The Caribbean has long been a popular destination for honeymooners, sun-seekers, and ocean-lovers. There are so many different islands with different influences to choose from – no two Caribbean islands are exactly alike!
But a major downside of many Caribbean destinations is that the majority of islands lie in a vulnerable part of the Atlantic Ocean: the Hurricane Belt.
When my husband, Elliot, and I started talking about taking a tropical trip together, my thoughts immediately went to the Caribbean. But then they immediately backtracked since we were going to be traveling in October, which is prime hurricane season.
But there's good news! There's a small group of islands called the ABC Islands – officially the Leeward Antilles, the western-most islands of the Lesser Antilles – that lie in the far southern Caribbean outside of the Hurricane Belt. The islands are located just a few miles north off the coast of Venezuela, though are still connected to the Netherlands politically.
The ABC Islands are Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Bonaire is known as a diver's paradise, while Aruba and Curaçao have more to offer different types of tourists.
We chose Aruba AKA “One Happy Island” for our trip, and it might just be the best year-round Caribbean destination!
Why Aruba is a year-round vacation destination
I often write itinerary posts with a section about “the best time” to visit a destination. But, with Aruba, there's really not BAD time to visit.
Aruba makes a great year-round destination because:
- Aruba is hot (averaging around 84 degrees F) and fairly dry year-round.
- The island's main industry is tourism, and it's well-equipped to deal with visitors.
- Aruba is clean and very safe for travelers (they even have excellent, drinkable tap water!).
- There's a lot to do, from off-roading in the national park to beach hopping.
- And it's not far from the US; just 4.5 hours from New York or 3 hours from Miami.
5-day Aruba itinerary
If you're considering visiting Aruba yourself, here's a 5-day itinerary to help inspire your trip. Four or five days is the perfect amount of time for a quick Aruba getaway.
Feel free to steal this itinerary to help you plan your own Aruba trip!
Day 1: Arrival and sunset cruise
If you're flying from the US mainland, you'll probably end up arriving in Aruba sometime in the mid-afternoon. The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is via taxi – I don't actually recommend renting a car for your whole time on the island, as I'm suggesting going on some tours for the first couple of days!
Taxis in Aruba mostly work on fixed fees, and are not metered. A ride from the airport to downtown Oranjestad will cost $21 USD, while getting to Eagle Beach or the high-rise hotels will cost $28 or $31.
Note: While Aruba does have its own currency – the Aruban florin – US dollars (and credit cards) are widely accepted all across the island.
Once you get to your hotel, you'll have some time to relax after checking in. Go for a walk on the beach, or grab your first tropical drink of the trip.
Tonight, head out on the Caribbean for a sunset cruise! Aruba has some beautiful sunsets, and watching one from the water is definitely something worth doing. I recommend doing a sunset cruise that includes a seaside dinner – this one is highly rated.
Where to stay: For your first few days in Aruba, I recommend staying in one of the hotels/resorts on Eagle or Palm beach. This is where the greatest concentration of hotels are on the island, along with plenty of restaurants and shopping. The adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is the #1-rated Aruba hotel on TripAdvisor, while the Playa Linda Beach Resort and the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort are other good options in the area that won't completely break the bank. (You can compare prices on other Aruba hotels here.)
Day 2: Full island “safari”
After a good night's sleep and a big breakfast, I recommend going on a full island tour around Aruba today. The island only measures about 20 miles long and 6 miles across, but there's more to see than you probably realize!
If you decide to rent a car for your entire trip, you could explore today on your own. Or, you could do what Elliot and I did and book the “Aruba Island Ultimate Safari,” which is a full-day trip that takes in ALL the highlights on Aruba.
We visited the Casibari Rock Formations, the Bushiribana gold mill ruins, the California Lighthouse, and the Fontein Cave.
We also went off-roading in Arikok National Park in order to go swimming at the Natural Pool, and had time for snorkeling at Baby Beach after driving through the San Nicolas neighborhood.
Lunch and hotel transfers were included, making for an amazing day on Aruba.
You don't *have* to go on a tour in order to see all these sights, but it was certainly nice to let someone else do the driving – not to mention that we learned a lot about Aruba from our guides!
The only place you may not be able to visit without a tour is the Natural Pool, as it requires some serious off-roading in Arikok National Park. If you want to skip the full-day tour but still want to swim at the Natural Pool, check out this half-day tour.
(The Natural Pool was one of our favorite parts of Aruba – don't miss it!)
If you do the full-day island tour, you'll get back to your hotel around dinner time.
Where to stay: Again, I recommend staying in one of the hotels/resorts on Eagle or Palm beach. The adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is the #1-rated Aruba hotel on TripAdvisor, while the Playa Linda Beach Resort and the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort are other good options in the area that won't completely break the bank.
Day 3: Snorkeling excursion
My husband is a water baby through and through, and Aruba has some of the clearest, most turquoise water I've ever seen on my travels. So of course we had to book a snorkeling tour!
I recommend that you do the same on your third day in Aruba.
First, though, check out of your hotel after breakfast, as I recommend switching hotels for the second half of your trip. Your hotel can hold your luggage for you until you get back from your snorkeling trip.
The snorkeling tour Elliot and I chose was this Champagne Breakfast & Lunch Cruise with Snorkeling, which left from Pelican Pier on Palm Beach.
This tour includes pastries for breakfast (yes, with champagne), a paella lunch, an open bar, and stops at three different spots for snorkeling. We thought this tour offered the most value for what you pay, and both agreed that it was an excellent way to spend the morning and early afternoon.
