Flamingo beach at the Renaissance Hotel
For almost 20 years I have made the annual trip to one of my favorite places in the world, the Southern Caribbean island of Aruba. The allure of powdery soft white sands of Eagle Beach and the year round bathtub warm water makes this the ultimate escape.
Visitors can experience Aruba on any budget, and most come for the best deals. Non-stop flights are not expensive from the US, and hotel rooms are plentiful at all price ranges. Most of the people I come across are from the East Coast, New York, New Jersey, Boston, and Chicago. Their enthusiasm for Aruba results in countless proclamations on what they consider the best food and activities they have ever experienced.
Located 15 miles north of Venezuela, and out of the hurricane zone, Aruba is only 19 ½ miles long and 6 miles wide, yet it is filled with so many things to do and see you are hard pressed to make decisions. Most visitors return to their favorite restaurants and hotels, but I wanted to get a few insiders views of what is new and noteworthy on the island.
Beachfront of Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort
Getting to Aruba this month was not particularly easy as arriving travelers must adhere to the island’s entry protocols, including taking a negative PCR (not Antigen) test 72 hours prior to or upon arrival, completing the island’s detailed ED Card and purchasing the mandatory Aruba Visitors Insurance. For the most up-to-date entry requirements and on-island protocols, visit the islands official website.
The airport was packed upon arrival and long lines winded through the terminal as multiple check points made sure to confirm documents. It took me almost 90 minutes from landing to my rental car. The departure experience is also a long journey as travelers are told to get to the airport four hours early since you also clear US customs in Aruba. However once you are on the island you will notice it is not crowded at all, as tourism is just now starting its rebound.
Aerial view of the Palm Beach area where most of the large hotels are located.
I spoke with Ronella Croes, CEO of Aruba Tourism Authority, who filled me in on the many new developments on Aruba. “In the last 18 months, Aruba has rolled out a slew of exciting new developments and offerings, including the addition of the new 133-suite Radisson Blu Aruba to our Palm Beach strip and more than $20 million in new hotel renovations across the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa & Casino, Divi & Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives, Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Aruba and more,” she says.
“As we continually develop Aruba’s tourism offering for the modern traveler, additional projects to come include The St. Regis Aruba Palm Beach Resort, set to open in 2024, which will expand the island’s luxury accommodation offering, and our renovation of Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA), which includes an expansion of the U.S. departure hall with new gates, check-in areas, dining options and more.”
Sunrise magic at La Cabana Beach Resort on Eagle Beach
“As always, Aruba’s year-round sunny skies and location outside the hurricane belt remains attractive to travelers looking to spend time outdoors, and we’ve also seen increased interest in private and wellness experiences among travelers,” explained Croes. “A few new offerings include donkey hugging (a stress reliever!) at The Donkey Sanctuary, new moonlit yoga-on-the-beach with instructor Maria Pucci, pop-up luxury picnics on the beach with Picnic Aruba, the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino’s personal Sunset Concierge Experience, which offers guests a private, catered five-course meal on the beach and many more.”
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort
Ranked number #1 by Tripadvisor, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is my favorite hotel on the island. The resort offers up the most beach space of any resort with a tourist-free vista of clean white sand. The adults-only hotel has 104 rooms and suites (make sure to book one of the stunning Tara Suites with large balconies directly overlooking Eagle Beach). The Purun spa with outdoor cabana options is a highlight, and the wonderful Elements restaurant and SandBar Lounge are among my favorites on the island.
This is a rare luxury for Aruba, ordinarily full of all-inclusive resorts and pools loaded with children. Service is top-notch (including a flag by your cushioned sunbed to call an attendant), and a concierge service to book all of your activities, including an exclusive sunset catamaran cocktail cruise. I noticed numerous guests celebrating a romantic anniversary or honeymoon, and others who have been returning for years.
Congratulations to the hotels amazing owner Ewald Biemans, for being honored this month at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). He presented solutions that other hotels can adopt in the collective race to stop climate change. The 100% carbon neutral resort is also the only property in Aruba to have received the Travel + Leisure 2021 World’s Best Award.
Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive
Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive
In February 2021, the property completed its $5 million renovation, which included new and expanded oceanfront accommodations. The project saw the redesign of all guest rooms, each expanded to include private balconies or patios.
Dning options include the addition of live cooking restaurants Pelican Terrace and Cunucu Terrace, along with a new smoothie bar called Health Corner.
Poolside at the new Radisson Blu Aruba
Radisson Blu Aruba
Newly opened in April 2021, the 132 suite property on Palm Beach offers two and three bedroom suites as well as the largest rooftop infinity pool on the island.
The hotel has two more outdoor pools, one for families and another for adults, as well as multiple onsite dining options including FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar, and Sunset Bistro.
Aerial view of Baby Beach and the future site upper right of the new Secrets Hotel.
Secrets Baby Beach
The 600-room Secrets Baby Beach Aruba will be situated alongside Baby Beach, a popular white sand-lagoon in the southern part of the island, close to San Nicolas. The new adults-only hotel will boast an architecture that blends with the landscape, offering stunning views of the region. Completion is currently slated for 2023.
