Aruba is one of the most visited islands in the southern Caribbean. Located just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba’s laid-back charm, blended with miles of blissfully calm shores, attracts cruisers from all over. Because cruise ships dock in the capital city of Oranjestad and this tiny Dutch island is only 19 miles long, it’s easy to get around to any of the attractions.
Whether you’re traveling with tiny tykes or mature types, here are a few activities to please everyone in your crew.
Discover the Other Side of Aruba
Aruba’s north shore, 45 minutes from the dock, is drastically different from the palm tree- and beach-dotted southern coastline. It’s home to Arikok National Park, which is a mix of desert-like environment (with sand dunes and cacti) and lush rolling hills with limestone cliffs and caves perfect for exploring. One fun way to navigate the area, starting at the old California Lighthouse and ending with a splash under the remains of a natural bridge, is via a Jeep safari tour. Hop in a 4x4 off-road vehicle and tear through the rust-colored terrain. You can choose to book an excursion through the cruise line or rent a car and do it on your own. This ecological preserve is blazing hot even in the early morning, so be sure to bring gear to protect you from the sun and water.
Go Kite Surfing
Aruba’s well-known trade winds have made it a worldwide top spot for windsurfing. In the last few years, kite surfing has become an equally loved sport, and the tricks you’ll see by local pros are awesome. Right next to the The Ritz-Carlton resort is the Aruba Kitesurfing School. The patient and easygoing staff will have you up in the air within a five-hour lesson.
Have Some Tee Time
Built in 2004, the nine-hole The Links at Divi Aruba is an ocean-view golf course enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Play nine holes across lagoons and on expertly groomed greens designed by Boynton Beach, Florida-architects Litten/Viola J.V. This public course gives first dibs to those staying at the on-site resort, but tee times can be booked online, There’s no need to haul your clubs from home; the pro shop has top-of-the-line equipment for rent.
Say Hello to Aloe
Because of Aruba’s proximity to the equator, sunscreen is a must-pack. Even on an overcast day, visitors have been shocked with stinging sunburns. Learn about the island’s homegrown aloe, a precious pre- and post-sun treatment for your skin, at the Aruba Aloe Museum. After the free 15-minute tour, pick up products from plant-and-herb-infused bath gel to moisturizing shampoo at the gift shop. With a host of lotions and after-sun soothing salve, the only lobster you’ll see is on your dinner plate.
Kick Back on the Beach
Over a dozen beaches dot Aruba, and the most popular are Palm and Eagle. However, for a private and less crowded beach, Arashi Beach is easily reached via bus from the terminal across from the pier (it’s the last stop). Plenty of locals come to sunbathe, snorkel and enjoy picnics. A few palapas provide shade, but they’re available on a first-come basis.
Horse Around Aruba
Another way to explore the island is via horse. Rancho Notorious works with cruise lines and offers several experiences for riders from beginner to advanced. Everyone gets to traverse through the Aruban cunucu (countryside) to check out the lay of the land and its animal inhabitants. Some tours will take you to the beach to cool off in the sea while atop your steed.
Hop on an Open-Air Bus for a Beach and Bar Tour
Spending time at a beach bar sipping Aruba Aribas (the island’s version of rum punch) and listening to soca music is fun. But if you’d like something a bit different, consider a morning island tour followed by an afternoon sandy soiree via the colorful, hand-painted Kukoo Kunuku open-air bus (maracas included). It is an experience that can only be booked through your ship’s excursion desk. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the most popular cruise lines to offer this excursion.
Go off the Beaten Path in San Nicolas
San Nicolas, Aruba’s second-largest city and just 20 miles from Oranjestad, was a red-light district in the 1980s during its booming oil-refinery days. Times have changed, and that reputation has disappeared. Instead, you’ll find a weekly Carnival-style street party with authentic local food and festive costumes. There are also art boutiques, Aruban-food restaurants and bars set up for prime people watching.
Hold Beautiful Butterflies
More than a hundred butterflies, from local longwings to exotic South American blue morphos and even species from Asia, fly around the serene sanctuary that is The Butterfly Farm, a 25-minute ride from the port. The Butterfly Farm’s hands-on policy allows visitors to gently touch caterpillars or caress delicate cocoons.
Play at a Water Wonderland
When you have children in multiple age groups, finding activities that appeal to them all can be a challenge. Not so at private De Palm Island, a quick 15-minute ride from Oranjestad. This playground includes an all-you-can-eat buffet, snacks and beverages. A beautiful beach and blue sea attract snorkelers, kayakers and banana-boat lovers, plus the huge water tower with multiple slides means hours of fun for little kids. It’s easy to book this excursion through your ship.