We snorkeled at three different spots: one just off the beautiful Arashi Beach, another in Boca Catalina Bay, and another over the shipwreck of the German WWII ship the Antilla. I've never snorkeled over a shipwreck before, and it was VERY COOL.
On the way back to the pier, you'll enjoy a bit of a dance party on the catamaran.
After your excursion, it's time to head back to your first hotel to gather your things and transfer to another hotel on the island. I recommend staying near Oranjestad, Aruba's colorful capital city, for the rest of your time on the island.
This evening, go for a stroll through Oranjestad and down along the city's small harbor. It's a safe place to wander, and the architecture is quite pretty.
Where to stay: I recommend spending the second half of your Aruba trip at the Renaissance Wind Creek Aruba Resort. This resort has two separate hotels: the adults-only Marina Hotel and the family-friendly Ocean Suites. We stayed at the Marina Hotel and enjoyed the beachy rooms. Staying at the Renaissance will make my recommendation for Day 4 possible…
Day 4: Beach day
The previous two days were pretty active, so here's your chance to just hang out at a beach all day. Aruba has lots of great beaches to choose from. You could rent a car today and just go beach-hopping. Beaches in Aruba are almost all public, meaning you can stop and visit any that look good to you.
OR, if you're staying at the Renaissance Resort, you can spend the day on the resort's private island.
Renaissance Private Island is the only private island with the only private beaches in Aruba, and it's more or less reserved for Renaissance guests. The two beaches on the island are Iguana Beach and Flamingo Beach (a family-friendly and adults-only beach, respectively), the latter of which is home to six pink flamingos.
Take a free shuttle boat over to the private island in the morning so you can claim beach chairs, and then hang out all day. You can take photos with flamingos, swim in the man-made lagoons, grab food at the Papagayo Bar & Grill, maybe rent a kayak or some snorkeling gear, and watch planes land at the airport.
Elliot and I even rented a private cabana during on the private island, but you can certainly enjoy the island without doing that.
When you're beached-out, you can catch a boat back to your hotel (it's only about a 10-minute ride) and maybe go out for dinner in Oranjestad; there are lots of good restaurants within walking distance of your hotel.
Where to stay: Again, I recommend staying at the Renaissance Wind Creek Aruba Resort. This resort has two separate hotels: the adults-only Marina Hotel and the family-friendly Ocean Suites.
Day 5: One last swim and home
Many flights back to the US will leave Aruba in the afternoon, so I recommend using your last morning to take one last swim in the hotel pool or ocean. If you're staying at the Renaissance Marina Hotel, be sure to hop over to Ocean Suites, too, which has an expansive pool area along with a saltwater lagoon right on the beach. (If you're staying at one hotel, you can use the amenities at the other, too.)
Then it'll be time to check out of your hotel, maybe grab lunch, and then head for the airport. Just be aware that you'll probably be dreaming about your next trip to Aruba before you ever leave the island!
Where to eat in Aruba
There's no denying that Aruba caters to tourists. Which means you can find plenty of comforting things here, from Starbucks to steakhouses. Most hotels/resorts have their own restaurants, too, which can be really convenient. But if you want to eat somewhere that's a little different, here are some good options:
- Eduardo’s Beach Shack – You'll find this stand on Palm Beach. It's perfect for refreshing fruit smoothies and juices.
- Yemanja Woodfired Grill – Located in Oranjestad, Yemanja serves up delicious dishes that meld Caribbean and Europeans flavors and styles. It's one of the top-rated restaurants on the island.
- Papiamento – Enjoy Aruban and international cuisine in an Aruban country house.
- Pinchos Bar and Grill – If over-water dining is your thing, you'll probably enjoy the romantic Pinchos, where you dine on a pier over the water at Surfside Beach.
- Madame Janette – You'll find a little bit of everything here, including an extensive craft beer menu.
- Zeerovers – A favorite among locals and visitors alike, this place serves up delicious fresh seafood. It's located in Savaneta, though, meaning you'll need a car (or expensive taxi ride) to get there.
- Flying Fishbone – Another restaurant in Savaneta, the Flying Fishbone is popular among couples. You dine right on the sand, or sometimes with your feet in the ocean! You need to make reservations far in advance for this one.
Hotel restaurants that I can recommend include the L.G. Smith's Steak & Chop House and Aquarius, both located at the Renaissance Marina Hotel. Aquarius has a seafood buffet on most nights that includes a chef cooking up fresh seafood – this is definitely worth it!
Note: Outdoor dining is the norm in Aruba, so keep this in mind when planning what you're going to wear. Also, tap water is amazing in Aruba (some of the best in the world!) and absolutely safe to drink.
What to pack for Aruba
Aruba is hot and humid pretty much year-round, so light layers, sandals, and sun protection are necessary. Some favorite items I took to Aruba include:
- Light and airy clothing
- At least one dressy dress for dinners (I love this criss-cross V-neck dress)
- Jockey Skimmies slipshorts for under dresses
- At least 2 swimsuits
- Beach coverups
- A packable sun hat
- Sunscreen and after-sun balm (because you probably WILL get sunburnt)
- Comfortable walking sandals
- A reusable water bottle (remember, tap water is fine to drink here!)
And you can head over to my Amazon shop and click on the “Summer travel packing essentials” list to see more of my favorites.
Who's ready to plan a trip to Aruba? Any activities you'd add to this itinerary?
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