Aruba offers much more than the glamorous hotel area at Palm Beach, so get off the beaten path and discover the southern side of the One Happy Island. Rent a jeep, van, bus, ATV, UTV, or hop on a horse and enjoy the local delights of Aruba such as the National Park Arikok, which also features the famous Natural Pool.
The island is fairly easy to navigate but if you prefer to explore in a group, rest assured, there are plenty of organized group tours. Whether you are here on your honeymoon or want to enjoy a fun family vacation, this itinerary lets you enjoy various highlights of this dynamic destination.
Continuing past the Queen Beatrix International Airport and taking the first road on the right at the stoplights (you will see signs to De Palm Island) our first highlight is Spaans Lagoen. Also known as Spanish Lagoon, the area is a protected wetland. Developing marine species live safely among the stilt roots of mangrove trees lining the lagoon until they are big enough to venture into the open sea. Inland the surrounding vegetation is inhabited by a variety of bird species, including bananaquits, Aruban parakeets, herons, troupials, and common ground doves.
The lagoon is an excellent area to go paddleboarding or kayaking. On the southern coast you will find a small fishermen’s dock called Rancho Clemente, where the freshest fish can be bought directly from local fishermen.
Just after Spaans Lagoen is a beach called Mangel Halto. Mangel Halto gets its name from its welcoming mass of mangrove trees that provide shade for the perfect afternoon picnic or slumber. A narrow clearing of mangroves leads to inviting, shallow inlets of calm and refreshing turquoise waters. Swimmers can wade out to explore the protected barrier reef. This is an excellent snorkel, - and diving spot and many Arubans had their first swimming lessons here.
Continuing along the coastal route, we will pass through the quaint town of Savaneta. Savaneta is Aruba's earliest town, serving as the first capital until 1797. Located in this picturesque fishing town is Zeerovers, a fisherman's wharf-cum-roadhouse promising a heavy dose of local flavour. A counter near the entrance sells fresh-caught fish to go at local prices. Patrons can also have the fish prepared on the premises and then enjoy it on the waterside deck among the seasoned locals discussing the latest town news over a few ice-cold Balashi beers.
The highway leads us to San Nicolas, Aruba's second largest city. Until recent years, the Sunrise city was once a boomtown, owing its success to the oil refinery (now closed) that it harbours. With the recruitment of refinery workers from the British Caribbean, San Nicolas developed its distinct Creole flavor and led to its designation as the birthplace of Aruba’s Carnival and the décor for the weekly Carrubbian festival.
While in the heart of downtown San Nicolas, stop into the Aruba Rum Shop or White Star for a cold beer. Rum shops are icons of local culture that have been around for decades, with the Aruba Rum Shop and White Star in San Nicolas among the oldest on the Island. Just as they've always done, rum shops serve as local watering holes where lawyers, fishermen, and everyone in between discuss the events of the day, catch up on local politics, or just “shoot the breeze” in a rich atmosphere filled with years of history and culture.
Head further south out of San Nicolas and towards the refinery into Seroe Colorado, the site of the former Lago colony where American refinery workers and their families once lived. A few residents still live in the bungalows overlooking Rodger's Beach and Baby Beach. Both of these beaches are tranquil spots to kick back and relax while soaking in the warm sun tempered with cooling trade winds. Baby Beach’s shallow waters are ideal for snorkeling (snorkel equipment rentals can be found at JADS Dive Center at Baby Beach).
Exiting the Seroe Colorado area, a beautiful photo op can be had at the mammoth red Seamen’s Anchor overlooking Boca Grandi Beach (a kite surfing mecca). The anchor is a monument dedicated to all seamen. Charlie Brouns Jr., of Charlie’s Bar in San Nicolas, initiated the placement of a mammoth anchor, acquired from the Lago Oil & Transport Company, at the pointe of Seroe Colorado in 1985.
Finally relax at either Flying Fishbone or at the Old Man and the Sea, enjoying an amazing Aruban sunset whilst dining with your toes in the sand.
Suggested places while on the southern side:
Zeerovers/Savaneta: serving deep-fried fresh seafood
AG Rincon Criollo/Savaneta: serving authentic Cuban dishes and local side dishes
Flying Fishbone/Savaneta: Famous on-the-beach dining area
The Old Man & the Sea/Savaneta: Sunset dinner on the beach
Gallo Rojo/San Nicolas: fresh baked goods and sandwiches
Pueblito Paisa/San Nicolas: serving authentic Colombian dishes
Rum Reef at JADS Dive Center/Seroe Colorado: serving burgers, wraps, grouper sandwiches, and chicken sate.
Carubbian Festival: A local festival showcasing Aruba’s carnival, artists and local cuisine every Thurday night.