Aruba Travel Guide
Where to Stay in Aruba
Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba
Hilton Aruba Carribean Resort and Casino
The Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort and Casino was our first hotel in Aruba, and it was the perfect place to unwind after the stress of traveling. We enjoyed our meals and loved taking in those gorgeous Aruba sunsets from Palm Beach. The Hilton Aruba is obviously a large chain hotel, and not my usual cup of tea, but I honestly loved our stay. The property, restaurants and amenities are stunningly beautiful. I highly recommend a meal at any of their restaurants. The rooms are the same Hilton standard that you’ll find anywhere around the world. While some of the other large chain hotels seem to attract families, the Hilton happened to be hosting a large corporate conference during our stay. The resort is large enough though that this did not cause any problems for us, and we really enjoyed our stay.
The Ritz Carlton, Aruba
As I explain here, the Ritz Carlton Aruba has an agreement with The Boardwalk hotel, so that you can enjoy most of the same five star service as Ritz Carlton guests. This means, that while we did not stay here, we were treated to a discount on their beach services and other amenities. The staff was extremely welcoming and took great care of us. We loved their beach segway food and drink service from the Madero Pool and Beach Grille, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset and champagne toast from the outdoor terrace of the Divi Sushi Bar which overlooks the stunning Palm Beach. I would be happy to stay here in the future.
Barcuti and Tara Beach Resort
This luxury, adults only resort on Eagle Beach came highly recommended to me. Unfortunately, our trip was planned last minute and they did not have any availability, but I wouldn’t hesitate to check this place out on our next trip. The adults only aspect makes Barcuti & Tara very popular with honeymooners, and my sources say the experience is life changing. They are not technically all inclusive, as they mention on their site that this can stifle your ability to experience the island, but they do offer some creative meal plans for those who really don’t want to think about where to eat each day.
Old Man and the Sea Ocean Villas
If you’ve been dying to stay in an over the water bungalow, but just can’t swing that trip to the Maldives, yet, consider Old Man and the Sea Ocean Villas for your Aruba stay. These villas are on the southern side of the island and set apart from the popular Eagle Beach and Palm Beach tourist scenes. Besides being more affordable than the Maldives, these villas offer a truly unique experience for your island getaway. Those who have stayed here report great snorkeling right off their deck and a completely beautiful, private setting. The property is also conveniently located walking distance to the Flying Fishbone, one of the most popular sunset view seafood restaurants on the island that is usually a thirty minute drive each way for Palm Beach guests. I actually can’t wait to stay here on my next visit to Aruba.
Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino
The Renaissance Aruba is primarily known for its private island, Renaissance Island, where you can visit with flamingos. There are six flamingos in residence and you can purchase food to feed them and then get a photo with them. The island is a stunning tropical oasis and offers over the water cabana rentals and excellent beach service. There are two main beaches, Flamingo Beach which is adults only and Iguana Beach which is kid friendly, offering snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding amenities. Kids are only allowed to visit the flamingos on Flamingo Beach from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM.
If you stay at the Renaissance Aruba, you are given complimentary transportation and access to Renaissance Island. Since the resort is located near the airport, I would ideally line up my stay with the last night or two on the island.
To visit the island without staying at the Renaissance Aruba, read here.
Things to Do in Aruba
Jolly Pirates Sailing Trip
When I was looking for things to do on Aruba, Jolly Pirates Sailing Trip came up over and over again and people raved about their experience. This excursion offers a snorkel and sailing trip on a pirate ship, complete with ladders and rope swings. Make no mistake, this is not a serious snorkel trip. There was almost no training, and the time allotted for actual snorkeling was minimal. They were also pretty unhelpful about taking us to the best snorkeling spots, other than the sunken ship which was pretty cool but only a quick visit. In reality, this excursion is a family friendly booze cruise, and once you can wrap your head around that, it’s a good time. I highly recommend this tour for families and group trips. For honeymooners or serious snorkelers, I would look at Blue Melody/Black Pearl or Pelican Adventures for a less crowded experience.
Palm Beach is gorgeous white sand beach, with calm turquoise blue water. The entire beach is lined with resorts and a sidewalk that makes the beach extremely accessible to many great restaurants and shopping. I know Eagle Beach gets all the love, but I visited both and actually prefer Palm Beach, especially the Ritz Carlton side. Eagle beach just seemed a lot more crowded with rougher waters, though we did visit during peak hours.
All of the beaches on Aruba are public with various palapa rental options. If you stay at the hotels, then the palapas are included with your stay, although the resorts may charge you to reserve a front row palapa.
The best way to enjoy Eagle beach is to come in the early morning or at sunset for a long walk along one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Don’t let my photos fool you that this beach is empty and idyllic, though. I photoshopped out the couple who decided this iconic tree could serve as their free palapa for the day, as tourist after tourist came by to take a picture in front of it. And if I look to my left in the above photo, all I see is jet skis and endless palapas.
