Six Hours in Aruba

So much to experience, so little time! Make the most of our One happy island with one of these three itineraries.

There are several four-wheel drive, van, bus, quad, jeep and even horse riding tours with special trips around the island geared towards cruise ship passengers with limited time to enjoy the sites of Aruba. If organised group tours are not your “thing,” no worries — the island is fairly easy to navigate with a rental vehicle and a map.

We have laid out three suggested half-day itineraries to enjoy various highlights of this dynamic destination while making the most of your short time here.

 

No. 1 Highlights of the Southern Side

On leaving the cruise ship terminal area, head south through bustling Oranjestad, continuing past the Queen Beatrix International Airport and take the first road on the right (you will see signs to De Palm Island). On this scenic coastal road, the 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. The lagoon leads inland to a salt flat surrounded by vegetation inhabited by a variety of bird species, including bananaquits, Aruban parakeets, herons, troupials and common ground doves.

Just after Spaans Lagoen is an area called Mangel Halto. Mangel Halto gets its name from its welcoming mass of mangrove trees that provide shade. 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.

Continuing along the coastal route, you will pass through the quaint town of Savaneta. Savaneta is Aruba's earliest town, serving as the first capital until 1797. The oldest house in Aruba — a cas di torto, or mud hut, dating back some 150 years — is still standing in this historical town.

Also located in this sleepy fishing town is Zeerovers, a fisherman's wharf-cum-inn promising plenty of local flavour. A counter near the entrance sells freshly caught fish to take away 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.

You still have interesting sites and beaches to conquer, so continue along the coastal road until it rejoins the main highway. Continuing south, the main road leads to San Nicolas, Aruba's second largest town. Until recent years, the sunrise ‘city’ was once a boom town, owing its success to the oil refinery that has subsequently closed. With the recruitment of refinery workers from the British Caribbean, San Nicolas developed its distinctive Creole flavour and led to its designation as the birthplace of Aruba’s Carnival.

While in the heart of San Nicolas, stop off at 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 heady atmosphere full of years of history and culture.

Head further south out of San Nicolas towards the refinery in 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 Roger's Beach and Baby Beach. Both of these beaches are tranquil spots to kick back and relax while soaking up the warm sun and caressed by cooling trade winds. The shallow waters of Baby Beach are ideal for snorkelling (snorkel equipment rentals are available at JADS Dive Centre on 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, instigated the placement of a mammoth anchor, acquired from the Lago Oil & Transport Company, at Seroe Colorado point in 1985.

A perfect way to end your afternoon’s sightseeing is a refreshing treat from the “coconut man” who sets up a stand along the Seroe Colorado road serving coconut milk from freshly cracked coconuts — an authentic island beverage!

Depending on the time of day you are heading back, an amazing Aruban sunset can be enjoyed in the distance as you travel back down the main road into Oranjestad and to the cruise ship terminal.

Suggested places to dine while on the southern side:

  • Zeerovers/Savaneta: serving deep-fried fresh seafood
  • La Granja/Savaneta: serving roasted meats, and local and Caribbean side dishes
  • 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.
  • Unique photo ops:

Some of the world’s most renowned street artists have come to Aruba to use the town of San Nicolas as a canvas, leaving behind amazing murals on our streets and buildings.

 

No. 2 Gems of the North Coast

On leaving the cruise ship terminal, take a left on the main boulevard in Oranjestad and follow north towards the high-rise hotel area where many of the island’s iconic sites and landmarks can be found.

The first stop is the Bubali Bird Sanctuary, where guests can spot many of Aruba’s local and migrating birds out for a morning stroll. Located opposite the RIU hotel and next to The Mill Resort, the Bubali Bird Sanctuary attracts many of the over 220 species of native and migratory birds on Aruba. This official nature preserve features two man-made lakes surrounded by lush wetland vegetation. An observation tower grants birdwatchers the opportunity to see blue herons, green herons, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, Caribbean coots, brown pelicans, Neotropical cormorants, numerous duck species and many more.

Walk or take a quick drive just over the road for a visit to Aruba’s De Olde Molen — an iconic landmark paying homage to Aruba’s Dutch heritage. Originally built in the Netherlands in 1804, this windmill was shipped to Aruba in pieces and rebuilt in 1961.

Back on the main boulevard, continue north to the first traffic light and take a right turn to go east on the Palm Beach Road (heading away from the hotel district), followed by a left at the next traffic light by the Santa Anna Catholic Church. Follow the blue street signs directing you to the Alto Vista Chapel, where you will eventually climb the winding road lined with the Stations of the Cross.

Early in the 18th century, a small group of Catholic natives settled an area to the northeast of the town of Noord. They would gather to pray high on a hill overlooking the north shore and in 1750 the island's first Roman Catholic church — the Alto Vista Chapel — was built on this spot. The picturesque chapel now serves as a unique retreat where locals and island visitors can spend a moment or two in peaceful contemplation.

Follow the unpaved road leading down from the hilltop and skirting the coastline. The ruins that resemble a crumbled castle off in the distance are the remains of the Bushiribana Gold Mill. Aruba experienced a gold rush during the 19th century, with the discovery of gold on the Island being first documented in 1824. In 1874, an English mining company built the Bushiribana Gold Mill on Aruba's north coast in order to process the gold ore extracted from the nearby hills. A team of local masons was hired to assemble the old-fashioned mill using rudimentary cranes of wooden beams to lift the massive rocks into place. Today, locals and island guests can enjoy exploring inside the Bushiribana Ruins, which provide an excellent vantage point to quietly observe the surrounding rugged terrain and the stunning Caribbean Sea.

