The Ultimate Aruba Guide by Enrique Balestrini
Published on Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 by Enrique BalestriniTags: Arikok National Park, Aruba Activities, Aruba Bars & Restaurants, Aruba Beaches, Aruba Excursions, Aruba Family Resorts, Aruba Hotels & Resorts, Aruba Jeep Tours, Aruba Lighthouse, Aruba Restaurants, Aruba Vacation, Aruba Vacation Guide, Culture On Aruba, Tax Free Shopping On Aruba
Joining the Destination team as our Aruban Online Contributor, Enrique Balestrini has a passion for documenting and sharing the best experiences Aruba has to offer. Enrique’s local island knowledge and thirst for trying all thing new made him the perfect candidate to experience first-hand some of the island’s top attractions and best places to stay, eat and be merry! For vacation inspiration look no further, here’s Enrique’s Ultimate Aruba Guide…
Outfit: Tommy Hilfiger | Location: Fisherman’s Huts | Photo by David Troeger
Stay | The best places to stay on Aruba
When it comes to accommodations, Aruba has some great options and I visited two with very different concepts to show you that you can find a home in Paradise by the hand of these beautiful resorts.
The Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
L.G. Smith Boulevard 101, Palm Beach | +297 586 9000 | marriott.com
For many locals, the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a familiar spot. It a usual place where we go to meet friends for coffee or to treat ourselves to breakfast or dinner. Its immense property offers so many beautiful areas and features often as the backdrop for photo shoots. It was my first time as a guest and from the moment I stepped out of my car I was greeted by friendly staff who helped me with my bags and check-in. The whole check-in process was a true demonstration of hospitality and professionalism.
In order to be able to write about this experience, the Marriott team offered me a stay in their Governor’s suite. Located on their 6th floor, the suite offers a spacious living room and a master bedroom fit for a king. The suite features two bathrooms (helpful if you receive any guests during your stay), each one fully equipped with the most lavish tangerine scented toiletries – the perfect choice to suit all tastes.
Depending on your plans, the resort has everything to make you feel complete. An athletic club if you don’t want to miss your daily workout, restaurants, an adult pool if you want to enjoy a quieter tanning session and even a Starbucks coffee shop located in the lobby if you want to enjoy your daily cup o’ joe. Let’s not forget the resort’s prime location on Palm Beach! Let me assure you, you’ll enjoy the most beautiful white sand and turquoise water beach under their own palapas conveniently located just a few steps from the main building.
Their culinary offering is beyond amazing, usually they host different chefs from around the world to create unique experiences and the restaurants located in the resort will have your hands full of options for any time of the day. The best word to describe the Marriott experience is complete. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy the stay as much as I did if you choose the resort as your next accommodation when you travel to Aruba and if you’re local and you decide to indulge yourself to a weekend there, I’m sure you’ll leave renovated and with a smile on your face.
The Lobby at Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
After a day relaxing by the pool there is no better way to start the night than having a drink at The Lobby. The ambiance is classy and will keep you in the vibe with live talent. Their cocktail menu is wide and they have one of the best sushi bars on the island. Whatever you’re in the mood for, they have it. Personally, I had one of the best Manhattans I can remember. It is the perfect place to start your night.
Dining at Atardi is one of the best experiences I had while staying at Marriott. No matter if you’re local or visiting the island, you can’t say no to a dinner by the beach. Atardi’s staff were incredibly attentive and that’s something you can always be thankful for. The menu is extensive, they have something for everyone and I was surprised at how rich some dishes were. I started with a Lobster Salad which featured an incredible touch of spice with Pica di Papaya. It was superb and fresh, perfect to open my appetite for the main course. I had the Filet and Lobster that came with butter sauce, all paired with a perfect Malbec recommended by our waiter.
Can’t-miss dessert time and since I was celebrating my friend, Eva’s birthday, we had two great ones. The first called “Coconut Paradise”, a rich vanilla cake with white chocolate filling and shredded coconut. The second, “Romeo’s Memories” was a matcha alfajor with dulce de leche and green matcha creme anglaise. The entire meal was first-rate and we are already planning our next visit to Atardi!
Breakfast at La Vista
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day – I’ve always thought it to be the first step to a great day! La Vista is known to be a local favorite because it offers a diverse menu and above all a nice ambiance that doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a food court. Whenever I’m in the mood for a sweet breakfast, La Vista is my go-to place. They have the best waffles and pastries. Don’t think I skipped the omelette. They have an omelette station where you can make it to your taste with tons of ingredients and different cheeses. The options are endless and props to them for that freshly brewed black coffee that I appreciated so much to get my morning started.
