When looking up where I wanted to go for my birthday weekend this year, I had 3 things in mind - warm ocean water, not tooooo far away, and a brand new place to experience. Aruba hit all those points and more.
We flew down for an extended weekend and although relaxation was top of mind, we also wanted to make sure we saw all that Aruba had to offer. The island is only 20 miles across and 6 miles wide at its widest. So, while there wasn’t a ton of ground to cover, it made seeing most the island in a single day pretty easy.
We rented a Jeep and took off on our own self guided tour of the island (I definitely recommend springing for the Jeep - they say the National Park is only place you’d need it, but it ended up being helpful on a lot of the unpaved roads across the island). We hit up all the big touristy spots - California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, the Natural Pool, Bushiribana Gold Smelter - which you can find on any tourist map and are all worth a quick stop at least. The coolest stop by far though was Arikok National Park, which actually takes up 20% of the island and is beautiful. It’s wildlife meets beach meets desert meets caves meets… so much more. I’ll be spending a lot more time there when we go back (notice that’s a when, not if).
On our way back, we stopped at Zeerovers (pictured above) for easily the best meal we had on the island. You order shrimp and their fish of the day by weight and they’ll pull it right out of the coolers next to them, full of fish they just caught, and fry it up fresh for you. Then, when you head out back, you can sit on the dock with a view of the water while you eat. Doesn’t get better than that. Oh wait, it does, because it’s actually pretty affordable too and there’s a bar!
After going through an usually high amount of roundabouts (seriously Aruba, what’s with that?), we got back to where we were staying in Palm Beach. The town is… strange, tbh. All of Aruba accepts USD, which seemed odd to me considering it isn’t really related to the US, but Palm Beach especially felt a lot like it was catering directly to American tourists. Think big, semi-tacky restaurants that aren’t quite chains but aren’t quite genuinely local either and resort-like bars and tourist shops up the wazoo. It was like a Caribbean Vegas in a way - which isn’t to say it isn’t fun - but definitely not the vibe I was imagining. We found two awesome spots in the area though: Diana’s Pancake Place, which had some drool-worthy and Insta-ready Dutch pancakes, and Craft, which was a coffee bar by day (the only place I found cold brew that wasn’t Starbucks, woo!) and a bar-bar at night with an amazingly long happy hour. While it is a comfortable and beachy town, I’d probably try staying closer the capital, Oranjestad, next time.
Aruba was also super progressive and environmental. This meant an island wide straw ban, no plastic bags in their grocery stores, lots of stalls for electric cars, and a general “respect the ocean” vibe which was refreshing to see. We did a snorkel + open bar booze cruise boat ride (best $45 I’ve ever spent, definitely check it out) and you could tell the crew was super caring of their impact on the ocean. Growing up in a state where recycling is second nature, I appreciated the commitment. Aruba also tries to cater to LGBTQ tourism which is a) smart but b) also makes it a generally comfortable place to visit.
Besides accidentally breaking my phone by jumping into the ocean with it (PSA - the iPhone X isn’t as waterproof as you’d think), this trip was the most perfect, relaxing birthday weekend I could’ve asked for. If you’re looking for a Caribbean getaway, be sure to bump Aruba to top of your list. And if you have questions or your own Aruban tips, comment below!