtesy of Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino
Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino L.G. Smith Blvd. 101, Palm Beach +297-586-9000; rates start at $332/night
While this hotel is likely one of the most well-known on the island, it’s an A1 spot to relax, which you’ll definitely need after all the watersports, local exploring and sun. With 100-square-foot balconies (many overseeing the Caribbean sea), multiple pools and more, you won’t hear a single “I’m bored” on this vacay. Lounge on the beach under a palapa, grab a cocktail at the swim-up bar, try one of the onsite restaurants, gamble at the casino, squeeze in a spa treatment and more. Be sure to check out the pool area at the Ocean and Surf Clubs next door, where there are tons of planned activities for the kids and a lazy river for the whole family.
The Aruba Vacation Club next door also has a kids camp for guests ages 4-12. For $35 per kid, you can keep them busy on weekdays from 1-5 pm with activities. Trying to make a date night happen? Take them to movie night on Tuesday or Thursday from 6-9 pm ($30).