Any globetrotter who’s booking a trip to Aruba knows what this decision ensues: ultimate Caribbean pleasure, pampering, passion, pizazz and price tags.
Although these vacation needs are easily fulfilled while leisuring around the resort and touristy areas, visitors ought to know that there is another fascinating world to be discovered just a few steps away from their all inclusive comfort zone.
While Aruba’s Palm Beach strip is dotted with top of the bill resorts, lively beach bars, the latest water sport facilities, kiosks, sunbathers, swimmers, joggers and strollers, other local beaches like Arashi, Baby Beach or Eagle Beach offer the same pristine waters and soft white sands in a more tranquil environment.
There is no need to wonder, find your favorite spot in the sun – access to all the beaches on this island is free of charge. And so are many natural and historical attractions like the Quadirikiri Caves, Alto Vista Chapel or the Bushiribana Gold Smelter Ruins.
Exploring the island of Aruba can be achieved in a number of ways. Off-roading trips in 4×4 jeeps or Quad racers are among the popular tours, but also horseback riding, sailing and snorkeling are great options to discover more about this destination. For those wanting to dig a little deeper into the island’s culture and history, the Aruba Aloe Factory and Museum offers a complementary tour of the Aloe Vera industry and background. Find out more about Aruba’s free attractions in the list below.
At a mere 541 feet, this is not Aruba’s highest peak, but Hooiberg is the most accessible climb on the island with its five hundred and sixty two steps (count them). Save this climb for a clear day since you will be able to see all the way to the coast of Venezuela. Hooiberg means “haystack” in Dutch, but its the Hooibergite rock found on this volcanic formation that gave this hill its name. From Oranjestad take highway 7-A toward Santa Cruz, or take a cab drive or island tour in case you’re not up for an adventurous hill hunt. Whatever the plan, the Hooiberg is a worthwhile discovery.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Hooiberg has a concrete staircase leading to the top of the hill and breathtaking views overlooking the island.
Liliana’s expert tip: Visit Hooiberg early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid overheating while climbing.
Bubali Bird Sanctuary – a former wastewater treatment facility – is a vast wetland with rich ecosystems that nurture a great variety of resident and migratory bird species. Herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks and fish eagles are just a couple of celebrities to spot while visiting the (locally known as) Bubali Plas. Conveniently located near Aruba’s high rise area in Noord, active and non-active birders can easily access this expansive habitat by vehicle or on foot. There’s a small dirt road across from The Mill Resort leading to the main entrance and observation tower. And the best part: all this gorgeous plumage is free and available twenty-four-seven!
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Bubali Bird Sanctuary is a perfect outdoor activity for all ages and it’s a free, and fascinating feature of Aruba’s flora and fauna.
Liliana’s expert tip: Don’t forget to bring your binoculars and camera.
This museum, factory and store in one, is a must-visit for everyone interested in Aruba’s history as world’s largest exporter of the aloe vera plant. By taking a fifteen minute tour, visitors will learn about the island’s aloe industry past and present, the production process of this natural remedy and the many health benefits that can be achieved by using aloe vera preparations, both orally or topically. Find out everything there is to know about Aruba’s aloe background, tour guides are available in English, Dutch, Spanish and native language Papiamento. Dig deeper into the island’s soil and feel the heal.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Aruba Aloe Factory & Museum offers a free tour devoted to Aruba’s aloe vera industry and history.
Liliana’s expert tip: Visit the Aruba Aloe Shop for a wide selection of unique gift ideas, including beautifying and healing aloe vera products and packages.
In the mid-19th century, Aruba experienced a gold rush and small mines were built throughout the countryside. The gold smelter ruins at Bushiribana is still visible and serves as a reminder of Aruba’s golden years that started in 1824 with a golden nugget found by a local boy called Willem Rasmijn. The gold smelter at Bushiribana was built in 1825 by Aruba Island Gold Mining Company and is still admired till this day for its ancient construction techniques where natural stones were skillfully carved and stacked without the use of mortar to bind them. The impressive backdrop of the northeast coastline is yet another draw, attracting passers-by, photographers, all kinds of sightseers.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Bushiribana offers a glimpse into Aruba’s gold mining history plus the unruined beauty of Aruba’s northeast scenery.
Liliana’s expert tip: For more information about Aruba’s gold mining industry, or a horseback riding adventure to explore the area, visit the The Gold Mine Ranch nearby.
