Aruba, the quaint 20 mile long island in the south of the Caribbean, has become one of the largest tourist destinations in the world. The island, unlike a lot of its counterparts, has a very dry climate, meaning its 80 and sunny every day with trade winds giving you that nice breeze you dream about on beach vacations. I've been lucky enough to travel there few times with my grandparents and friends but this year my husband and I spent 2 weeks together! I've spent a lot of time in different hotels and restaurants and wanted to share my must dos.
Hotels/Where to Stay
This is where we stay because of timeshares and grandparents, but it’s actually a great location and we’re really thankful to be there! It’s located right on the beach in the busy area that is home to many of the restaurants, activities and huts that visitors seek out on the island. The hotel tends to host an older crowd because of it's huge timeshare population so if you’re looking for a young crowd or party vibe, probably not the best but if you’re like us and enjoy a nice meal, a good beach, and bed at 9:00pm then this is it!
-- Playa Linda Resort
Located right next to the Playa Linda on the beach, a stellar location like I mentioned above but not a timeshare resort. Both have beautiful simple rooms, good restaurants, and casinos. More “hotel” than “resort” but more updated than a lot of the older places on the island and home to a younger scene.
Probably the most popular hotel chain on the island and from what I have heard, a great option if you’re looking to do all inclusive. Price friendly, family friendly, and large suites are available for multiple people. There are a few different locations on the island, one of which is on a golf course and one is right on the beach!
One of the more high end hotels and the two locations allow a good separation of young couples looking to party v. the timeshare crew. Also gives you access to the private island which you’ve probably seen in pictures with all the flamingos! Located mid-island near the airport but has a lot of shopping and activities. On Certain days, you can buy a day-pass to visit their private island - worth looking into if you are staying elsewhere!
True luxury! If you’re looking for pure relaxation and a splurge, this is the place. Always serene and the best spa. Great food as expected.
Perfect for stays with a big group. If you plan to travel with multiple families, large parties, or extended trips, I would definitely recommend looking at houses around the island. We stayed with some friends in a house with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a huge backyard with a pool. It was fenced and had a code so it felt super safe too! We really appreciated having the space to hang out with our friends and the kitchen to cook in to avoid big bills for dinner.
One of the best massages I've ever had, full stop. Each spa suite is nestled against the ocean and very private. You can have an individual treatment or a couples treatment and they have showers and changing rooms for you there to get ready. The massage therapists were incredibly talented, like... oh my god. The only downside was that there were no amenities there to utilize like a jacuzzi, steam room, relaxation lounge etc… but the price of the massage was a lot lower than I have paid in the past and everything is outside which was definitely a plus.
PRICY. We wanted to try the spa here since its the Ritz, but it was a very expensive day. It was probably the most intense facial I've had with extremely high end products and a very talented esthetician but in the end I wasn't sure if it was worth it. You do get access to the full spa facilities which include a steam room, a sauna, a cool shower, a jacuzzi, and a relaxation lounge with free beverages and snacks throughout your stay. If you can stretch your time well you can probably spend a few hours there which may be worth it. Definitely a good honeymoon splurge, or if you are my husband - a Tuesday afternoon.
The lighthouse is located at at the far end of the island and is situated in what I would consider to be one of the high end neighborhoods. The views are remarkable and you can actually pay $10 to walk up the lighthouse if that floats your boat. I would recommend going at sunrise or sunset for the views! There’s also a restaurant next to the lighthouse which as an awesome reputation but I have never tried it. Doesn't take much of your day but worth it for the amazing views.
Arikok National Park makes up about 18% of the opposite side of the island from the lighthouse. You can pay a small fee for access and drive up and down the trails from one end to another. There are hiking trails but the hikes include poisonous plants, snakes, and bugs…. so proceed with caution -- but if you're into that then great! There are also additional trails you can drive if you have a 4x4 vehicle and there are stops along the way to tour Incan caves and other historical fixtures. I’m not sure this is something we would do again but if you’re visiting once, definitely make an effort to check it out
--Arikok National Park
Sunset Boat Tours/Private Catamaran
There are kiosks all over the island that you can book boat tours, jet ski tours, and other water activities from. We have done both a group sunset cruise and a private catamaran tour with our friends and they were both great. If you are there with a group of people, I would highly recommend looking into a private boat tour! We sailed around the island for hours, snorkeled, and ate and drank which made for a perfect day. Great for celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions. We have booked with Octopus a few times - it is a great water tour company with a lot of different options and really great guides.
Diana’s Pancake Place
Dutch pancakes are a staple on the island but this place is known for having the best. The pancakes resemble more of a thick crepe rather than a pancake and they sell typical sweet flavors but also have things like ham and cheese, bacon, and other breakfast savory dishes to fill all your desires.
Eduardo’s (Lunch too!)
Those instagram worthy fruit bowls you see everywhere… this is where to get them. I could (and sort of did) eat this everyday for breakfast, lunch, and probably dinner. They have an assortment of smoothies, Acai bowls, and other fruit bowls along with a small selection of snacks like avocado toast, guac and chips, and energy bites. They also have poke bowls which were out of this world. They are located on the beach right behind Playa Linda and you can walk from most of the hotels in the downtown strip. Their cold brew iced coffee is also one of the best iced coffee I think I've ever had. I've tried the classic Acai bowl, Eduardo's special, 2 smoothies, the green smoothie bowl, and the mermaid bowl. I also have had the poke bowl which I would recommend!
