Deep scorched rock art, fiery flamingoes and pelicans that swoop faster than journalists at a free bar. You'll find plenty of fun, non-touristy, unique things to do in Aruba. Here's an inside guide to exploring the best of this beautiful Caribbean island.
Disclosure: if you book anything through these links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. What's more, some of these recommendations were posted. Not all of them, though. I've only picked out the best, most fun and unique things to do in Aruba for you. Otherwise there's no point!
Aruba has great beaches, of course. When it comes to dazzling blue water and all-inclusive resorts, it has those too.
Shopping malls, bars, beach parasols, swimming pools and pina colada. The full holiday paraphernalia.
But Aruba has plenty of interesting cultural, creative and fun things to do to as well.
Only a short drive beyond the famous “Aruba” sign is a rocky, completely untouched beach where pelicans congregate at sunset. When you’re looking for a break from the lights of the hotel, drive or walk here and let calm wash over you as the pelicans swoop and swerve overhead.
Elisa Lejuez draws on her Dutch-Curacao heritage, extensive travel through Asia and everyday life here in Aruba to engage in a “secular spiritual quest.” She describes creating her art as a kind of meditation, an approach that has served her well through local business and exhibitions in New York. She also opens up her studio to visitors if you ask politely in advance.
Instead of lush green vegetation, you’ll find arid red rock here, punctuated by the spines of cacti. The park covers nearly 20% of the island and is easily accessible by car (but make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen and shade. It gets hot here.)
Look out for the evocative Caquetío Indian rock paintings on the Fontein cave. A recent surge in interest in this pre-Columbian history means that you should check with park staff to arrange a guided tour. Here's the Arikok National Park official site.
This atmospheric outdoor dining comes with all the candlelight suspense you might expect. But it also clusters around an Aruban house more than 126 years old and filled with curious European artefacts. It’s a low key, high romance event – and I absolutely loved it!
Or any time, really. These hot pink strutters, pose and preen at the shores of the sea at the private Renaissance Island resort. If you really want to make an event of it, book yourself in for a massage at the shoreside spa as well. That’s what, er, a friend of mine did. Shall we put it that way? Yes, let’s. And they left with far less tension in their neck, back and shoulders.
In an island full of high rises, the brightly painted casitas at the Boardwalk Hotel revive the eyes. Through lush tropical foliage, hot pink and cool beach blue, Dutch sisters Kimberly and Stephanie welcome guests into their bright casitas that cluster around a small pool.
Lame as it is, whenever I hear the word Boardwalk, I think of that song. The one with the robotic male “under the boardwalk” followed by the flirty female “having some fun.” Unfortunately for my husband (and possibly for your for the rest of your day,) this association and my own version of the original refused to budge for the whole duration of my stay at the Boardwalk Small Hotel, Aruba.
While grey skyscrapers take up much of the western coast of Aruba, the Boardwalk sits a block back from the sea decked out in bright colours on the site of a former coconut plantation. It’s run by two sisters, Kimberly and Stephanie, whose enthusiasm for the project spills into every thoughtfully designed nook and cranny.
Boardwalk divides itself up into small flats called casitas, carefully set up to give each stay some privacy and to lighten up life itself with fresh bright pinks, whites and blues. There’s a clear focus on artwork here, with many images and signs courtesy of local artists (like Elisa Lejuez, whose studio I visited here.)
Hammocks lilt in the barely there breeze and barbecues, fridges and fresh papaya marinades make Boardwalk more of a self-catered boutique apartment serviced with love than a fully fledged hotel.
Breakfast is available on request (but needs to be booked in advance which can trip you up if you’re flying in long haul.) “Regular” options are available, as is the (more) tasty Aruban speciality of arepa (a corn based bread.)
The real stand out feature of Boardwalk (aside from the owners’ sense of passion and purpose) is their Treasure Box idea.
Each casita – and also the reception – contains a beautiful wooden treasure box of laminated cards.
Here, you can find inspiration for all the things you’d otherwise miss on a beach holiday in the Caribbean.
There are invitations to tour the wild desert park, tips on how to find pelicans stretching their wings on the beach, details for yoga, for golf and for kitesurfing, local spas, family beach tips and beyond.
That’s how I found Elisa,the wishing stones on a windswept beach and a romantic poolside dinner within a restored historic house.
You’ll need a car to explore these possibilities but if it does all become too much, the small pool on site provides refreshment and the beach (plus bars and restaurants) is only a few minutes’ walk away.
If you prefer cute and cosy to major corporate sheen, then I’d definitely recommend the Boardwalk Hotel Aruba as a colourful, characterful place to stay.
What I loved
What to know
Elements of this will remind you of an Australian barbecue. Or Texan barbecue. Or.. (OK, I think they get the idea – Ed.)
Lots of juicy meat and tasty veg barbecued in the open air over the coals. So what makes this unique to Aruba?
The Pica de Papaya Hot Delight sauce served on the side! Just be ready for the heat!
This article on unusual things to do in Aruba comes in partnership with Aruba in association with Virgin Holidays. While I love independent travel, sometimes it's nice to just let someone else organise it all for you! I've travelled with Virgin Holidays on my own dime before, so I'm happy to recommend them here.
As ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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