We booked a long-weekend to Aruba in February 2019 due to a combination of the following:
I got an email from Scotts Cheap Flights showing an amazing deal.
I paid off my last student loan in the fall of 2018 = celebration
My husband and I decided to make travel more of a priority moving forward, primarily due to #2.
Who doesn’t want to go to a Caribbean island in February?!?
Typically we stay in Hilton’s when we travel because I usually rack up points with work related travel or expenses. The Hilton in Aruba is insanely expensive, a casino, and in the middle of tourist central. We were hoping for a little more “local” experience. Luckily another couple decided Aruba in February was a good idea and we were able to get a nicer Airbnb and split the cost. I had no idea where Aruba was until I saw the deal and Google mapped it.
Day 1: The basics
Travel & Check In: We booked through JetBlue on the way down and American on the way home as it was the best price. The airport is in the middle of the island so it really doesn’t matter what side you are on, you’ll get a great view!
Rental vs. Taxi/Public Transit: A cheap economy car for $200 for the entire 5 days was the best decision! Taxi’s are going to cost $30-$40 from the airport and the island isn’t very ‘walkable’ unless you aren’t planning to leave a resort.
Airbnb: I recommend booking your accommodations as soon as you book your flight. We waited until December and many of the options we originally had flagged were unavailable. Luckily, the place we ended up booking was great but we were low on options. Our host was wonderful and gave us some great insight on the island. Fun fact: hot water isn’t a standard part of the culture so if you rent a home, be prepared for cool / luke-warm showers.
Grocery Store: Most of the items are imported so everything is very expensive! We came with the plan to get groceries for a couple breakfasts and lunch during our day 2 adventure. The cheapest bacon was $14 (we passed) and $7 for iceberg lettuce (again, we passed). We left with the basics but generally it might be cheaper to just go out to eat.
Beach Sunset: Eagle Beach was the closest water access from our rental and we watched the sunset 3 out of the 4 nights from that location. I highly recommend it.
Peruvian dinner: After check-in, grocery store, and beach sunset, we decided on Asi es mi Peru for dinner. I decided on the Tacu tacu and proceeded to devour every-single-bite. I’m not sure if it was that good or I was just starving!
Day 2: National Park
Arikok National Park: We drove about 20 minutes across the island to Arikok National Park. If you are going to leave your hotel/resort area, make sure you visit the National Park! It was one of my favorite experiences and worth the cost of admission. Our little economy car was able to slowly drive through the “paved” portion of the park back to the caves. We first stopped at Fontein cave which was small but fun to see. Right by this cave we saw many blue lizards (kododo blauw) as well as the remains of a failed coconut farm. There is an underwater source in the area making trees and vegetation lush compared to other locations. The second cave, Quadirikiri, has two openings on top when you are inside making it easy to navigate without a light. We saw an iguana outside of this cave! We then drove back towards the entrance, making a stop to look out over Boca Prins beach.
Arikok Conchi Natural Pool: Due to the limitation of our economy car, we couldn’t explore certain areas of the park but we did find a way to get to the Conchi natural pool. We drove out of the park and around to Daimari beach. We ended up parking about half a mile from the beach due to road conditions and walking. There is a ranch at the bottom of the hill and near by is a (not well marked) entrance to the park. We were able to walk over to the beach and then hike 1.3-ish miles to the natural pool. The only other option is to pay for a ATV tour. The hike wasn’t hard and provided beautiful scenery! Follow a slightly visible path up the rocks from the beach and follow the coast line. You’ll come to a large sand dune. The directions we were given told us to hike up the dune which can be fun if you look at it that way, or which we found out on the way back, walk around the left and continue without scaling hot sand.
About 3/4 of the way in, you’ll come across Moro or “Little Aruba'“. Which is a rock formation out in the water which is said to slightly resemble the outline of Aruba if looking straight down on it. Finally, you’ll make it to the natural pool. You’ll see steps and a structure up to the right which is where the ATVs park and down to the left is the entrance to the pool. Depending on the ATV schedule, there may be 20 people or just a few. There are areas on the rock around the pool to take off shoes, clothes, etc to swim but keep in mind things may get wet. If you want to leave your items on the outside I don’t see too much risk in theft but could be possible. I recommend buying a nicer snorkeling mask for Aruba and taking it with you wherever you go (we did not and regretted it). We enjoyed an apple on our hike back to the car which was delightful after the salt water and dry sand air. When we arrived back at the car we enjoyed a beer and ham and cheese sandwich before starting the drive back.
