Aruba is a diverse island, known for its crystal clear water, stark desert views, and sharp volcanic rock formations. It’s an island of warm smiles and friendly greetings of “Bon Bini” (“Welcome”).
Amazing as it is, it can also be pricey, so if you want an affordable, enjoyable trip, you’ll need to do your homework.
Thanks to the island’s natural beauty, you won’t have to work hard to find great, inexpensive activities, like a day at the beach, a picnic in the park, and walks along the coast.
- Eagle Beach, Aruba’s largest beach, has miles of white sand. The beach is just outside of Oranjestad, with plenty of hotels nearby. You’ll find huts for shade and plenty of parking, and you can reach Eagle Beach by bus, car, or taxi. Trip Advisor ranked Eagle Beach #3 in its Top 25 Beaches in the World.
- Druif Beach is a calm, white-sand beach close to Oranjestad. Its calm conditions for swimming make it a family friendly beach, and you can get there easily by bus, rental car, or taxi. The beach is backed by some low-rise hotels, so food and drinks are available within an easy distance.
- Palm Beach offers powder-white sand and calm waters. It is the main beach in front of several big-name resorts, so don’t visit this beach for solitude. Instead, enjoy the great swimming and easy access by bus, car, and taxi. You’ll find plenty of options for food, drink, and restrooms nearby.
- Baby Beach is your top option for snorkeling or swimming. The water is shallow, and conditions are calm. The beach has tiki huts for shade and offers bathrooms. You can get here by bus, taxi, or car.
- Bachelor’s Beach is an outstanding white-sand beach where you can watch windsurfers – or windsurf yourself. However, it’s not a good swimming beach. The beach can be reached by taxi and by car, but there are no facilities available there.
Exploring the Natural and Historical Beauty of Aruba
Arikok National Park offers 20 miles of hiking trails, as well as camping and four wheeling. If you’re interested in archaeology, you’ll enjoy a stop at the Fontein Cave, where you can view Arawak Indian pictographs on the cave walls. Also, check out the Quadirikiri Cave and Prins Bay, where you’ll find sandy beaches and rock formations. Dos Playa is the place for surfing, bodyboarding, camping, and picnicking within the park.
California Lighthouse has great views of the coast and desert landscape. Nearby sits El Faro Blanco, with great Italian food and a view of the ocean. This lighthouse will be a stop on many off-road Jeep tours.
Bubali Bird Sanctuary hosts 80 species of birds, and admission is free!
Alto Vista Chapel offers a beautiful spot for contemplation and prayer. The chapel is small but pretty, and a rock labyrinth awaits across the street with a view of the coast. If you take one of the off-road Jeep tours this chapel should be on your route.
Numismatic Museum includes a collection of over 33,000 coins, some dating back as early as 400 BC. The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm on weekdays and Saturday from 8 am to noon. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults and free for children.
For those who enjoy watching windsurfers, the Aruba Hi-Winds Windsurfing Competition is held annually on Aruba’s coast.
Caibari & Ayo Rock Formations
Rock formations are unusual on the relatively flat island of Aruba, but you can see and explore the Casibari Rock Formation if you drive just north of Hooiburg. Some of the rocks weigh several tons and have unusual forms. The government of Aruba has created walking trails around the boulders and steps through some boulders, so you can experience the sweeping views of Aruba.
Moreover, the Ayo Rock Formations located near Ayo village, are ancient rock formations that were used in religious ceremonies by the Arikok Indians in religious ceremonies, who are credited with drawing the petroglyphs. There is no admission to see the Ayo Rock Formations, and they are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
Wishing Stones are beautiful towers of smooth flat rocks that line the northern coast of Aruba at Wishing Stone Beach. From a distance they look like part of the coastal rock formations. It’s only up close that you’ll see the individual flat gray black rocks forming towers of wishes.
Anyone can create a wishing stone tower, but locals ask that you create new rock towers out of rocks that are loose on the ground, rather than disturb one that someone else lovingly created.
Splurges Worth Spending On
Dine Around Program
If you are looking to enjoy fine dining while on Aruba, then consider purchasing a Dine Around plan. Dining can be expensive on Aruba, but these plans offer three, five, or seven meals at one of several fine dining restaurants. The plans include an appetizer, entrée, dessert, and coffee. Plans start at $117 per person.
