Travelers, once smitten, often return again and again to Aruba. What is so beloved about this Caribbean mainstay, part of the Netherlands Antilles? The magnetic draw starts with its residents, known for their friendliness, many of whom speak four languages: English, Dutch, Spanish, and Papiamento. Here, 12 more smile-worthy reasons why Aruba is called One Happy Island.
1. EVER SUNNY SKIES
Fifteen miles from Venezuela’s coast, Aruba lies in the deep south of the Caribbean Sea, below hurricane belt brouhaha, which makes the island an especially desirable tropical getaway. Its arid landscape, blessed with ribbons of white powder-soft sand, is dotted with statuesque cacti (photo above)—looking kind of like Arizona, except surrounded by sparkling turquoise water! A mere 20 inches of rain usually falls annually, which delights destination wedding parties and honeymooners who revel in outdoor romance. Plus, steady trade winds blow, refreshing the (average) 82-degree Fahrenheit temps.
2. AFFORDABLE FAMILY FUN
Build sandcastles, collect shells, and swim in crystal waters of Baby Beach. Then boogie-board off Hadikurari Beach aka Fisherman’s Hut Beach (photo above). Ask about the One Happy Family Vacation promotion, which offers free accommodations and breakfasts for kids 12 years and under at participating hotels. Children’s parades, arts, music are regularly celebrated at island-wide community events.
3. ACE ACCOMMODATIONS
For a wisp of an island only 20 miles long by six miles wide, Aruba delivers scores of comfy hotels—from budget to bedazzled. Of particular note is the newly renovated, casino-grand Renaissance Aruba Resort, in Oranjestad, which has hosted the Queen of Holland and Monaco’s royal family. Its infinity pool (photo above) overlooks a yacht-filled marina. Also sporting a casino is the lushly landscaped Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort with its signature black swans and swanky spa. Three much smaller charmers offer boutique-style service: The adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts, with a brand-new posh restaurant and bar, is committed to sustainability and eco-hospitality; Manchebo Beach Resort emphasizes healthy eating, seaside yoga, stress-reduction classes, and a Bali-esque spa; and Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort exudes European ambience.
4. MORE UPSCALE STORES
Many visitors to Aruba cite shopping as one of their key vacation thrills, so this consumer-savvy mecca attracts a vast array of international luxury brands. Sherbet-hued buildings brighten its capital city, Oranjestad (photo above).
5. WATERSPORTS GALORE
Splash-happy water lovers relish Aruba’s myriad offerings. You can sail (photo above), jet-ski, parasail, waterski, windsurf, paddle-board, deep-sea fish, scuba-dive, snorkel, kite-surf, and horseback ride along the edge of the sea.
6. ANIMAL ADVENTURES
Aruba wows with unusual animal encounters: a Donkey Sanctuary, Bubali Bird Sanctuary, Butterfly Farm, Ostrich Farm, and iguanas of all sizes found all over (photo above). Birdwatchers rejoice at Spanish Lagoon, a prime place to spy herons, parakeets, bananaquit, ground dove, and troupials.
7. BEACH BLANKET BINGO
Much island action happens on enormous Eagle Beach (photo above): concerts, picnics, and the locally popular beach tennis (a major tournament, which you can join, will kick off this November).
8. OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Tune into tranquility at Mangel Halto Beach, tucked away on the Southeast coast far from any crowd. Yes, you can snorkel and scuba dive here, eyeing yellowtail snapper, parrot fish, and blue tangs. But your most relaxing move is to walk down the wooden steps or slip through the mangrove-tree inlets, swoosh into the serene sea, breathe deeply, and float for a while. Guaranteed bliss.
9. A MESMERIZING PARK
On the rugged northeast coast, the 7,907-acre Arikok National Park—encompassing 18 percent of the island—is best traversed on an off-road UTV via De Palm Tours. Its geographic complexity awes: volcanic lava hills, huge boulders, eerie underground caves, eye-catching natural rock bridges, candelabra cacti and massive thorny bushes, all set against a wide-open seascape of crashing, frothy, azure ocean surf. But what will likely tug most at your heart are the human contributions: artists’ huts painted in whimsical symbols and joyful colors; a walkable stone Peace Labyrinth; and a broad sandy field chock full of hundreds of thousands of little rocks (photo above) that visitors from all over the world have been carefully stacking and rearranging here for decades—symbolic tributes to wishes sought and gratefulness given. Memories are made of this.
10. NIGHT MUSIC MOVES
Every evening, toes-in-the-sand entertainment is popular, with live bands and DJs headlining al fresco, star-lit gatherings, such as the bustling action at MooMba Beach Bar (photo above). In January and February, Aruba’s six-week Carnival energizes with parades and midnight dancing in the streets.
11. FOOD FEST
A foodie paradise, Aruba serves up gourmet fare at gracious restaurants, such as Madame Janette, where you can dine under leafy trees, and Passions, elegantly set on a tiki torch-lit beach. Or live it up at laid-back eateries, such as the wharf-perched Pelican Nest Seafood Grill; the charming family-run Old Cunucu House with authentic island cuisine like cabrito; and the lively downtown Old Fisherman. My favorite finger-lickin’ find is the no-frills ZeeRover, set over the water, where just-caught seafood is flash-fried (without breading), then sprinkled with a mystery spice combo that transforms the jumbo shrimp, wahoo, and snapper into sizzling, zesty masterpieces. Add a frosty Aruba-brewed Balashi beer. No meal, while wearing flip-flops and a bathing suit, could be finer.
12. SPECTACULAR SUN SHOWS
Aruba’s narrow width means that you can clearly view the sunrise and sunset without moving much during the day! People gather on Eagle Beach (photo above) to gaze the firey ball down each dusk.
Where have you most enjoyed traveling? What Caribbean island inspires you? We’d love to know!
Frequent globetrotter Laura Manske has visited most U.S. states, explored 70+ countries, and cruised 60+ ships. She loves to wander the world, unearthing travel joy, beauty, adventure, and humor through her camera lens and articles. Now, she’s sharing pictures and memories of her favorite spots on Parade.com.