You may know Aruba for its stunning Palm Beach sparkling water, its luxury resorts, and the action of downtown Oranjestad, but there are many more layers to this unique Dutch-Caribbean getaway. There’s much to be discovered in San Nicolas and Savaneta, and even hidden gems in the more heavily traveled areas.
Aruba is not your typical Caribbean vacation. It’s a unique and memorable Caribbean vacation. Here are eight unexpected Aruba highlights worth a look on your next visit:
1. Overwater villas
Experience the dreamy South Pacific in the Caribbean at Old Man and the Sea Ocean Villas. Stay in Aruba’s rustic Savaneta just south of the airport. Who knew Aruba had its very own boutique resort of overwater villas?
The villas are run by artist and owner Osyth Henriquez, whose unique sense of creativity turned her long-dreamed-of vision into a reality. Often Osyth can be found picking up guests at the airport, cooking breakfast and painting new works of art to go into her villas. How cool!!
In fact, her newest villa opening pays homage to well-known travel writer Susan Campbell. Dushi Sue—named for sweet Sue—is decked out with pops of blue and white, fresh flowers, its own bar, outdoor hammock on the edge of the water, and even articles written by the writer on the walls.
You have to love the attention to detail and meaning each one of Osyth’s bungalows have. In fact, if you ask her, she’ll tell you why she used certain colors and piece of furniture in the bungalows. There’s a reason for everything here, and that’s beautiful and so meaningful.
Also: Booking the VIP package at Old Man and the Sea Ocean Villas will get you escorted through the quick lines at the airport by First Class Experience Aruba, car transportation, a welcome amenity, an elegant meal on the beach, rich silk robes for bedtime, silk pillow cases, and more.
2. Luxurious in-bed dining
While tasting French-fusion cuisine and sipping on local beverages, you can treat yourself to a Miami-style dine-in-bed experience at Screaming Eagle. Imagine food and drinks on bed trays all while being propped up with fluffy pillow.
The trendy restaurant is headed by Chef Erwin Hüsken who’s well-known in the Aruba restaurant scene. He invents new dishes seasonally, often getting influence from Europe and his Dutch-Indonesian family roots.
3. Street art and the oil refinery days in San Nicolas
Aruba’s San Nicolas is experiencing a beautiful renaissance. Its streets are now lined with beautiful, colorful murals, art exhibits, and local art galleries. Visit Cosecha San Nicolas for a creative center for workshops and a design store with arts and crafts.
The Museum of Industry, located in a restored Art Deco water tower, tells the story of Aruba back in its oil refinery days of the last two centuries. Here you can gather an appreciation of the history of gold, aloe, phosphate, oil, and tourism through displays and interactive installations. The museum tells of the impact of these industries on the island landscape. There’s also an area showcasing sustainable development in Aruba by the younger generation of locals.
Walking through the streets of this tiny town, you’ll find a unique appreciation for not only the history but also the vibrant culture that is very much alive on this island.
4. Boozer coladas at a local fisherman’s bar
Upon stepping into Charlie’s Bar in San Nicolas, you’ll notice that there are unique pieces of memorabilia hanging from ceiling to floor. These pieces tell the stories of the many visitors that have frequented this bar. You’ll see everything from fishing nets and dollar bills to parts from old ships.
Locals and travelers alike have been visiting this place since 1941. The famous drink—a boozer colada —is very easily enjoyed while talking to the locals and perhaps seeing Charlie himself (the place has been run from three generations of Charlies).
5. Dining on fresh-caught fish with your feet in the water
Flying Fishbone Aruba opened in 1997 serving fresh seafood as part of a unique, feet-in-the-water dining experience. Guests can literally sit with their feet dipped in the water or on the sand as they enjoy the soft romantic light of tiki torches, table lanterns and gorgeous sunsets under palm trees.
The restaurant serves the freshest seafood from the market down the road in Savaneta, a charming little Aruban fishing town. Guests will find that this hotspot cooks up flavors inspired by the Caribbean and Europe.
Tip: Make sure you call in advance for a table, especially if you want feet-in-water dining as there aren’t too many tables in the water. Don’t forget to make the distinction when you call!
6. Flamingos on a private beach
Ever dreamed about quality time with pretty pink birds on a tropical private island? Well, now’s your chance at Renaissance Private Island. Stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino or the Renaissance Ocean Suites and you’ll get complimentary access to flamingos and the beautiful island to relax or get active.
There are family-friendly areas and adult-only areas on the private island. Guests can also access snorkel equipment and kayak rentals. For the ultimate luxe experience, book a bungalow in Spa Cove and enjoy your own private shade, hammock, drinks, and massages. If you aren’t a guest, chances are you won’t be able to access the island. However, you can call the hotel’s front desk and ask if they are selling day passes for non-hotel guests that day. (It happens, but it’s never guaranteed!)
7. The wine bus
This classy wine and tapas outing is great for couples looking to sample the best restaurants all around Aruba. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or just learning, The Wine On Down The Road Tour with Kukoo Kunuku promises fun and class…and a chance to learn about each wine you taste with your Kukoo Kunuku sommelier. The restaurants you visit will pair the wine at each stop with a tapa to enjoy with the wine.
Restaurants may include Tierra Del Sol, Screaming Eagle, Hostaria Da Vittorio, Azia, and other fine restaurants in Aruba (the exact schedule depends on the date). As a participant, you may also have the chance to sample truffle mushroom ravioli or sushi-grade tuna with Chimichurri sauce and locally grown micro greens.
Tip: Another cool thing about this bus: It’s not a typical party bus that’s out all hours of the night. You’ll get back to the hotel with plenty of time for a nightcap and you can even have an early bedtime!
8. A mani-pedi to rival all others
With turquoise ocean views spanning the top floor loft of Pure Indulgence spa at Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, you can get a mani-pedi while taking in views from Eagle Beach all the way to the California Lighthouse. Here you’ll also find a full range of massages, facials and body treatments. Opt for the soaking foot bath and champagne before your massage melts you away.
For more on travel to Aruba, visit aruba.com.