Chef Urvin Croes (second from left) at his new Infini Restaurant
Located at the Blue Residences on Eagle Beach, this new dining concept from acclaimed Chef Urvin Croes accommodates only 18 people. The creator of some of Aruba’s most highly noted restaurants, Croes launched this chef’s table concept where diners and staff can interact throughout the evening.
The delicious 12-course experience is like going to the theater, with all presentations dramatically lit, as the kitchen plays center stage. The meticulously prepared selections (more like art presentations) are not a cheap dining option for sure, but judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end of the evening, it is well worth it.
With prices at $149 per person, you can add on a wonderfully curated wine pairing for $110 per person or the resident mixologist will pair specialty cocktails to compliment the meal. The menu included an overwhelming selection of small entries, including Curry Lobster, Jerk Chicken, Angus Short Ribs.
Rooftop dining in Aruba
The Vue Rooftop
This new rooftop restaurant in the hotel zone offers an expansive menu with signature cocktail options. Many visitors I spoke with loved the new restaurant especially for brunch. Dinner items include everything you could possibly desire from steaks to seafood, and a huge pasta menu.
Bochincha Container Yard
This large open air space features international cuisine in a unique concept made up of 11 different shipping containers converted into kitchens including; Tapas, Sushi, Italian, Mexican, Grill Shack, Cigar shop, wine market and more.
Rum Reef Cocktail Bar & Grill fronted by an infinity pool overlooking Baby Beach
This extremely popular new restaurant has become an Instagram sensation with its waterfront infinity pool fronting the bar and grill. This is an adults only property and is a great respite from the heat of Baby Beach.
Also consider the popular Flying Fishbone, Madame Janette, Faro Blanco, 2 Fools and a Bull, Quinta del Carmen, Wilhelmina, and Elements.
The Ritz-Carlton Aruba
Ritz-Carlton Aruba Spa
The Ritz-Carlton spa continues to impress as one of the most refined options on the island. The talented staff includes my favorite healing therapist Elix, all within a 15,000-sq.-ft. ground floor beachfront location. With 13 treatment rooms, the spa offers a locally themed menu of treatments for healing and relaxation. With Aloe, coffee and other indigenous ingredients, the signature treatments are paired with skincare from ESPA and Eminence. Relaxation lounges include whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms, and a delightful quiet lounge. The spa is also very strict with Covid protocol and everyone is masked.
Also consider the popular Okeanos Spa, Renaissance Marina Hotel, ZoiA Spa, Hyatt Regency, Purun Spa, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort
Pirate ship experience including snorkeling and rope swing
A tradition for my family is to set sail for a four-hour adventure aboard the 85-foot Jolly Pirates schooner, cruising along the Aruba coastline. We all love snorkeling in the clear turquoise waters while visiting three of the island’s most popular swimming and snorkeling sites.
Co-owner and native New Englander Carla Cavallaro has maintained one of the best activities on the island that is always a lot of fun for adults and kids. The crew of the Jolly Pirates is the true highlight here; they are an energetic bunch full of humor, making sure every guest is entertained. One crew member hoists guests on his shoulders and does flips off the rope swing, much to the amusement of the rest of the ship.
The amazing crew of the Jolly Pirates schooner
The ship takes you to three of the most popular sites including the shallow reef near Malmok Beach and to the protected and quiet Boca Catalina cove for colorful fish and sea turtles. We also went snorkeling over a 400-foot WWII Antilla shipwreck and then celebrated our adventure with a BBQ lunch and an unlimited open bar. But the highlight of the trip as always is when we jumped off the ship using the rope swing, all taking place in a quiet cove. This is the perfect adventure for all ages and at affordable prices from $66 per person for the morning Sail, Snorkel, Swim and Swing package.
Frankie Giardina and Jake Zubrin enjoy interacting with the butterflies.
The Butterfly Farm
Within a large meshed enclosure, you can see hundreds of real exotic butterflies flying freely, a beautiful display of the most spectacular species from all over the world. Tony and Lori Cox opened the first Butterfly Farm in Saint Martin (since closed due to hurricanes), then Aruba in 1999, and have kept this marvelous family attraction thriving.
Located in the hotel zone near Palm Beach, visitors are encouraged to take a 20-minute guided tour, which is offered all day, to learn about the evolutionary cycle of butterflies. My family always loves this farm as we have so many stunning butterflies showing us love while also allowing us to get a close-up educational experience. Make sure to visit in the morning when the heat and humidity is not as oppressive and the butterflies are most active. This is the best time also to witness butterflies emerging from their chrysalis.
Flamingo Beach located at Renaissance Private Island
Flamingo Beach at Renaissance Private Island
The ultimate Instagram selfie experience, Flamingo beach is located on a small private island, which is part of the Renaissance Hotel in Aruba. The island is not open to the public and the only way to get there is by a quick boat trip arranged by the hotel. If you stay at the hotel, you can visit the beach as much as you want for free. If you buy a day pass, the price is steep at $125 per person and includes lunch and a drink. Best time to visit is early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Flamingo beach at the Renaissance Hotel