Continuing along the coastline trail for another ten minutes you will come to the Natural Bridge. Thousands of years of pounding waves and strong winds have slowly carved away at the limestone cliffs along Aruba's north coast to create eight natural bridges, the largest and most famous being the Natural Bridge, located near Andicuri Beach. Before collapsing in 2005, it was the most impressive structure of its kind in all the Caribbean. There are souvenir shops and cold refreshments to quench your thirst here as well.

Following the unpaved coastal road back, continue on past the Bushiribana Gold Mill and Alto Vista Chapel towards your final destination of the afternoon, the California Lighthouse. The California Lighthouse overlooks the area known as Hudishibana from its post atop a limestone plateau. The 100-foot-tall stone lighthouse was named after the steamship California that sunk in 1891 in the waters nearby. Visitors who make the short drive up the hill to the lighthouse will be rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea battering against the rocky north coast and then settling into a calm stretch of turquoise as it wraps around the west coast. Off in the distance, the rolling white sandy hills of the California Dunes can be seen.

Leaving the California Lighthouse behind you, follow the paved winding road that leads past Arashi Beach and through the beautiful residential area of Malmok, back to the hotel district and Oranjestad.

Suggested places to dine:

In Palm Beach and Oranjestad there is a large selection of restaurants to choose from, offering a wide range of cuisines. If you want to try a taste of local cuisine, here are a few suggestions:

  • Linda’s Pancake House, Palm Beach: Serves traditional Dutch pancakes all day.

  • Nos Clubhuis, Palm Beach: Offers authentic Aruban cuisine, with a large part of the menu ingredients being local produce from the farms and fishing boats around the island.

  • Ritz Aruba, Oranjestad: You could call it Aruban “fast food.” Local snacks such as pastechi pies, Johnny cakes and croquettes are served, as well as burgers, wraps and a favourite Dutch treat —French fries with peanut sauce.

  • The Old Fisherman, Oranjestad: A favourite local lunch spot, this restaurant features authentic home-style Aruban cooking.

 

No. 3 Combining shopping, culture, and a little beach time

Aruba’s port is centrally located in Oranjestad. Our capital city is an exciting, bustling part of the island featuring world-class shopping and dining, historic Dutch colonial architecture, museums and a wealth of local charm.

Navigating your way through town is easy. You can either walk or take one of the free trams. Designed in San Francisco and using clean energy sources, they are free of charge and you can hop on and off at several stops along the way.

Heading out of the cruise ship terminal, shoppers will delight in the endless opportunities to browse open markets, al fresco plazas and indoor shopping centres. From international designer brands to quaint, one-of-a-kind boutiques, Aruba’s renowned shopping scene will intrigue even the most seasoned shoppers.

  1. The Renaissance shopping centre is home to elite luxury retailers such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Carolina Herrera, BCBG, David Yurman, Rolex and Gucci, to name but a few. Duty-free perfumes and cosmetics, Cuban cigars and beach and resort wear can also be found in this indoor and outdoor shopping centre.

  2. The Renaissance Marketplace, anchored by the marina, is just across the street from The Renaissance shopping centre. Here, a lively atmosphere prevails in an alfresco venue that features an array of shops, restaurants, outdoor cafés and an outdoor stage with live entertainment nightly. A state-of-the-art cinema complex and the Seaport Casino are also located here.

  3. Royal Plaza, located opposite the harbour and adjacent to the main bus terminal, has become an iconic landmark in Oranjestad. Its signature pink and white Dutch Caribbean architecture houses three levels of shops — featuring anything from fine jewellery and perfumes to cigars and souvenirs — as well as restaurants and an alfresco nightclub.

  4. Oranjestad’s main shopping street, also known as Caya Betico Croes, embraces its historical roots. Here, visitors can enjoy boutique shopping opportunities amongst the colourful Dutch colonial architecture. Authentic local and regional cuisine is prominently featured throughout this area.

Culture seekers and shoppers will find that the tram line runs past various points of interest, giving visitors a peek into our culture and heritage, as well as access to the shopping and dining opportunities in this historical area. If you see something that piques your interest, simply hop off — another will pass by shortly if you want to continue your journey by tram.

If you prefer to travel on foot, there is a self-guided Monuments Tour. Visit sites including Fort Zoutman, the Water Tower, several historic churches, the Court House and homes of historic and architectural significance.

End your day with some relaxation at Surfside Beach, a 15-minute walk from the port. There are convenient beach and snack bars in the area.


The One happy island of Aruba is the perfect destination for creating lasting holiday memories that you and your family will treasure for years to come! Aruba offers all sorts of opportunities for discovering your own little slice of happiness in some of the most amazing port stopover excursions and tours in the entire Caribbean. Whether you'd like to enjoy some thrills or you simply want to relax and experience tranquility, you’ve come to the right place. If you only have a limited amount of time during your sport stopover at the One happy island, the following are a few suggestions for maximizing your fun! Many visitors choose to prioritise exploring our warm, beautiful and crystalline waters that make Aruba perfect for all sorts of water activities, including paddle boarding, surfing, parasailing, jet-skiing, canoeing, snorkelling, sky-diving or even JetLeving! For those who'd prefer to stay dry, Aruba also offers some of the best shopping, sightseeing, off-roading, dining and gaming opportunities in the entire Caribbean. And if all you want to do is relax, then you couldn't have picked a better spot, because our picturesque Eagle Beach has been rated one of the top beach destinations on the planet. This is the perfect spot to park a chair and soak up the sun, or enjoy the shade under a wonderful palapa tree. No matter what you're in the mood for, your six hours in Aruba are sure to be filled with incredible experiences. Enjoy!

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