For this reason, I believe Eagle Beach and Palm beach are comparable, because they are both equally beautiful and crowded. Eagle Beach gets a bit more preference because the hotels are all located across the street from the beach, keeping it open to the public. The snorkeling is better here, as well, because there is more of a reef, and turtles are even known to lay their nest on this expansive beach.
Explore the Island
We did not rent a car on this trip, so our itinerary revolved entirely around Palm Beach and Eagle Beach. There is actually so much more to see on the island, though. One way to get around is by car, but another way is via one of the many popular ATV tours. I was recommended to use ABC Tours Aruba, which offers a full day and half day tour of the island. The tours include a visit to the Natural Bridge, Arikok National Park, the Natural Pool, snorkeling at beautiful Baby Beach, and so much more! You could also drive to all of these sites on your own, except for the Natural Pool which requires a vehicle with four wheel drive.
Visit the Flamingos
Yes, it’s true you can find flamingos on Aruba, six of them to be exact. They live at Flamingo Beach on a private island owned by the Renaissance Aruba. To visit the Renaissance Island without staying at the hotel, you will need to arrive very early in the morning (at least 5:00 AM) to get in a line for a beach pass. The front desk will give out around twenty beach passes at 7:30 AM on a first come first serve basis.
The pass will cost about $125 per person and includes lunch, one drink, and a water float. If the hotel is at full occupancy, they may not offer any beach passes to outside guests so you should call ahead the day before you plan to visit. Soon they will offer an online ticketing option for hopeful visitors, and I will update this guide when that becomes available. One way to ensure you get to the island is to book a spa package with the hotel. The shuttle boat runs every 15 minutes from 7:00AM to 7:00 PM.
I have to say I have mixed feelings about promoting this place, and I spent a lot of time deciding if I wanted to include Renaissance Island in my own itinerary. Of course, I wanted a photo with the flamingos, but once I heard that they are not native to Aruba and their wings are clipped to keep them on the island where they are bombarded by tourists day after day, I just couldn’t go through with it.
I think the Instagram culture of just going somewhere for a photo is toxic and unnecessary, especially at the expense of animals. The Renaissance Aruba would make for a beautiful stay, especially given the environment of the private island. It reminds me of some the private beach experiences like Labadee, Haiti that I have seen on cruise itineraries. If you go, I hope you’ll enjoy the beach and be respectful of the flamingos.
Where to Eat in Aruba
Madero Pool and Beach Grille
The Ritz Carlton Madero Pool and Beach Grille served our palapas during our stay at the Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba. I tried everything on the menu here and it was all delicious. Seriously, the best meal I’ve ever had at the beach. The gouda on the Madero Burger is just beyond. For drinks, I stayed keto and ordered my go-to beach drink tequila, soda and lime.
Gilligan's Seafood Shack
This fun beachside seafood shack at the Hilton Aruba has everything you are craving at the beach. Chicken Fingers, Gourmet Grilled Cheese, Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, Fish Tacos, Chips and Guacamole.
The Fish Shack Tacos were my go-to order all week, and I’m craving them as I type this. The restaurant also caters to your picky sister who really wants a healthy salad (maybe the Movie Star Grilled Salmon Salad will do) or your foodie friend who really wants to try the Crab Cake BLT Burger. For drinks, I highly recommend the Aqua Aloe.
Wow, wow, wow. The ambience here at the Hilton’s Sunset Grille was everything, and it’s not even right on the beach. We did not have reservations, but we were staying at the hotel so they snuck us in at one of their best tables on the outdoor terrace, right on the koi pond with a front row seat of the live music. Although it was dark out, we had a view of the beach, and the sound of the waves and the wind through the palms set the mood along with Van Morrison hits from the band. The menu is amazing, I remember having a terrible time deciding because it all looked so good. I went with the swordfish, because I’d never had it before and it was divine. We finished the meal with the Amaretto Cheesecake, because I’m obsessed with amaretto. It was so not keto, but worth every gram of sugar.
The Marriott’s Atardi restaurant offers dining right on the beach with your toes in the sand. A live band plays music as the waves lap along the shore a few meters from your table. The Macadamia Grouper is the star on the menu while meat lovers love the non-seafood options for once.
The Flying Fishbone is one of the most highly recommended restaurants on the island. The restaurant offers tables that are literally in the shallow water on the beach. It is only open for dinner from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM and is most popular for its sunset view. Be sure to make a reservation here. We did not make it here, as I mentioned above, it’s about a thirty minute drive from Palm Beach. Be sure to work with your hotel to arrange a taxi so you can enjoy a drink with your meal.
Wacky Wahoo’s is another popular seafood restaurant on the island. We did not make it here, but it is highly recommended for it’s fresh seafood options.
2 Fools and Bull
2 Bulls and a Fool is an exclusive, adults only restaurant experience requires reservations at least six weeks in advance. The two hosts offer you a unique, social dining experience of 5 1/2 courses with an option for wine pairings. This is for you foodies and luxury travelers. Make your reservations or get on the waitlist here.