Where do I even start? Aruba has so much to offer that I would need to stay at least two weeks to see and do it all. From the beaches to the desert lands, Aruba has a little bit of something for everyone for only 20 miles long. and 6 miles. Aruba is that place that makes you fall in love instantly and never want to leave. No lie, we met so many people that extended their stay by weeks because of how much they love the one happy island. If our daughter was with us when we went, there is a good chance we would have extended our stay as well.
Before I go any further, I want to share a common myth I heard before going to Aruba and continue to hear to this day from clients. "Sara, isn't Aruba super expensive?" When it comes to Aruba and how expensive the island is, it all depends on how focused you are on not spending an arm and a leg. Trust me, Aruba can be expensive, but I have found a way to explore the island on a budget. (Actually, any destination can "break the bank," and this is good travel advice for anywhere.)
The first tip for staying within budget is to know what your budget is. And I mean, have a specific number that you do not want to go over. Throughout your trip, keep counting your money to know if you are getting close to hitting that budget. If so, calculate how much you can spend each day and don't go over that amount. You may need to eat sandwiches the last few days before going home, but anything is worth it to see this beautiful island.
Secondly, use cash. It is something new I have been trying and has helped me tremendously in staying within budget. The first time I went to Aruba, I had roughly $500 and spent less than that, which shocked me. I mean, once the cash is gone, it's gone, right?! (If doing cash-only, keep an eye out for businesses that only accept debit/credit cards due to COVID. There was only one restaurant, Passion on the Beach, that didn't accept cash.) To not use up your cash when first arriving, I highly recommend packing your bags WITHOUT thinking, "I'll buy this there."
It is a dangerous game to play when visiting any destination as you don't know what the prices will look like for everyday items. I take everything I can think of, including medicine, laundry detergent, and a laundry bag, to ensure I don't have many one-off purchases. (If you take Tide Podz in a tuber ware container, TSA will search the bag. I know from personal experience.) Another item to figure out before leaving is to plan on snorkeling, where you will get the snorkel gear from if not bringing your own. Thankfully for us, our Airbnb host rented out snorkel gear which I asked before we left.
An obvious way to keep the cost down is to visit as many beaches as possible, which is not a hard thing to do in Aruba. Head to the grocery store, Super Foods, before heading to the beach and pick up some items to make sandwiches. When you are at the grocery store, or any store, before picking up items, LOOK AT THE PRICES. While this may seem silly to some, you would be surprised at how many people pick items up because they are on vacation. Super Foods will show you the AFL (florin) price and the US price. Some items like water bottles are more expensive than you would think, so looking at the prices can make a difference when looking at your total on groceries.
When we visited Baby Beach, we found the perfect spot to lay our towels located right under a giant tree. Trees in Aruba lean in the southwest direction because of the trade winds blowing from the northeast. Baby Beach is a famous beach amongst tourists because of the white sand and crystal clear blue water. The first time visiting, a turtle was swimming around in the water, barely to my knees yet. There is a restaurant within short walking distance which is an excellent way to break away from the blazing sun. Their grilled chicken sandwich is delightful even though I took less than six bites. (We were going bob snorkeling in a few hours and didn't want to go out there with a full stomach. Last time I got extremely nauseous from the waves crashing in on top of me.) The restaurant does serve people on the beach, but only to the people who rent a beach canopy from a local renting them out. I am not sure the canopies' price as we knew we would hop beaches soon and didn't want to spend the money. Again, stay budget-focused.
My top favorite beach must be across the street from the Airbnb we stayed in Mangel Halto beach. My favoritism could be partly due to waking up to the sight of the crystal turquoise water and being able to go snorkeling every single morning. Not only was I determined to go snorkeling every morning, but there was a shipwreck, Kappel shipwreck, within swimming distance at this beach. Goal #2, make it to that shipwreck. One of the days we were there, I went snorkeling alone and attempted to swim out to the shipwreck. In the end, I didn’t make it to the shipwreck, but I can say I am super proud of myself for making it to the anchor before deciding it wasn’t safe to continue alone. Between the rough waters, swimming into what looked like a black hole, I knew I was too far and getting too tired to try and achieve this goal without Matt.
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Some other beaches we visited were Eagle Beach and Boca Catalina. Eagle Beach is one of the most popular beaches, with many restaurants along the ocean offering frozen drinks. It's those kinds of places you imagine when someone says it's five o'clock somewhere. Many of these beaches have fun activities that you can partake in by merely walking up and paying. We saw a ton of huts along the beach for jet skis, boat rides, parasailing, and so much more.
When looking for places to eat, let me share with you some of the top places we tried. Across the street from Palm Beach Plaza Mall is a restaurant that offers unlimited mimosas for only $19.99, and do they keep the drinks coming! It's called Dushi Bagels and Burgers. They have vegan options, also known as the "un-fun" menu. (A server called it the un-fun menu.) I had their grilled chicken sandwich, which came with gouda cheese and was incredibly delicious! Before leaving, I saw a sign that they have music on certain days, but we never got a chance to go back.
Another restaurant to try in Aruba is Passion on the Beach. Wonder if they were following along with the “sex on the beach” saying. This place offers you a front-row seat to the ocean that I have never experienced before. I mean feet in the sand with the ocean being steps away. I recommend making reservations right before the sun goes down to watch the sunset over the ocean while sipping on some cocktails. Reservations are needed to eat here. When we went, we just walked up to the restaurant at nighttime, and thankfully they were not busy, and the host made the reservation for us. Have to say that is the first time eating filet mignon with having sand between my toes. (Yes, this place is quite expensive, and we knew this would be a one-time-only thing.)