Years of pounding waves carved amazing natural formations out of the coral limestone, along Aruba’s wild northern coastline. The first and most popular Natural Bridge was 25 feet high and 100 feet long, attracting and inspiring a multitude of sightseers from all over the world. Although it collapsed in 2005, this is still an all time favorite spot for many visitors, especially because of the newest member of one of nature’s miracles nearby: the Baby Bridge. There’s a small cafe selling local snacks for impromptu picnics, and a souvenir shop offering reasonably priced mementos of your visit. Nevertheless, one of the biggest draws here are the impressive ocean cliff views.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Natural Bridge has been Aruba’s number one attraction for years until it collapsed, leaving a Baby Bridge behind as its substitute.
Liliana’s expert tip: Stacking stones along the coastline is not a local tradition nor a wish-granting activity that should be encouraged. Locals appreciate your respect for nature.
Ayo Rock Formations is located to the northeast of Hooiberg and just a couple of minutes away from Aruba’s Donkey Sanctuary and Casibari â” another popular but more crowded spot to explore the island’s unique collection of massive diorite boulders. What makes Ayo a unique location is the tranquility of its surroundings, that create a sense of awe and an understanding of why the area was once considered a sacred site by the island’s original inhabitants. This natural preserve features some of the oldest Indian drawings and modern pathways have been constructed in order to help visitors better explore this ancient site, while strolling through towering rocks and Aruba’s unique variety of flora and fauna.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Ayo Rock Formations is less crowded than the more touristy Casibari.
Liliana’s expert tip: Watch your step and your head!
Two of Aruba’s most exciting sites are the Quadirikiri and Fontein caves. Both are part of the island’s National Park Arikok, but only the Quadirikiri caves are free to access without park entrance fees, because of its separate location (outside the official Arikok Park boundaries). And while Fontein cave is exceptional for its broad collection of ancient indian paintings, Quadirikiri provides wonderful opportunities for unique photos, thanks to its two chambers that allow filtered sunlight to enter. Travel along the 100 foot tunnel if you are adventurous, but do it peacefully â” hundreds of (harmless) bats make their home here.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Quadirikiri and Fontein Caves are perfect samples of Aruba’s natural, cultural and historical heritage.
Liliana’s expert tip: While or before visiting the caves at National Park Arikok, ask a park ranger for information on Aruba’s bats. Aruba is known for its tropical climate and columnar cacti. However, less is known about the importance of bats for the survival of the island’s ecosystem.
“Travel + Leisure” magazine named this stretch of powdery soft white sand, one of the “10 Best Beaches in the World.” This public beach offers plenty of parking, shady picnic areas and palapa huts. Swimming is wonderful here and local hotels can set you up with equipment for water sports or other beach activities. There are also facilities right on the beach, if you want to book a skiing trip, a jet ski or banana boat ride on the spot. If you prefer a more peaceful and secluded area to spend your day on this beach, pick one of the seagrape trees on the far end of Eagle Beach and decorate it with well-packed beach bags, towels and a cool box full of ice cold beer.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Eagle Beach is as attractive as any of Aruba’s favorite beaches, only a bit more secluded than for example, Palm Beach or Arashi.
Liliana’s expert tip: Start at Eagle Beach and stroll along Aruba’s western shore to visit the different beaches and resorts on your way.
Established more than 250 years ago by the Indians and the Spanish, Alto Vista is often called the Pilgrim’s Church, but is known officially as Our Lady of Alto Vista. The chapel was the island’s first Roman Catholic Church, built in 1750 and reconstructed in 1953. As the name Alto (High) Vista (View) suggests, the chapel is set on a cliff looking out across the moving Caribbean Sea. A small, winding road leads to the chapel â” the white crosses along the way mark the Stations of the Cross. For locals especially, Alto Vista is a sacred place for peace and contemplation. For a meditative walk, visit the Peace Labyrinth behind the chapel.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Alto Vista Chapel has historical, cultural, spiritual and architectural value, apart from its breathtaking surroundings.
Liliana’s expert tip: Open every day for visitors, the Chapel has a 35 minute Mass on Tuesdays at 5 pm.
A great way to explore the capital of Aruba is by tramcar (or streetcar). These hydrogen-powered vehicles depart at the cruise ship terminal to take visitors and locals for a free and scenic inner city loop. No matter where passengers hop on and off or take a seat, – on top of an open-roof double-decker or in the shade of a single-deck – street running in Oranjestad has never been this relaxing. Make a stop at the newly renovated Caya G.F. Betico Croes (main street) and shop at the oldest and newest stores in town. Visit the archeological and historical museum of Aruba, or sit back and enjoy the railway ride until you’ve made up your mind.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Aruba Streetcar is a new, pollution free alternative to explore Aruba’s capital and free of charge.
Liliana’s expert tip: A circular tram tour through downtown Oranjestad is a perfect starting point for first-time visitors.