6 ways to find your happy place in Aruba this winter
The phrase “One Happy Island” might sound like just another catchy slogan, but Aruba is not just any other island. The fact that it has the highest repeat visitor rate in the entire Caribbean — 65%! — seems to suggest it’s very good at making people happy. Take a look below, and you’ll see why.
And beyond the “oohs” and “ahhs” that make Aruba the Caribbean’s queen, the ease of getting to this tiny isle from major American cities makes winter travel planners happy, too. A typical direct flight from Newark or Chicago with United Airlines is around five hours — and United flies to Aruba from 200+ other airports as well. Less time in the air means more happy moments in the sun, more time exploring secluded white-sand beaches and natural pools, more memories made wandering colorful towns and digging into plates of traditional Aruban cuisine.
Don’t let the winter blues get you down this year; instead, let United help you find your happy place. Here’s what awaits you in sunny Aruba.
Finding your island “oohhmm”
Take a slow, deep breath, and on an exhale, say “Arubaaaah.” The name sure is fitting, as this peaceful paradise offers so many ways to decompress and reconnect with your inner zen.
Start one of your island days with a short sunrise nature hike up to Alto Vista Chapel with Aruba Nature Explorers. You’ll trace the Aruba Peace Labyrinth before descending to a secret beach to engage in a surfside meditation + yoga class. That’s a lot of mindfulness for one morning, but they take you for a hearty breakfast afterward to balance out your senses.
And if “yoga every damn day” is your mantra, Aruba will definitely be your happy place. You’ll find classes at sunrise, sunset, by moonlight, beachfront, poolside, or in the desert-like wilderness. You’ll even find chair yoga if you’re not up to getting down on a mat. Most hotels have classes, and there are top-notch studios like Happy Buddha offering many different styles to “find what feels good.” And the clear, calm waters where they teach paddleboard yoga are ideal for beginners. You’d likely run out of vacation days before you ran out of places to practice yoga here.
Tip: Overstretched those muscles? Aruba’s luxe spas can help. Try the latest treatment — a floating massage at ZoiA Spa in Hyatt Regency’s adults-only pool.
Trying all the powder-white beaches
Resist the temptation to go straight from your United flight to your resort to camp out by the pool for the whole trip. All of Aruba’s beaches are open to the public and worthy of exploration. The two-mile stretch of popular Palm Beach, fronting the high-rise resort area, is the most action-packed and offers just about everything to everybody, including water sports galore. But you might want to walk up to Fisherman’s Huts, aka Hadicurari Beach, to take a windsurfing or kiteboarding lesson. (This is where the largest windsurfing event in the Caribbean is held, after all.)
If you’re staying on Palm, it’s an easy hop down to the more mellow Eagle Beach. No car? No problem. A quick taxi ride will get you there, or jump on the public bus — it stops at almost all the beaches along the coast. Take a stroll and a dip to discover for yourself why so many consider this wide powder-white haven one of the world’s best. Druif Beach, next door, is known for pelican spotting and spectacular sunsets. Also accessible by bus is Arashi Beach, on the island’s northwestern tip, a local favorite with great snorkeling.
You’ll need a car to visit Mangel Halto in Pos Chiquito, but it’s worth the drive. What awaits is a lush mangrove forest where you can snorkel, shore dive, paddleboard, or clear-bottom kayak through the inlets. Drive farther (really though, on an island this small, “farther” is a relative term) to find famous Baby Beach for toddler-friendly surf, a double reef, and a good chance of spotting sea turtles. And if you can locate the staircase from here to off-the-beaten-sand Roger’s Beach, you might have it all to yourself.
Wandering the wild side
No visit to this island would be complete without taking a tour of Aruba’s vast protected nature preserve, aka Arikok National Park. And though you’re welcome to explore by driving through or hiking on your own, experiencing it with a knowledgeable guide is definitely a level-up.
A nature walk with a park ranger will unearth all the hidden wildlife and unique vegetation hiding just below the surface of this arid, otherworldly expanse that makes up 20% of the island. There’s a lot more than meets the eye, such as the well-camouflaged creatures living in those dry riverbeds (your guide will help you spot them).
By car, don’t miss the ancient caves and the wild, windswept cliff beaches on the north coast. And the surreal “conchi” natural pool, where you can enjoy some incredible snorkeling, is also located within Arikok National Park — but it’s only accessible with a tour operator to ensure this unique spot remains pristine.
Aruba’s colorful capital city, Oranjestad, has seen an incredible rejuvenation over the past few years. Even if you’re a frequent Aruba visitor, it’s worth a revisit to discover all that’s new.
It’s an easy grid to explore on foot, but if you don’t feel like walking, ride the free trolley to preview what’s where — you can hop on and off as you like. Beyond the abundance of shopping, running the gamut from high-end brands to local, hand-made crafts, take a break at the National Archaeological Museum for a little 101 on the island’s Amerindian heritage. Entrance is free (hey, more reasons to be happy)!
New spots like Bits & Cheeses and Hoya — think gourmet charcuterie boards and artisanal hand-crafted mojitos — offer alternative trendy places to chow down, quench your thirst, and round out your day. But to really get the downtown lowdown, join Aruba Walking Tours for a guided tour. Maybe they’ll let you in on Oranjestad’s secret speakeasy.
Tip: Come nightfall in Oranjestad’s downtown, look for Patio 15, an entire entertainment emporium and dance venue located behind the Royal Plaza Mall. And the new Bochincha Container Yard, tucked behind the Local Market, has eight restaurants in one spot, music, and a large dance floor to boot.
Toasting to local eats and libations
English is widely spoken on the island, especially at hotels and restaurants, but learning some of the local language — Papiamento — will get you a head start on the menu. Words you’ll see a lot include stoba (stew), as Arubans love stews of beef, chicken, or goat; pisca (fish) is another one, often served with a spicy creole sauce. Common sides are funchi (cornmeal polenta), banana hasà (fried plantains), arroz moro (beans and rice), and pan bati (flat bread pancake).
Two ideal spots for local eats are Elements, where they now offer an authentic Aruban buffet, and Papiamento for keshi yena, a cheese-covered casserole. Make sure to track down the Piece of Cake Dessert Truck for authentic Aruban bolos by the slice. For grab and go, it’s pastechis (fried dough pockets stuffed with fillings) and batidos (fresh fruit shakes).
For fish and seafood right off the boat, it doesn’t get any more local than Zeerover in Savaneta. Spice it up with some locally made Madame Jeanette hot sauce, and wash it down with a cold Balashi, the local beer. Or ask the barkeep for an Aruba Ariba, the island’s national cocktail, to become happier still.
Counting shades of jade
This paradise has a multitude of wonderful ways to enjoy its clear aqua waters full of magnificent marine life. And with average water temps hovering around 80°F, you’ll rarely mind getting wet. Snorkeling and sailing outfits abound, and there are lots of fishing charters, too. There’s also great wreck diving, but you don’t even need to get wet to see one of the most impressive underwater attractions — the SS Antilla shipwreck — if you go by submarine.
Cool new pastimes, like brunching on a private island donut boat and snorkeling off its side, are also making waves. And the latest watersport — wing foiling — is here now, too. You can also take the plunge high above the water as well, skydiving at 15,000 feet, for a literal bird’s-eye view of the island.
Whatever makes you happy, you’re bound to find it on Aruba. To be safe, maybe make that United flight a one-way?