Heading to One Happy Island? Here are some helpful travel tips and what to know before going to Aruba!
Aruba is a southern Caribbean Dutch Netherlands Antilles island situated about 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Its vibrant capital of Oranjestad is brimming with amazing restaurants, beautiful historic buildings, and world-class shopping.
But for those of us who typically visit all-inclusive vacations in the Caribbean, you may not know what to expect.
Aruba isn’t a Caribbean island to come to if you only plan to sit at your hotel’s beach and sip cocktails all day. I mean, you absolutely can, but I really feel like you’d be doing a disservice to Aruba.
Aruba is a place where you become immersed in the culture and the island.
From jaw-dropping pristine beaches to breathtaking mountain views, crashing waves and arid landscapes, this culturally diverse and historically rich island will surely awaken your senses in a way you won’t get by just lounging at your hotel.
The island of Aruba is perfect for all types of travellers: couples, groups, families, solo travellers, and more, with numerous beaches, activities, and things to do.
As a bonus, there are plenty of free things to do in Aruba, so you can explore without breaking the bank!
Here’s what to know before going to Aruba!
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What to know before going to Aruba
After falling in love with Curacao earlier in the year, we had a feeling Aruba was going to be a similar type of experience.
We heard that Aruba was much more “Americanized” than Curacao (and it is, but more on that in a separate post later!), but the experience was just as incredible and we’d return to either island in a heartbeat.
Aruba is a fantastic Caribbean island to visit if you want to explore at your own pace. It’s perfect for booking your own accommodations, renting a car, and exploring the island at your own pace.
There are also a number of tours you can join to immerse yourself even more in the history, culture, and natural beauty of the island.
Plus, Aruba is unique in that it’s an autonomous country within the Dutch Kingdom, so you’ll see traces of European influences around Oranjestad!
Where is Aruba?
Aruba is located in the southern Caribbean, to the left of Curacao and Bonaire, and makes up the “A” in “ABC Islands.” It’s only 15 miles north of Venezuela, which geographically you’d think it would be a part of South America.
Getting to Aruba is very easy, with many departing flights from the US and a direct, 5 hour flight from Toronto (which goes by fast 🙂).
Weather in Aruba: When to Visit
There really isn’t a bad time to visit Aruba! The island is located outside of the hurricane belt, which makes the island warm and sunny with very little precipitation year round.
Since Aruba is only 12 degrees north of the equator, and temperatures average in the mid 80 degrees year-round!
Rainy season is between October and December, but the rainfall is nearly nil (averaging 3.5 inches per month) and you’ll notice much of the island is in desert-like conditions.
However, Aruba can be quite windy – so hang on to your hats and dresses! I’m not talking about sand-whipping-wind, but it can be enough to blow your hair around. Most days it was a welcome reprieve!
Off peak months in Aruba are typically from May to November. If you’re looking to save a bit of cash, you’ll be able to find less expensive airfare and hotels during these months compared to high season, which is December to April.
We visited in December and absolutely loved it. We were expecting everywhere we went to be packed, but were pleasantly surprised.
While the island is small, there are endless things to do which really spaces out the crowds. Don’t let peak season deter you from travelling if you really want to get away!
What language do they speak in Aruba?
English is widely spoken in Aruba. We heard this 99% of the time and if you’re travelling from the USA or Canada, you will be able to travel and communicate with ease.
The official languages of Aruba include English, Dutch, Papiamento, and Spanish.
Papiamentu is a Creole language derived from Portuguese, English, Spanish, Dutch, and French, along with African and Indian dialects. We didn’t actually hear any of this here, but it’s widely spoken in Curacao.
What is the currency in Aruba?
The currency in Curacao is the Aruban Florin – also referred to as the Florin. You’ll see this currency referred to as AFL or AWG. One florin is the equivalent of $0.74 Canadian or $0.55 USD, but we often found it varied throughout the island.
The good news is, USD is accepted everywhere throughout Aruba. This helped since we couldn’t exchange money in Canada for florin at home.
If you pay in USD and only need small change in return, it’s reasonable to expect change in USD. Be prepared, however, to receive change in AWG/AFL. You may be asked which currency you’d like in return. It’s best to try to pay in small bills or as close to exact change as possible.
P.s. Many ATMs in Aruba dispense USD!
A note on using cash: We like to travel with cash to avoid credit card fees (as a Canadian). If you’re travelling from the USA, you won’t have any foreign transaction fees since it’s billed in USD. This is a huge appeal for Americans! We only couldn’t use cash at one restaurant: Passions on the Beach (one of the most memorable places to dine in Aruba!).
Is tipping expected in Aruba?
Tipping in Aruba is not mandatory, but it is standard.
The average tipping amount in Aruba is anywhere from 10%-20%, regardless of service. The standard tipping amount is 15%. We’re from Canada where we normally tip 18% on our bills. Check your bills to see if a service charge is already included in your total so you don’t leave additional gratuity.
Is Aruba safe?
Aruba, much like Curacao, is one of the very few places I felt completely safe. I never had that sense of unease, even as we were driving down dark, unlit roads at 5:30 am on our way to hike Hooiberg Mountain!
Crime isn’t a big issue in Aruba, but use common sense. You are in a foreign country and petty theft can (and does!) happen, albeit rarely. Be sure to keep valuables locked away and out of sight.
Don’t just take my word for it, though! Aruba is deemed one of the top safest Caribbean islands, especially for families.
It’s still smart to look after your belongings on the beach. And while I haven’t heard of anyone having anything stolen on beaches, it’s always good to have someone watch your things if you’re swimming.
We also brought these waterproof bags with us to go snorkelling and they worked like a charm. You can also invest in a FlexSafe by AquaVault bag (you may have seen this on SharkTank!) which locks to your chair.