Scott’s Brats (lunch also)
This small shack is also located on the beach behind the Playa Linda. They have great breakfast wraps and breakfast burritos in the AM if you're looking for a standard meat, egg, and cheese as well as some specials day to day. After 11:00, they transition to lunch and have an assortment of brats/sausages, sandwiches, and tacos. I tried the sausage, egg, and cheese wrap and we split an Italian sausage and they were delicious.
I think we’re spoiled with bagels in MA so these were definitely not my favorite bagels ever but the food overall is really good. Probably one of the better quick breakfasts we had through our trip. I tried the egg and cheese on an everything bagel and also the omelette with the loaded hash browns, both were worth it!
A “health food” restaurant known for their healthy salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. A great option for a lighter meal if you’re stuffed from the night before! I got the egg white omelette with a croissant and a smoothie when I went this last time.
10000/10, best meal on the island hands down. The menu is a cross of French cuisine with American and Asian influences. The environment is so cute and has a great bar that they do live entertainment at over the weekends. The bartenders there are extremely talented and the staff was attentive and just so kind. I had a cucumber/basil drink to start and I think it was my favorite new cocktail. We split the tomato and burrata appetizer which was so creamy, fresh, and perfectly seasoned. I had the seafood paella for dinner which was perfect and Mike had their signature Coq Au Vin with mashed potatoes and the sauce was to die for. We also split the lava cake for dessert which lived up to every expectation. If you make one reservation your entire trip, make it this restaurant.
Classic Italian food with a huge menu. We’re pretty picky when it comes to italian but I have never had a bad meal here. I’ve tried risotto, seafood, and more recently the seafood linguine in vodka sauce. All perfect and there’s usually bar seating if you don’t have a reservation!
Another option if you are looking for good Italian food. Situated right on the water next to the pool at the Playa Linda, the view is beautiful and they have a pretty classic italian menu. I’ve tried the seafood risotto, and the pollo venezia which were both great, but the venezia was definitely more memorable.
If you’re looking for something quick, this place has delicious authentic Italian pizzas. We heard the chef was from Italy but I never actually got confirmation. I also think they do take out which is perfect if you need a night in!
This restaurant is right on the beach with most tables sitting in the sand so you can take your shoes off and go, you guessed it, barefoot. The food is great but the views are amazing. If you do decide to check it out, make sure to make a reservation 30 minutes - 1 hour before sunset so you can enjoy the views. Also request a table on the beach!
Another “views” restaurant located right on the beach at one of the higher end resorts on the island. This is very similar to barefoot but a bit more high end and private. Very romantic and quiet and a great date night location. You can also book specialty gazebo? meals and it looked like they had a pre-fixe menu and their own personal services. If you're traveling for romance, definitely check out that option
A very popular island staple known for their huge portions and meat dishes. Mike tried their schnitzel which he said was great and I had a shrimp bake which was just… okay… I think this is a place where you need to get the steak or the specials, but the atmosphere is very inviting and upbeat.
A greek lunch spot located on the beach behind the playa linda. Amazing gyros and other greek inspired dishes. The food feels really authentic and its the perfect beach snack. They have a lot of mixed drinks there as well!
Restaurant located at the Hilton hotel. We had Thanksgiving dinner here which was… decent.. But the views, atmosphere, and service were perfect. The restaurant is located on an elevated platform over the small pond and you can see the ocean from the patio.
Pega Pega Beach Bar and Grill
This is located at the Manchebo resort and we had lunch/drinks here after visiting the spa and I think I had the best salad of my entire life here (try the Cobb with the tuna, you won't regret it). The Manchebo is a “wellness” spa so the menu consists of a lot of healthy choices which is hard to find on the island. Salads, sandwiches, poke bowls, and so much more.
Madero Pool & Beach Grill
The small beach bar at the Ritz Carlton. While the Ritz is obviously beautiful, it’s definitely surprisingly crowded compared to some of the other smaller resorts. The beach bar has some pretty basic lunch options which were good, but the environment is fun. There’s music, drinks, and great shopping in the hotel. Definitely a good bar to hang out at for a few hours if you need some down time from the beach.
If you want to take a trip to the middle of the island at any point, make an effort to stop at this small bakery. The bakery has breakfast, lunch and dessert items and a lot of classic Aruban treats. The cheese balls and pastechis were to die for (we went back twice. You can buy frozen foods here and fresh bread. Very local and a perfect getaway from the touristy spots
Rent a Car at least for a few days and plan around it, you can find rental cars on expedia for as low as $25 a day and it really helps to explore the island! Cabs are really expensive!
If you want the perfect dinner, book outside 45 minutes before sunset. The sunset views are so incredible here and missing it is such a waste.
Haggle prices. A lot of jewelry, clothing, and art from local places has a listed price but almost everyone expects you to bargain... I'm terrible at this but it's worth it.