Aruba is a dream destination for weekend jetsetters purely because of its size – at 20 miles long and 6 miles wide, you can totally see it all in two days. Of course that doesn’t mean you won’t want to stay for longer (there’s something about that year-round perfect weather). But if you have 48 hours in Aruba, I’ve got the guide for you.
First of all, when booking your 48 hours in Aruba you should completely ignore warnings about the “off season” and Weather.com rain predictions. I have it on good authority (multiple Aruban residents) that this is false. Aruba is very dry and rarely sees rainfall. In fact, when I visited in November with my cousin Carly smack dab in the middle of the off season, it rained once for about ten minutes. There’s a reason why it’s nicknamed “One Happy Island!”
48 Hours in Aruba: Go On an Off Road Adventure
As I mentioned, Aruba is a tiny island that’s easy to explore. Yet most visitors stick to the same cluster of high rise hotels and resorts during their stay. It’s easy to see why – Palm Beach and Eagle Beach are both gorgeous, and once you plop yourself down in front of that shimmering Caribbean water, it’s going to be tough to pull away. But if you get the chance to go (quite literally) off the beaten path you will discover Aruba’s untouched wilderness, unique desert landscapes and cool rock formations.
The best way to see Aruba when you’ve only got a day to explore? Rent UTVs and hit the island’s “other side.” The Aruba you’ll find there is quite different, with very little development and barely any paved roads.
We looked into several options for exploring this part of the island, including ATV tours and Jeep rentals. In the end, we decided to rent UTVs (vehicles that sit two people and have a little roof) and strike out on our own. I ended up renting from Roadrunner ATV Aruba because they were the only company I could find that didn’t have complaints from fellow tourists saying they’d been scammed somehow. I was a bit nervous as they didn’t seem to have many testimonials, but they were recommended in Fodor’s so I just decided to trust my gut. Turns out, it was the perfect decision and we ended up having an amazing adventure-filled day.
The Roadrunneer ATV Aruba team was beyond accommodating and friendly, bringing the UTVs to our hotel along with a map of the area to help us plot our course. They pointed out all the spots that might be of interest on the island and even gave us a few local hints about shortcuts and where to eat if we got hungry. We had actually shown up to meet them 30 minutes late because we got lost coming back from breakfast, and they were nice enough to allow us to hold onto the UTVs for an additional 30 minutes so we could still have a full 8-hour day.
The first stop on our self-guided tour was the California Lighthouse, located on the northwest tip of Aruba near Arashi Beach. It was named after a ship that sank off the coast of Aruba in 1910, and now functions mainly as a tourist attraction. I wished we could have climbed up for what I’m sure was an even more amazing view of the island, but unfortunately it was closed off to visitors.
Next we drove down the rocky coast, admiring the gorgeous view with hardly another human in sight. The only signs of civilization we spotted were the occasional beach campers, or shack-like buildings built along the beach.
We made our way to the Alto Visto Chapel, a tiny and picturesque chapel that was actually the first Catholic church built in Aruba in 1750 by a Spanish missionary. It’s bright yellow and exists on its own in the middle of nature at the end of a winding road.
It was here that I became really happy that we had decided to rent UTVs and do our own thing versus taking a tour. There was a tour group at the chapel consisting of 20 vehicles, all following the leader. Traveling in such a huge group would have been a bummer on its own, but aside from that everyone on the tour was covered in dirt from the other vehicles around them. We stayed behind and bought some fresh coconut water, giving the tour group time to get well ahead of us.
Our next destination was Arikok National Park, one of Aruba’s top attractions for adventure-seekers. On the way, we stumbled across the remnants of an old gold mill, another part of Aruba’s story from the 19th century when the island experienced a gold rush.
Arikok National Park is home to lizards, rattlesnakes, owls and herds of goats and donkeys, although we only came across the latter two during our explorations. It’s reachable by car, but if you want to visit the park’s hidden treasure, the Natural Pool, you’ll need an ATV or Jeep.
As we made our way down to the Natural Pool, things got a little hairy. Well, not really, but driving essentially down a cliff was personally terrifying for me. Fortunately our UTVs had it covered, and we made it safely to the parking area before walking the rest of the way.
The Natural Pool was by far the most crowded place we visited during the day, but it was well worth the off road adventure. As waves crashed and sprayed around us, we swam in calm waters in a clear blue pool surrounded by unique rock formations. It felt amazing to rinse the desert grime off of my face and cool off before jumping back in the UTVs. I was sad to notice that some people had thrown cigarettes out on the rocks around the pool. I can’t imagine coming all this way into the middle of a natural area the country has worked hard to preserve, and then doing something so inconsiderate as leaving my trash. Don’t be one of those people!
Our final destination of the day was Baby Beach, and after almost 5 hours of bumpy off roading and being sprayed by mud and dirt, we were looking forward to an hour of relaxation and food.
Baby Beach was definitely more of a locals scene than Palm Beach and Eagle Beach had been. While there was a good mix of tourists, there were also plenty of families from Aruba hanging out on the sand and swimming. I can see why they like it there – it’s so out of the way, the hordes can’t reach it!
Starving, we made a beeline for Baby Beach Snack, a beach shack that serves staples like hamburgers, chicken tenders and fried shrimp. After not eating for the entire day, it was heaven. Baby Beach Snack also rents snorkel equipment for $15, which is nice since there is a coral reef off of the beach (beware, there is another restaurant next door that charges more for food and snorkel equipment). We had brought our own goggles so we swam out to catch a glance of little fish swimming around the edges.