Off-Road Jeep Tours
In my opinion, an off-road Jeep tour of Aruba’s outback is a must. When you take the wheel, you will experience firsthand the Northern coastline, with its stark volcanic rock formations and desert landscape set against the backdrop of clear turquoise Caribbean water. There are few places that offer such diversity in the Caribbean. All the while, you’ll be bouncing along deeply rutted roads and feeling the rush of the wind through your hair.
If you’re worried about getting lost, have no fear; you’ll be following a guide in a lead Jeep. Your guide will talk to you through a PA system connected to your Jeep, so you’ll learn about the island as you drive. The off-road Jeep tours allow you several stops to check out sites and take photographs. You can also switch drivers and let a companion take a turn behind the wheel.
Tours range in price from around $75 to $97, depending on the length of time and the destinations. My tour lasted a few hours and included lunch and cold drinks. See ABC Aruba Tours for more information.
Marriott Renaissance Island
This is hands down my favorite beach escape on Aruba. It’s part of the Marriott Renaissance Aruba Resort property, but anyone can enjoy a day on the 40-acre Renaissance Island by buying a $75 day pass. Day passes include the water taxi to and from the island, lunch, an alcoholic beverage, and a float raft or snorkel gear. You can buy passes at the Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad during the low season.
You’ll reach the island by water taxi from the resort in Oranjestad, and you’ll enjoy quiet relaxation, hammocks on the beach, water sports, and a walking path. There are two beaches, one is for families and the other is adults only. You can feed the iguanas, and you will see pink flamingos walk around on the adults-only beach. The island has a casual restaurant/bar, an ocean view spa hut, and a fitness center and tennis courts.
Culture and Food
An enjoyable way to keep costs low is to dine on local specialties like the Pastechi, a traditional meat pie with spices and cheese. Pastechis are a cheap, hearty snack, and you can find them at restaurants and shops all over the island. You should also try the island’s other best products, including Pica de Papaya, a hot sauce made of locally grown green papaya, and coconut candy. Tamarind balls are another island favorite, but these seem to be an acquired taste with their spicy heat; one bite was enough for me. Aruba’s food festivals give you easy opportunities to sample plenty of local favorites.
Bon Bini Festival
The Bon Bini Festival is held weekly at Fort Zoutman in Oranjestad. On Tuesday nights, from 7 to 9 pm, this festival is your chance to learn about Aruban music, food, and culture.
Aruba Culinary Festival
On the first Monday of every month, the Aruba Culinary Festival takes place at the Divi Links from 6 to 9 pm. Tickets are $18, and they include four food tickets and two wine tickets or four soft drink tickets. Food tickets cover the different foods that are available at the evening event.
Previous selections have included: fresh-caught fish in a Creole sauce served with local cornbread, Chicken Keshi Yena (a local Aruban dish), and rack of lamb with roasted potatoes. You’ll also find a selection of desserts and wines, along with entertainment from artists and musicians from around Aruba.
A Taste of Belgium
A Taste of Belgium allows you to explore the flavors of Aruba’s ties to Europe through delicious chocolate and desserts. The chocolaterie is found in the lower level of an upscale mall on the main street in Oranjestad. They have café seating and an outstanding selection of chocolates, truffles, cakes, and Belgium waffles.
Aruba Eats: Affordable Restaurants
This beach bar called Bugaloe’s provides a perfect view of the sunset, and if it’s not time for the sunset, you’ll enjoy people watching since it’s on Palm Beach near several hotels. They have great food and a kicked-back ambiance that is clearly Aruban.
In the evenings they offer live music. Sandwiches cost around $7, while salads and wraps are between $8 and $10. Dinners, served after 5 pm, are much more expensive, running $18 to $22. This was my favorite place to enjoy the view and have a sandwich.
With European food at reasonable prices, DeSuikertain features a beautiful, shaded, courtyard seating area. Breakfast choices include yogurt smoothies with fruit, omelets, and Dutch pancakes with fruit. Many breakfast options are priced between $5 and $7, but you can find more expensive options too. Lunch options include salads, homemade soups, and baguette sandwiches.
Sandwiches run around $5 to $8, soups $5, and salads $11. In addition to an appealing atmosphere and great food, the restaurant offers free Wi-Fi.
Hot Take Away
This is a hole in the wall in Oranjestad, with BBQ chicken and ribs – great food at cheap prices. They have mashed potatoes and other side dishes too. You’ll leave with a carry-out container filled to the brim. Prices are around $8.
Their Cuban sandwiches get rave reviews and they offer several Cuban-style sandwiches for $9, while soups come in at $6. Salads are more expensive, priced from $8 to $16. The restaurant has been in business for nine years, with great music and over 200 pieces of Cuban and island art on the walls. Cuba’s Cookin is now located in the open air mall next to the Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad.
The Pastechi House
Located downtown in Oranjestad, on Main Street, this little shop was voted the #1 Pastechi spot on Aruba. It’s the place to taste delicious half-moon pies filled with local meat and spices. For just a few dollars each, Pastechis come filled with a variety of meats or cheese and spices; they are deep-fried and served warm.
El Faro Blanco
This is a perfect location for a romantic meal, with a view overlooking the coast and ocean. El Faro Blanco is near the California Lighthouse, a taxi ride from Oranjestad. It is worth the effort to get here for the great Italian food, ambiance, and sunset view. Seating is mostly on open-air covered patios, and with the view, that is exactly where you want to be.
Cheap Aruba Accommodations
One Cool Family Program
For four months (June 1 to September 30), a group of Aruban resorts offer the One Cool Family Program, including 16 hotels and discounts on activities, rental cars, and Jeep tours around the island. It’s one sweet deal: Some resorts feature free stays for kids under 12, some give free stays to guests up to age 17, and one hotel includes free breakfast for all. Red Sail Tours and Mi Dushi Tours have free half-day snorkel tours for kids with a paid adult (some restrictions apply). For additional details, call (800) TO-ARUBA.
Coral Reef Beach Aruba Hostel
With 96% ratings on Hostelworld.com, Coral Reef has private double and single rooms with an en suite bath. You’ll face some challenges though: They require a three-night minimum stay with full payment at the time of booking, and they have a 24-hour cancellation policy.
The prices for a deluxe twin room with en suite and a private twin en suite came in at $39 and $43, respectively. They also offer a studio apartment with an ocean view for $39 per person, per night. The studio sleeps two and has a kitchen and en suite bath. The hostel provides Internet access and a swimming pool.
Club Arias Aruba
This bed and breakfast offers several different accommodations with the cheapest (The Nook) coming in at $75 a night in the off-season and $115 during the high season. This is a single room with a queen bed, television, air conditioning, and a half bath. Guests in the Nook have the use of an outdoor shower, and breakfast costs an additional $15. The accommodations look very attractive and their website offers a video clip of each room. The B&B also has Wi-Fi, a pool, beach chairs, towels, DVD movies, games, and free lemonade and water stations.
Wheels and Deals on Aruba
I found a couple of Aruba rental car deals through Expedia. The first was through Europcar: a one-week rental of a compact car with automatic transmission for $207. For a slightly bigger option, a mid-sized stick-shift vehicle came to $226 for the week
Travelocity offered a one-week Aruba deal with Budget, including an economy car with manual transmission priced at $191. Look carefully before booking a rental vehicle so there are no unexpected surprises when you arrive at your destination. For example, I noticed that Payless required a shuttle to reach the car rental counter.
Flight Deals to Aruba
Using some online flight aggregators, I found a great deal that included one checked bag on American Airlines for $606. This was a round-trip ticket departing from Chicago on September 20 and returning September 27. The trip includes a connection in Miami and then on to Aruba.
For those on the East Coast, I found a flight on Continental Airlines, including one checked bag, for $511 out of BWI with a connection in Newark. For West Coasters, I found a deal flying out of Los Angeles on American Airlines for $635 with a connection in Miami.
Those layovers were only around two hours each. Through my searches I did discover a cheaper flight, but it had a nine-hour layover. On that note, I recommend that you check the ticket details and layovers carefully before purchasing any ticket.
It may sound expensive at first, but Aruba is a beautiful island and you can afford a fantastic trip there. If you plan it right, it’s a fun and inexpensive family destination, or a great couples escape. Whether you have a few days, or a week or more, you will enjoy the unexpected, stark, and beautiful scenery set against stunning Caribbean beaches.
If you are a history buff, you’ll enjoy exploring the historical Arikok Indian sites. Those who thirst for adventure will love Aruba’s Northern coast. Aruba offers a little something for everyone, and now you’re ready for a budget-friendly trip.
Have you ever been on the island of Aruba? What were some of your favorite activities and sights on a budget?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)