Home to white-sand beaches, piercing blue waters, and stunning natural scenery, Aruba has all the makings of an idyllic vacation spot—except sometimes it's not. With its massive high-rise resorts, numerous malls, active nightlife scene, chain restaurants, large casinos, and cruise-ship crowds, this extremely popular Dutch Caribbean destination can feel overdeveloped and too touristy, and not like the peaceful island paradise that you might have been wishing for. But there’s good news: Aruba measures about 69 square miles, and only the western part of the island is heavily developed, meaning you can escape the crowds, if you’re willing to leave your resort behind. Here are five ways to relax when visiting Aruba to ensure you'll experience the best the island has to offer.
Explore the Island on Horseback
Aruba is home to several ranches that offer guided horseback rides across various parts of the landscape. Located in Arikok National Park, Rancho Daimari runs two-hour “traffic-free” tours (meaning you won’t encounter any cars) of the park and nearby sights, including the Cura di Tortuga, a naturally occurring pool surrounded by volcanic rock. If you’d like to have more control over the sights you’ll see, Rancho Notorious has seven different tour options ranging from one to three hours, in a variety of settings. For the perfect blend of desert scenery, beautiful coastline, and local history, book a ride with Rancho La Ponderosa, whose two to two-and-a-half-hour tours begin in the interior of the island and head northeast, over cacti-dotted hills, to remote Wariruri Bay and the 19th-century Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins.
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Stay at an Adults-Only Boutique Resort
Large-scale resorts are prominent on Aruba, and the island is a popular destination for families, so some properties can feel crowded or overrun by children. If you’re seeking a more tranquil environment, book a room at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts, Aruba’s sole adults-only boutique property. Away from the high-rise hotels of Palm Beach, Bucuti is located on Eagle Beach, arguably the island’s finest stretch of white sand and undoubtedly one of the best in all of the Caribbean. Popular with honeymooners and couples, this intimate resort features only 104 rooms and suites, ensuring that you’ll never feel overwhelmed by your fellow guests. Eco-friendly and LEED-certified, Bucuti offers a quiet kind of luxury, with friendly understated service that allows you to truly relax. In addition to a full-service spa, the property also features a fitness center, outdoor pool, sunbeds and palapas (thatched huts) on the beach, and an outdoor restaurant and bar where you can drink and dine from morning ‘til night. Because it offers a unique experience on Aruba, Bucuti’s occupancy rates remain around 90% year-round, so be sure to book well in advance.
Ride an Underwater Scooter
Diving experts would argue that neighboring Bonaire boasts superior underwater adventures, but Aruba’s shores offer many quality sites for snorkeling and scuba diving. Even better, however, is exploring its reefs and rich marine life with the Seabob, an easy-to-use underwater scooter that allows riders to glide on and under the sea at safe speeds of up to 13 miles per hour. With an average temperature of 80 degrees and visibility ranging from 59 to 98 feet, the island’s waters invite exploration all year long. To experience this cutting-edge watercraft, book a two-hour tour with Seabob Aruba, the only company on the island that has these machines. The outing begins with a safety and instruction lesson at Malmok Beach; once you’ve mastered the Seabob, you’ll follow a guide to Boca Catalina, where you’ll spot coral, a variety of fish, and maybe even sea turtles. Finally, you’ll head to Arashi Beach, one of Aruba’s finest snorkeling spots.
Visit a National Park
Nearly 20% of Aruba’s landmass is designated as Arikok National Park, a wonderful place to spot indigenous flora and fauna, including the Aruban burrowing owl (known locally as “choco”). The park has some paved roads, allowing visitors to explore by car, but horseback or all-terrain vehicles are the preferred means of transportation for seeing the unpaved interior. Inside the nearly 8,000 acres of parkland, you’ll find Mount Arikok and Mount Jamanota (Aruba’s highest peak, at 620 feet); desert landscapes with clusters of cacti; hidden coves and caves that house bats and drawings left by the Arawak people (the island's first inhabitants); herds of donkeys and goats; and all kind of reptiles soaking up the sun. If you like, there are a couple of beaches to explore here, but the currents are too strong for swimming. You can also check out the gold mine ruins at Miralmar, and the remnants of a Dutch settlement at Masiduri.
Hit the Spas
If you’re in the market for a little pampering, Aruba’s spas present a variety of treatments that will help you feel relaxed and restored. (The island produces a lot of aloe vera, so you can expect it to feature prominently in spa services.) At Okeanos Spa, the ocean serves as the backdrop for massages given in an outdoor cove that feels private and remote. In addition to massages and wraps, the spa also offers anti-cellulite and anti-aging treatments. ZoiA Spa is the place to head for botanical facials that use local ingredients, as well as hair and nail services. There are also special services for newly arrived travelers, mothers-to-be, and brides. Arawak Spa, located on the grounds on Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts, offers some of the best prices on the island: Nearly all of their 60-minute treatments (massages, scrubs, wraps, and facials) cost less than $100.