The one things that’s very strange and somewhat off putting about Baby Beach is its location right next to Aruba’s oil refinery. If you look to the right, you can clearly see the refinery. However, it didn’t seem to deter the locals from enjoying the Caribbean Sea so I wasn’t too bothered by it. While tourism is Aruba’s number one industry, oil is its second largest.
I would have to say that this self-guided UTV tour was my favorite part of our 48 hours in Aruba, even though it ended up costing more ($200) than my flight did. It offered the unique opportunity to explore the island’s historical sights and natural wonders at our own pace, and was definitely more my style than lounging in a beach chair all day (If you read last week’s post about Martinique, I confessed that I don’t love the beach). I had never imagined Aruba as a destination adventure before, but it exceeded my expectations in every way.
48 Hours in Aruba: Where to Stay
If you’re looking for an affordable hotel in Aruba (so you can afford the previously mentioned UTV adventure, perhaps?), I highly recommend Pauline’s Apartments. The complex is located about a fifteen minute walk from the beach and very close to a supermarket and my favorite restaurant on the island (more on that later!). For $90 per night, I was able to rent what was basically a large studio apartment with a bed, kitchen, small living space and private bathroom.
While we were definitely off the beaten tourist path, I felt safe in the neighborhood, especially since the entrance to my room was secured behind a locked gate. A quick walk around the area confirmed my sense of security; most of the surrounding homes were really nice. I loved how colorful everything was!
Pauline’s Apartments even arranges an airport pick up for $20 (a taxi would be about $22), which is totally worth it since the owner picks you up herself and points out places of interest along the way.
If price isn’t a big deal, Amsterdam Manor is a great property located right on the water. I loved the traditional Dutch-style architecture and yellow and white colors of the hotel, and its bar that’s literally on the beach can’t be beat. While there are a ton of hotels in Aruba, I liked that Amsterdam Manor was located a little bit out of the way from the all-inclusive tourist scene.
Note: the above section contains affiliate links to Booking.com, which means I earn a small commission on bookings. As usual, everything you read here expresses my real opinion and is based on experience.
48 Hours in Aruba: Where to Eat & Drink
We were determined to try some authentic Aruban food during our 48 hours in Aruba, but I wasn’t actually sure what that might be. You see, Aruba is a mash up of so many cultures: it’s just off the coast of Venezuela so there are plenty of Latin influences, yet it’s technically part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, so there are many Dutch residents. I was surprised to learn that there are people of 40 different nationalities living in Aruba, quite an impressive number for such a tiny place!
We finally found a restaurant that fit the bill called Gasparito, an Aruban-owned spot in an old Cunucu-style home. Luckily for me, it was also located just two blocks away from my home base for the weekend, Pauline’s Apartments.
The restaurant was small and practically empty, with only two other parties dining there at the same time as us. Usually this is awkward, but at Gasparito we barely noticed because the owner, Dan, kept us entertained for nearly two hours with stories, jokes and riddles. I’m not even exaggerating here, he was literally a one man show who had us almost in tears with laughter as we waited for our food.
He also told us that the restaurant is run only by him and his son, who is the chef, and that they serve a maximum of 15 plates (!!) per evening. They prefer to keep it small, focusing on quality and experience vs. volume.
We started off with the Warm Ravioli as an appetizer. While the name isn’t too, well, appetizing, we were told that it’s one of the most popular dishes. It consisted of made-from-scratch ravioli stuffed with cheese on a bed of Kerry Kerry, a local delicacy. The best I can describe Kerry Kerry is that it is shredded fish in a spicy sauce, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Basically, just eat it and ask questions later. That’s my travel eating motto!
For an entree, I had something called Keshi Yena, another traditional dish of cheese melted over some type of shredded chicken called Crioyo. I’m not sure exactly what was in it, but I’m telling you, it was melt-in-your-mouth good. Carly had the Gasparito Chicken which was equally tasty.
Dinner at Gasparito on Friday night was the perfect beginning to the weekend in Aruba. Dan made us feel like old friends, and he even gave us some valuable advice on things to do during the rest of our time on the island. Not to mention his son, who we never actually saw, has some serious talent going on back there in the kitchen. It was also too perfect that I only had to roll my very full self two blocks to Pauline’s, where I promptly collapsed into my bed.
Another thing you should probably eat during your 48 hours in Aruba? Dutch pancakes. There’s a famous Dutch pancake restaurant that I was dying to go to after seeing a friend post their meal there on Instagram. But unfortunately, it was closed on Sunday morning when we wanted to go. But we didn’t despair: to the rescue came Diana’s Pancakes Place, a newer spot located underneath the historic Old Dutch Windmill.
Diana herself took our order and served us pancakes, which are very wide but thin with ingredients like bacon and ham mixed in. I went with the apple-cinnamon, but I also tasted the apple-bacon and pineapple-ham and all three were pretty amazing. Diana’s Pancakes Place was also adorable; I loved how the interior was decorated with cows.
In terms of nightlife, Aruba is relatively chill since it’s a family/honeymoon destination. But we did find one bar that was pretty hopping called Moomba Beach Bar. While the other bars we passed by were dull and empty, Moomba was lively and crowded with tourists of all ages from the US and Latin America. We snagged a table, ordered a bucket of Balashi (the local beer) and watched as a few American women who may have been slightly over-served danced on top of the bar. If you’re looking for a casual and fun spot in Aruba, Moomba was the way to go. Just don’t expect anything too classy!
Spending 48 hours in Aruba surprised me in every way, and I left the island with a determination to return (preferably someday when I have more time for some actual relaxation… if that ever happens). What I had thought of as an overly touristy destination had plenty to offer once we began digging for hidden gems. As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge a destination by its popularity on the cruise ship route. Until next time, Aruba!