One thing I crave when visiting a tropical destination is fresh seafood. And I mean fresh as freshly possible, like just crawled out of the water fresh. The place to go is Daily Fish who offers such an array of options to choose from. So far, I have tried wahoo, lionfish, tuna, salmon, shrimp the size of my foot, red snapper, and a few more. This seafood market will also cook the fish for you, which is excellent for the people like me who cannot cook worth anything. The food is seasoned to perfection, and if you upgrade the meal to a combo, it comes with coleslaw and potato wedges. (Sometimes, they run out of potato wedges and substitute for french fries.) Seriously, you will not be disappointed! Between my first and second trip to Aruba, I have been to Daily Fish probably six times or so. It is one of those places that offers the lowest of the low price for such fresh seafood. Every time we paid and told the total, I was shocked at the price given. Unheard of back in the US.
Now for the fun activities...
If looking for a rush and thrill all in one, let me tell you about bob snorkeling with Seabob Aruba! (@seabobaruba_offical) If you are reading this and wondering what in the heck is bob snorkeling, let me try to explain it. (Picture below just in case my explanation makes no sense.) Bob snorkeling is where you go snorkeling under the water while driving/controlling a mini jet. I was able to control the speed and direction of this machine. And an expensive machine at that, roughly $14,000 for one of these.
It was my second-time bob snorkeling with Seabob Aruba, and I got to tour with Leo the first round. Leo provided such knowledge about the island and what we saw during the tour, which included seeing the Antilla shipwreck. For never seeing a shipwreck under the water, let me say this was an experience I will never forget. Almost like I can’t even put into words how incredible it was to swim upon this vast, gigantic boat that had red and yellow fishes swimming all around it. Even had a turtle inside the shipwreck, according to Leo. That was too deep of a dive for me. And then we snorkeled near the California lighthouse, where Leo explained the history of this lighthouse and how it came to be.
We first heard of bob snorkeling from The Bucketlist Family and knew we wanted to buy a pair one day. (Aim high with your goals, right?!) So, when I found bob snorkeling in Aruba, I got to research. Once I tried it, I knew I had to return with Matt to bob snorkel with him in the Aruba waters. And you know how I know he loved it? Right when we got out of the water, he looked at me and said, “we are getting some of those babes.” The seriousness on his face said it all, and who could resist this request. For my second round, our tour guide was Tonie. He is one of those guys you meet and instantly knows he loves his island. He played with the locals while Matt and I were getting a few tests runs in and could even hear the kids laughing from a reasonable distance away. He also counted that this was my second time with them and asked if it was okay not to do the same course since I had seen it all already. I thought this was a sweet gesture on him.
If interested in bob snorkeling in Aruba, I only recommend Seabob Aruba. Book the morning tours as the later ones run a risk of not having good visibility in the water. Tour guides will take a ton of photos and some videos, which you can purchase for $40. Before purchasing, they allow you to look at all the photos and make sure you feel comfortable paying the $40. The first time I went, Leo took over 250 photos, and Tonie took over 450 photos, so I got my money's worth of photos and videos. It is one of those experiences I will always chase the high I got after bob snorkeling both times!
Traveling for me is a way to try new things that I wouldn't usually try at home. While some people may say, "you can do that in the US," the motivation to try the new activity is not home. And that's the difference for me. So while in Aruba, we decided to go on an ATV tour to explore more of the lands.
One of the things we did that I can look back on and say that I will never forget my first time on an ATV. (In Aruba at that!) We booked with Kini Kini Transfer & Tours. From what I could tell when researching, they offered the best price with the most stops for a 4-hour duration. Seeing how I have never been on an ATV before, I was so nervous until we started driving off. Thankfully you start on the smooth paved road. Matt drove the whole time as I didn't feel like my natural reaction to something would be the best decision for our lives. Once I told Matt this, he wasn't going to let me drive and probably never will.
Before going any further about our time during this tour, let me say if you are looking to do ATVs in Aruba, book with Kini Kini Transfer & Tours. From the time you walk on the property, the staff treats each guest with open arms and reassurance you are in for a time of your life. Times are different for them when use to having tours of 60+ people to now hopefully getting eight or so in a group. When I heard this, my heart went out to them. I felt this. Knowing this upfront made me realize how each interaction with us meant the world to them because they need tourists like ourselves to go about their lives and support their families.
During our tour, we had two guides Alex and Pincho. Pincho led the way throughout the whole tour, and Alex made sure the line stayed together. Simultaneously, Alex held cars back when going through roundabouts (which Aruba has roundabout like we have stoplights, no lie). He provided us the history at each location we stopped. We spoke with Alex more as we were at the end of the line, where he drove most of the time. (FYI, this company has contests for tours with them, so check their Instagram out at @kinikinitours.)
Some of the stops we made were at:
-Alto Vista Chapel
-Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins
-Small Natural Pool (Cave Pool-Boca)
I cannot forget to share with ya'll is that Alex helped me and others at the natural cave pool. Getting to the jumping point was no joke for someone who had never done this before and forgot my swimming socks to be able to walk on the rough, edgy rocks. Alex helped me know where to jump and even how to jump in the water. You can tell he knows what he is doing and seemed to enjoy helping people in general. So, Alex, if you are reading this, THANK YOU! Alex, your kind-hearted ways will be shared with all my travel clients traveling to Aruba to do tours with Kini Kini Transfer and Tours. I did something I would probably have never done because of you, and not sure I would even do it again.
And there you have it, folks, the top items I would recommend to anyone traveling to Aruba. Be prepared to fall in love and never want to leave because this is like heaven on earth. Aruba is that place I could visit every year and seem to run out of time to see and do it all.