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So much to experience with 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, ATV, UTV, and even horseback tours with special trips around the island geared towards cruise ship passengers with limited time to enjoy the sites of Aruba. If organized group tours are not your “thing,” no worries—the island is fairly easy to navigate with a rental vehicle and a map.
Here, 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.
Heading out of the cruise ship terminal area, head south through bustling downtown Oranjestad, continuing past the Queen Beatrix International Airport, taking 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 pan 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, we 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 within this historical town.
Also located in this sleepy fishing town is Zeerovers, a fisherman's wharf-cum-roadhouse promising a heavy dose of local flavor. 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.
You still have interesting sites and beaches to conquer, so onward you go on the coastal road until it connects back to the main highway. Continuing south, 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 harbors. 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.
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 Roger'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.
A perfect way to end your afternoon of site seeing is a refreshing treat from the “coconut man” who sets up a stand along the Seroe Colorado road to serve coconut water from freshly cracked coconuts—an authentic island beverage!
Depending on the time of day you are heading back, an amazing Aruba sunset can be enjoyed in the distance as you travel back down the main highway into downtown Oranjestad and to the cruise ship terminal.
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
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.
Heading out of the cruise ship terminal, take a left on the main boulevard in downtown 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 catch many of Aruba’s local and migrating birds out for a morning stroll. Located across from the RIU and next to The Mill Resort, the Bubali Bird Sanctuary has attracted 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, Neotropic cormorants, numerous duck species, and much more.
Walk or take a quick drive just across the street for a visit to Aruba’s De Olde Molen—an iconic landmark paying homage to Aruba’s Dutch heritage. Originally built in the Netherlands in1804, 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 make a right to head east on the Palm Beach Road (opposite direction of the high-rise hotel area), followed by a left at the next traffic light adjacent to Santa Anna Catholic Church. Follow the blue street signs directing you to the Alto Vista Chapel, where eventually you will 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 at this spot. The picturesque chapel now serves as a unique retreat where locals and island visitors can spend a moment or two of peaceful contemplation.
Follow the dirt road that leads down from the hilltop and skirts the coastline. The ruins that resemble a crumbled castle off in the distance are those of the Bushiribana Gold Mill. Aruba experienced a gold rush during the 19th century, with the discovery of gold on the Island 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 hills nearby. A team of local masons was hired to assemble the old-fashioned mill using primitive 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 will bring you 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 coastal dirt road back, continue on past 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 at the top of 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.
Departing the California Lighthouse, follow the paved winding road that leads past Arashi Beach and through the beautiful residential neighborhood of Malmok, back to the high-rise hotel area, and eventually into downtown Oranjestad.
In Palm Beach and downtown 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 produced locally from the farms and fishing boats around the island.
Ritz Aruba/Oranjestad: You could call it Aruban “fast food.” Local snacks like pastechis, Johnny cakes, and croquettes are served, as well as burgers, wraps, and a favorite Dutch treat—French fries with peanut sauce.
The Old Fisherman/downtown Oranjestad: A favorite local lunch spot, this restaurant features authentic home-style Aruban cooking.
Aruba’s port is centrally located in downtown Oranjestad. Our capital city is an exciting, bustling area of the island featuring world-class shopping and dining, historic Dutch colonial architecture, museums, and a heavy dose of local charm.
Navigating your way through downtown is easy and accessible by foot or with one of our trolleys, designed in San Francisco and utilizing clean energy sources (it’s 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 malls. From international designer brands to quaint, one-of-a-kind boutiques, Aruba’s renowned shopping scene will intrigue even the most seasoned shoppers.
Renaissance Mall is home to elite luxury retailers like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Carolina Herrera, BCBG, David Yurman, Rolex, and Gucci, just to name a few. Duty-free perfumes and cosmetics, Cuban cigars, and beach and resort wear can also be found in this indoor/outdoor mall.
Renaissance Marketplace, anchored by the downtown marina, is just across the street from Renaissance Mall. 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.
Royal Plaza, located across from the harbor and adjacent to the main bus terminal, has become an iconic landmark in downtown Oranjestad. Its signature pink and white Dutch Caribbean architecture houses three levels of shops—featuring anything from fine jewelry and perfumes to cigars and souvenirs—as well as restaurants and an alfresco nightclub.
Oranjestad’s Mainstreet, also known as Caya Betico Croes, embraces its historical roots. Here, visitors can enjoy boutique shopping opportunities amongst the colorful Dutch colonial architecture. Authentic local and regional cuisine is prominently featured throughout this area.
Culture seekers and shoppers will find that the trolley 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 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 trolley.
If you prefer to travel by 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 downtown with some relaxation at Surfside Beach; it’s about a 15-minute walk from the port. There are beach and snack bars conveniently located here.
The One happy island of Aruba is the perfect destination for creating timeless vacation memories that you and your family will treasure forever!
Aruba offers all sorts of opportunities for discovering your own little slice of happiness via some of the most amazing shore excursions and tours in the entire Caribbean.
Whether you'd like to enjoy some exciting thrills, or you simply want to relax and experience tranquility, we've got you covered. If you've only got a limited amount of time during your shore excursion on the One happy island, here's a few suggestions for maximizing your fun!
First, many visitors choose to prioritize exploring our warm, beautiful and crystalline waters, which make Aruba perfect for all sorts of water activities, like paddle boarding, surfing, parasailing, jet-skiing, canoeing, snorkeling, sky-diving or even JetLeving!
For those who'd prefer to stay dry, we've also got 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, and is the perfect spot to park a chair and soak in the sun, or enjoy the shade under a wonderful palapa.
No matter what you're in the mood for, your 6 hours in Aruba is sure to be filled with amazing, incredible experiences. Enjoy!
Best Beaches in the Caribbean
Aruba has a wide variety of beaches for every beach lover to explore and the best part is……all public beaches are free! My Top 10 Aruba Beaches are: