Caribbean

Discovering Aruba, the Caribbean's "happy island" in the Kingdom of the NL

Ema Bakalova

Sep 4, 2023

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Eagle Beach in Aruba
Eagle Beach in Aruba

We planned the trip to Aruba the night before the flight. We wanted to spend the week in a topical destination, where we could both visit a new island in the Carribbean while still being able to spend most of our days working remotely and being productive. While the allure of revisiting familiar destinations is understandable, I love travelling to and exploring new places whenever possible. The opportunity to experience new environments and immerse myself in unfamiliar surroundings has played a huge role in my personal growth and discovery over the past few years.

Eagle Beach at sunset in Aruba
Eagle Beach at sunset in Aruba
Eagle Beach in Aruba

Fun fact

Aruba sits south of the hurricaine belt, therefore it's much safer to travel to during the hurricaine season. While many other Caribbean destinations have a wetter hurricane season, Aruba stays quite dry, with very little rainfall throughout the year.

Eagle Beach in Aruba

Fun fact

Aruba sits south of the hurricaine belt, therefore it's much safer to travel to during the hurricaine season. While many other Caribbean destinations have a wetter hurricane season, Aruba stays quite dry, with very little rainfall throughout the year.

West side vs east side of the island

Upon arriving in Aruba, I quickly noticed that it was more tourist-oriented than I had initially expected. We chose to stay near Eagle Beach for its reputation as one of the most stunning beaches on the island. It's a large beach, lining the west coast of the island, where the majority of the popular beaches are, including Eagle Beach and Palm Beach. This is primarily due to the fact there are calmer water conditions, and better overall conditions for swimming and water sports. The west coast is where you'll find the majority of the island's luxury resorts, high-rise hotels, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. The area is more developed and tourist-centric, offering a lively atmosphere with a focus on entertainment and shopping.

On the other hand, the east side of Aruba has a more rugged and untamed landscape. This part of the island is characterized by rocky shores, rugged terrain, and the water is much rougher. Since the water here tends to be rougher, it makes it less suitable for swimming but ideal for surfing or simply enjoying the natural beauty. The east coast is less developed and less populated, but is home to the huge Arikok National Park that takes up about 20% of the island.

Eagle Beach in Aruba

Where to stay

I would recommend staying near Eagle Beach in Aruba as it offers a slightly less crowded and more relaxed atmosphere compared to Palm Beach.

Staying near Eagle Beach in Aruba
Staying near Eagle Beach in Aruba
Staying near Eagle Beach in Aruba
Staying near Eagle Beach in Aruba
Staying near Eagle Beach in Aruba
Staying near Eagle Beach in Aruba

Morning runs on the island

Aruba offers excellent opportunities to stay active with your morning walks, runs, or bike rides. Our routine involved a morning run along J.E. Irausquin Blvd, which stretches alongside Eagle Beach and beyond, on the west side of the island. Notably, this was the first island where we encountered dedicated lanes for biking and running, separate from the main street. This definitely made it easier to stay active throughout the day.

Run next to the beach in Aruba

Run to a cafe

You can run to most of the popular cafes on the island by running down J.E. Irausquin Blvd. At the same time, you will be able to enjoy the scenic views of the beach on one side and the rows of large cacti on the other.

Run next to the beach in Aruba
Run next to the beach in Aruba

"And because life is too short for bad coffee - Some notable coffee shops to try are.."

Santos Coffee With Soul

Santos Coffee With Soul

Santo's was a great place to grab a coffee and have lunch. You can bring your laptop if you want to work, as they have indoor and outdoor seating.

Santos Coffee With Soul

Santos Coffee With Soul

Santo's was a great place to grab a coffee and have lunch. You can bring your laptop if you want to work, as they have indoor and outdoor seating.

Santos Coffee With Soul
Santos Coffee With Soul
Clover coffee + MarketPlace

Clover coffee + MarketPlace

Clover coffee had the best coffee on the island. Despite its small size, they served great coffee and offered a selection of health food and freshly baked goods.

Clover coffee + MarketPlace

Clover coffee + MarketPlace

Clover coffee had the best coffee on the island. Despite its small size, they served great coffee and offered a selection of health food and freshly baked goods.

Clover coffee + MarketPlace
Clover coffee + MarketPlace

Driving through Aruba

Upon arriving in Aruba, we arranged for a car rental at the airport. Arranged in advance, the driver met us at the airport and dropped off the rental car within a few minutes of our arrival. It was a very convenient, efficient and hassle-free process.

Optima Car Rentals Aruba

Renting a car

If you want to rent a car I recommend contacting this rental car agency. Their email is, info@optimarentacar.com, but the best way to get in touch is through Whatsapp: +297 592 4614

Optima Car Rentals Aruba

Renting a car

If you want to rent a car I recommend contacting this rental car agency. Their email is, info@optimarentacar.com, but the best way to get in touch is through Whatsapp: +297 592 4614

We enjoyed driving around Aruba, there is little traffic, and it takes about 45 minutes to drive from the north tip of the island to the south, which makes it easy to explore the whole island in a few days. A noteworthy detail about driving in Aruba is the absence of traffic lights, roundabouts exclusively manage the traffic. This allows for a consistent flow of traffic throughout the island, and you rarely have to come to a stop.

Driving to Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba
Driving to Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba
Driving to Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba
Driving to Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba
Driving to Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba
Driving to Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba

Mangel Halto Beach

We drove down the west coast of the island, with a mission to explore different beaches along the coast. From all the recommendations I received, Mangel Halto was said to be one of the island's "hidden gems," particularly renowned for its excellent snorkeling conditions.

Due to the calm water and the extensive rock formations and corals beneath the surface, it is the perfect environment for thriving marine life. There are great snorkeling opportunities by the shore, but if you're a more advanced swimmer, you can also swim outside the edge of the reef. This exposes you to much longer swims, so it shouldn't be done if you are not a good swimmer. But, venturing beyond the reef is where you'll discover the healthiest, most vibrant corals.

Sea Life at Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba

Good to know

For detailed information on the best snorkeling spots and directions to specific locations, consult this page.

Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba
Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba
Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba

Good to know

The water is full of sharp rocks, making walking difficult. Bring water shoes, or snorkling gear so that you can swim out deeper into the water comfortably. It is not a good beach for lounging.

Mangel Halto Beach in Aruba

Good to know

The water is full of sharp rocks, making walking difficult. Bring water shoes, or snorkling gear so that you can swim out deeper into the water comfortably. It is not a good beach for lounging.

Baby Beach

Prior to our arrival in Aruba, Baby Beach was already on our radar as a must-visit beach on the island. The beach is on the southern most tip of the island, and its light blue and clear waters is what sets itself apart from other beaches on the island. It is in the shape of a crescent, resembling a natural pool, and is sheltered by partially man made rock formations, that allows for the water to remain calm and gentle. It is actually one of the few naturally sheltered beaches on the island, and if you love to snorkel, the clear waters at Baby Beach are great for exploring.

The lagoon is home to an array of marine life, including colorful tropical fish, sting rays, and even some coral formations. We spotted large parrotfish swimming and jumping near the water's surface. It was amazing—you could actually swim among them if you found the right spot. You can find these rainbow patterned fish, along with a variety of others, swimming close to the corals just a few inches under the water.

Baby Beach in Aruba

Good to know

The shallow waters and calm lagoon make Baby Beach ideal for families with young children. The beach is very popular though, so it is very busy throughout the day.

Baby Beach in Aruba
Baby Beach in Aruba

Arikok National Park

Arikok National Park covers approximately 20% of the island of Aruba. It's a significant portion of the island's landmass and plays a crucial role in preserving and showcasing the island's unique natural and cultural heritage. The park is home to a variety of wildlife and plants endemic to Aruba, making it an important conservation area for the island. It is known for its diverse range of landscapes, including a rugged coastline and a desert-like terrain, making it a popular destination for people who want to experience unique cactus forests, the desert, and deep sand dunes.

We spent the day in the national park, beginning with a drive through cactus forests and winding roads, making our way to the desert lookouts, natural caves and rock formations and the Conchi Natural Pools.

Conchi Natural Pools

How to get to Conchi Natural Pools, the untraditional way

Visit my post about how to get to the Conchi Natural Pools. It highlights how to get there, as well as how to navigate the route if you decide to hike to the pools.

Conchi Natural Pools

How to get to Conchi Natural Pools, the untraditional way

Visit my post about how to get to the Conchi Natural Pools. It highlights how to get there, as well as how to navigate the route if you decide to hike to the pools.

Drive to Boca Prins (Northern Loop) in the Arikok National Park in Aruba
Drive to Boca Prins (Northern Loop) in the Arikok National Park in Aruba

Drive to Boca Prins (Northern Loop)

The Northern Loop is a scenic drive that takes you along Aruba's rugged northeast coastline, offering stunning views of the rocky shoreline and waters below. The journey starts from the Arikok National Park visitor center. We were advised to complete the northern loop first, before embarking on the trip to the natural pools. As the initial points of interest are conveniently located along the same road and in the same direction, exploring this route first is more convenient before heading to the pools, accessed from the opposite side of the park. The first stop on your drive along the Northern loop is Boca Prins. Composed of large limestone formations, you will find a small beach, that spans a mere 55 meters, situated within the Boca Prins Bay.

Once you park your car and approach the cliff's edge, you're greeted by expansive desert landscapes, a vast expanse of seemingly untouched land. With few people around, the sense of standing in the uninhabited desert was heightened. The Boca Prins Bay is surrounded by cliffs along Aruba's eastern coastline.

Boca Prins in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Note

Boca Prins is not safe for swimming. Do not attempt to swim on snorkle here because of the rough waves and underwater currents.

Boca Prins in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Good to know

The desert heat is intense. Temperatures can rise beyond 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 40 degrees Celsius). I recommend driving an enclosed car with AC.

Boca Prins in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Good to know

The desert heat is intense. Temperatures can rise beyond 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 40 degrees Celsius). I recommend driving an enclosed car with AC.

Boca Prins in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Boca Prins in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Boca Prins in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Drive through Arikok, the cactus forest

One of my favorite things about the National Park were the drives through the cactus lined roads. The diverse physical appearances and growth patterns of the cacti complement each other, allowing them to collectively flourish in the arid conditions typical of desert landscapes. We took a very slow drive through the park, since the bumpy, winding road naturally made us slow down, encouraging us to take a closer look out the window.

Driving through Arikok National Park in Aruba
Driving through Arikok National Park in Aruba
Cactai in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Cactai in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Cactai in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Cactai in Arikok National Park in Aruba

The Cactus

Tall, thin cacti like the Saguaro or Organ Pipe Cactus have a columnar, tree-like structure with slender upright stems and often have thick branching arms. Their ribbed stems allow for expansion and contraction based on water availability, aided by deep taproots that help reach water sources deep within the soil. These cacti are known for the spines along their ribs, adapting to their arid environment.

In contrast, small, rounded leaf cacti such as the Barrel Cactus or Prickly Pear usually have a compact, globe-like shape with thick, fleshy stems, and shallow, widespread roots that allow them to quickly absorb water from rain and dew. Some, like the prickly pear, possess flat rounded pads that are modified stems. Despite their differences, both types showcase vibrant flowers and fruits, each adapted to thrive in arid environments through distinct features in their physical structures and growth habits. Both types of cacti minimize water loss by evolving spines (in the case of tall cacti) or having modified stems (in rounded leaf cacti), to mitigate evaporation.

Cactai Forest in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Cactai Forest in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Fontein Cave

The next stop after Boca Prins were the caves, Fontein and Quadriki Cave. We first stopped at Fontein Cave, that is otherwise referred to as the Huliba Cave. The entrance to the cave is easily accessible, with no steep steps to climb, so you can walk right in at ground level. The cave has very impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations that you can walk through as you explore the inside. The interior of the cave is relatively well lit, and you can see ancient Arawak Indian petroglyphs that are drawn on the walls, estimated to be around 1,000 years old.

Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Quadirikiri Cave

Guadiriki Cave, also known as Quadiriki Cave, is notable for its unique skylight openings that allow natural light to illuminate the interior of the cave. This results in a unique play of light and shadow on the walls as you walk throughout the cave. It is a more adventurous experience, because it is much darker (completely dark in most areas), much deeper, and the ground is much more uneven than the previous cave.

Unlike Fontein Cave, accessing Quadiriki is slightly harder because you need to climb steep steps that lead you to a higher point to enter the cave, as opposed to the ground-level entrance of Fontein. The cave has striking formations, including large chambers and beautiful limestone formations. The skylights, formed by collapsed sections of the cave ceiling are home to hundreds of bats that you will see flying around as you walk through.

Bats in the Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Funny fact

Growing up in Toronto, I would visit the bat caves at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). As a child, this replicated experience seemed like the scariest thing. It's fascinating to now experience the authentic version many years later.

Bats in the Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Funny fact

Growing up in Toronto, I would visit the bat caves at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). As a child, this replicated experience seemed like the scariest thing. It's fascinating to now experience the authentic version many years later.

Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba
Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Guadiriki Cave features a variety of large and small chambers that widen and shrink as you move deeper inside. Guided tours are often available, allowing you to learn about the cave's formations, history, and other significant facts. Otherwise, exploring the cave independently was really enjoyable, and it added elements of uncertainty that were exciting. You don't need to book a tour to enjoy it!

Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park in Aruba

Good to know

I would recommend bringing a flashlight with you to the caves. The deeper you go, the less light there is, and most of the cave is in complete darkness.

Guadiriki Cave in the Arikok National Park in Aruba
Guadiriki Cave in the Arikok National Park in Aruba
Guadiriki Cave in the Arikok National Park in Aruba
Guadiriki Cave in the Arikok National Park in Aruba
Guadiriki Cave in the Arikok National Park in Aruba

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