If you want to take photos underwater with your phone, these waterproof phone pouches are very effective and you can still take photos while underwater!
- PEACE OF MIND. Secure your personal belongings while at the pool, beach, waterpark, cruise ship, or park. The integrally locking flap allows FlesSafe…
- PORTABLE & SECURE. The FlexSafe is a lightweight, flexible, and portable travel safe. Its compact design makes it easy to travel with and the patented…
- DURABLE CONSTRUCTION. It is durably constructed with a five-layer, slash-resistant material which includes RFID blocking material to help keep your…
Do I need a travel adapter in Aruba?
The main voltage in Aruba is 120 V, and power sockets are ones you will find in the USA and Canada. You do not need a travel adapter.
Aruba Travel Tips: What to Know Before Going
Here are some things to know before going to Aruba; it’s one of the easiest countries we’ve ever travelled to! Find out why:
The tap water is safe to drink
A huge appeal about Aruba is that the tap water is completely safe to drink! Aruba’s tap water meets the highest standards of the World Health Organization, so there’s no need to buy bottled water!
This is a big relief for many travellers, and there’s no fear of getting sick from drinking tap water. It’s pure and delicious!
I recommend bringing a reusable water bottle for days you go to the beach or for hiking Hooiberg Mountain. Fill up at your hotel or resort before heading out!
Parking is no longer free downtown (with exceptions!)
While parking used to be free in downtown Oranjestad, there have been some changes recently.
You will find paid parking around the main streets of Aruba in busy areas, like Caya Betico Croes and around the Renaissance Resort. Parking is very inexpensive and I think we paid $1.11 USD for an hour.
The good news is, paid parking isn’t everywhere. We found lots of free parking away from the main street, so if you’re up to walking, this is an option. Just be forewarned there area lot of one-way streets downtown, so it’s best to use Google Maps if you’re driving!
Regular parking spaces are marked by white lines to denote individual parking spots, and each spot has a corresponding number, which is what you put into the parking machine.
You can use coins (just not the square ones!) or card. Yellow-lined parking spots are for employees and permit holders.
Pick up some reef-safe sunscreen
Aruba banned non-coral reef friendly sunscreen in 2020. You may not be searched upon leaving the airport (some people have, and you might even see a bin of discarded sunscreen on your way out!), it’s best to do your part and bring sunscreen that’s reef friendly.
- Original SPF 50 sunscreen Lotion. This is the stuff we use every day. It’s the formula that started it all. People say it smells like summer. We like…
- Moisturizing sun protection. Dermatologist and sonny approved, This non-comedogenic sunscreen delivers UVA/UVB protection and is packed with Vitamin…
- How to use. 15 minutes Before sun exposure, apply liberally to all areas of the skin and avoid the eye area. For best results, reapply after 80…
Look for sunscreen that doesn’t contain ocybenzone and octinoxate, two UV-blocking chemical shown to cause coral bleaching.
Be sure to apply it, too! The Aruban sun is no joke. The cool breeze makes you think you’re not getting burnt until it’s too late – trust me, I speak from experience.😂
Rent a car
I couldn’t imagine visiting Aruba and not renting a car! You see so much more by getting out and exploring on your own compared to just sitting on the beach at your hotel.
This vibrant Caribbean island is meant to be explored – so get out there and enjoy it!
Aruba is one of the easiest countries we’ve driven in, and you can drive the whole island in less than an hour.
Car rentals in Aruba are inexpensive and it doesn’t take long to get anywhere. Why limit yourself to walking distance or group tours when you can get out there yourself?
Don’t be afraid to explore off path
Aruba is so much more than beaches. From mountains to arid landscapes, rugged terrain at Arikok National Park to street art in San Nicolas, there is so much to be explored!
Don’t be afraid to get off path; Aruba is one of the safest Caribbean islands you can visit. There are a number of free things to do in Aruba to help you explore without breaking the bank!
Download offline maps
Downloading offline maps is not only great for driving, but for walking around downtown Oranjestad. Download Google Maps of Maps.Me to help you navigate.
Aruba is a very easy island to drive around on, and after a couple days I didn’t need to use navigation at all! The only spot I really needed maps was in Oranjestad since there are a lot of one-way streets.
P.s. Be sure to bring a phone cord and phone mount for your car!
English is widely spoken
Unlike Curacao, where it’s mostly Dutch and Papiamento spoken, you’ll have no problem travelling to Aruba and only knowing English.
It’s widely spoken throughout the island and we only encountered one travelling family speaking Dutch. English was spoken everywhere we went.
Customary tipping is 15%-20%
In Aruba, it’s customary to tip between 15%-20% of the total bill. Check your bills to see if a service charge is already included in your total so you don’t leave additional gratuity.
Download Whatsapp prior to going to Aruba
We found that many local companies, restaurants, our car rental company, and our accommodations communicated via Whatsapp. This is to confirm reservations and for quickly being able to ask and answer questions.
Download this free app prior to going to Aruba if you don’t already use it!
There’s no need to exchange currency – USD is used everywhere!
We like travelling with cash to avoid foreign transaction fees on our credit card (we’re Canadian!) but if you’re travelling from the USA this won’t be an issue.
We did notice that not every place accepted cash for payment, like Passions on the Beach. It’s smart to bring cash and card with you, but keep in mind if you pay in big bills, you may get local currency in return.
For US citizens: Allow more than enough time returning home
If you’re returning home to the States, you have to clear customs in Aruba prior to leaving the country. This can cause long lines and delays at the airport.
Since Aruba is a popular destination for Americans, there are numerous flights every day. Allow more than enough time to pass through security and customs before your flight home.
It is recommended to arrive at the airport at least 3 hours prior to departure.
If you are travelling to another country, this is a non-issue. Canadians and other travellers have their own dedicated terminal.
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