Day 2 Evening: We showered and finished the day on the beach with a beer watching the sun set. We stopped and grabbed dinner at a Venezuelan food truck and ate at home. The Patacon was basically a steak and chicken sandwich with fries on top and cheese. We ended up getting some wings too when we found out the price wasn’t in USD. A local beer and food truck sandwiches wrapped up the evening and we went to bed fairly early.
Day 3: San Nicolas
Pancake Breakfast: We drove into Oranjestad and got breakfast at The Dutch Pancake house which served dutch pancakes obviously, both savory and sweet. It may be a little touristy but it was delicious and I recommend you go but be prepared for a line.
San Nicolas Downtown: We drove down to San Nicolas to see the murals covering much of downtown. We didn’t do a lot of research but for those who are interested, everything is closed on Sunday. We basically wondered around a ghost town. It was great because we got pictures of murals without people in them but also were not able to get food or check out the infamous Charlie’s bar.
Baby Beach: We continued on to Baby Beach. Tip: in the south part of the island credit cards aren’t widely accepted so bring plenty of cash. Again, wishing we had our own snokling gear.
Zeerovers dinner: We drove to Zeerovers for dinner which is located in the middle of a neighborhood. Despite its popularity, they are still cash only. You’ll wait in line, let them know how many people and if you want fish and/or shrimp and they will weigh it out, raw, let you know the cost and then give you a number. Buy beer at a separate counter (ask about the 2 bucket deal which means you get a 6-pack to go when you leave) and find a table. They will bring out your cooked fish, shrimp, and fries when ready. They now provide silverware but I recommend just diving in with your hands.
Day 4: Snorkel
Snorkel Cruise: My friend booked a 9 AM three stop snorkel trip through Red Sail. The Super Bowl was the previous day which I think led to our semi-private trip. We ended up having 6 other people on the trip besides us on this huge catamaran which typically holds 30-40 people. The trip provided 2 crew members plus the captain and we got some snacks to start, open bar the entire trip and a buffet for lunch. We stopped at Catalina Bay, Antilla Shipwreck, and the Arashi reef. The first and last stops are also near beaches so you could just go snorkel right off the beach for free. We loved this trip and it was my 2nd favorite experience outside of the national park.
Brewery & Downtown: We walked around the main strip near the high rise hotels and popped in to a few tourist shops. We attempted to go to the local Balashi brewery but found out if you don’t have a tour booked, sometimes they just don’t open the beer garden. Unfortunate but we took advantage of the empty time to walk around downtown Oranjestad and grab a snack.
Last Evening: We made it back to our local beach for sunset and a few beers. We had seen an old bar near our Airbnb and decided it was a good night to check it out. The Old Dutch Bar was blaring American pop when we drove up and found the bartender belting it out when we walked inside. We hung out in the back room to play darts and pool. It had clearly been a restaurant at one point but has turned into a downtrodden local bar. A good time and surprise for our last night.
Day 5: Wrap Up
We packed up in the morning and drove over near Catalina beach to hang out and pass around the snorkeling gear our friends brought for one last morning.
Airport Tip: they require paper boarding passes so you do have to go inside and print out the pass before entering security. First you pass through Aruba security (shoes off, liquids out) and then you have a chance to buy any duty free items. Then you will be directed go through US Customs which again, requires you to remove shoes, liquids, etc. No TSA Precheck or Global Entry options. Finally you are in the terminal to wait for your flight.
Bring your own Snorkel gear ($30 on Amazon)
Visit the National Park
Snorkel off the northern and southern beaches
Eat at Zeerovers
Rent a car over public transit
Try to visit any business on a Sunday
Pay for an SUV. Either do the economy like we did or go all the way and get an ATV that can go through the park terrain.
Expect a hot shower unless you are in a hotel chain