It never rains in Aruba they say but we as residents consider it a blessing and a pleasant change to hotter days. On one of my nights at the Marriott it poured and it was the perfect recipe for a night in and room service. In no time I had at my door the cheesiest Pepperoni Pizza, one word: insane. Along with a Fish sandwich that had the most generous and fresh Mahi Mahi fillet on top of a sweet bun, with a side of the crispiest french fries that felt like they were made one minute ago. If you ever had a bad experience with room service, let me tell you the Marriott is the place to change that. Give it a try!
Brunch at La Vista
Our last day at Marriott was a real treat. Brunch at La Vista surprised me by being a social occasion for locals, full of familiar faces dressed nicely and in the spirit for indulging. Breakfast and brunch at La Vista are two different experiences. The outdoor BBQ, combined with a fresh paella and Mexican section gives you the desire to try it all. Inside they have a fresh seafood area with oysters, ceviche and shrimps next to an incredible salad bar with everything your wildest salad dreams are made of. Freshly baked pizzas and bruschettas, fruits and the most amazing dessert section… I could write pages. Did I mention bottomless mimosas? Sunday funday! Am I right?
Gelato & Co.
When the social media buzz began and we found out that a new authentic Gelato place was coming to open a shop in the lobby of Marriott, we didn’t know we needed it so much. Gelato & Co. comes from the Cayman Islands and offers authentic Italian gelato with absolutely nothing artificial. It’s all natural flavors are made from the highest quality ingredients and you can tell! For those with special dietary needs, the sorbets are vegan, completely fat and dairy free. In my honest opinion, best gelato on the island!
Divi Resorts | +1 800-367-3484 | diviresorts.com
Divi offered me a second home in Aruba, that’s the feeling you get when you check in and head to discover your room. Spacious units located all over the property in townhouses make you feel like you’re not in a resort but at the same time, you have all the service and amenities you can imagine at your fingertips.
The living and dining area is roomy, modernly furnished and with its own private terrace feels perfect to have some friends over. If you want to show off your cooking skills the suite has a fully equipped kitchen area, so feel free to stock up the fridge. The master bedroom has the perfect balance between modern and luxurious with a bed that gave me one of the best night sleep I can remember having in a hotel. A plus on every level.
Now, let’s talk about what the resort has to offer. Across the property, you can find 13 restaurants and 11 bars. Also, they offer nighttime entertainment, a fitness center with a climbing wall, their famous 9 hole golf course, tennis courts…just to name a few! However, to me, the best part is the privileged location right across one of my favorite beaches, Tamarijn Beach. The resort is immense and beautiful, full of nature and with endless possibilities, for sure your stay will be a memorable one!
Windows on Aruba Resturant
Good things in life take time to get to you, that was my explanation about why I had never been to Windows on Aruba before. Entering such a stunning place for the first time for sure will never leave your mind. Classic Jazz playing in the background at the perfect volume and such feeling of privacy and elegance. I must say it was a fortune being served by Lynn who made my night even more joyful with her smile, explaining the menu and letting me know her top recommendations based on my preferences and mood.
We ordered the Tuna Tataki and the Escargot and Shrimp with Pernod sauce, the perfect way to start the night with fresh notes. The main course arrived and by Lynn’s recommendation, I ordered the Dover Sole fish which was a true indulgence skillfully filleted before my eyes, accompanied by spinach risotto. Dessert was glorious too. I must say I felt greatly impressed by the privacy, quietness, elegance and overall quality. By far the finest dining in Aruba.
During my stay at Divi Links, Golf & Beach Resort I was lucky enough to visit Windows on Aruba for brunch too. Who can say “no” to endless mimosas? That’s an easy way to get you out of bed in the morning, but the truth is that now I understand why it is the best-voted brunch on Aruba. Live music ambiance, sophistication and a fantastic view of the Divi golf course.
It would make this review endless if I described all of the dishes on offer, but my highlights include the fantastic cheese platter that welcomes you at the table, the pulled pork benedict egg that tasted like Christmas, the Thai coconut mussels and the crepes a la mode. Again, Windows on Aruba blows my mind and expectations.
Eat + Drink | The best bars and restaurants on Aruba
Having a good culinary experience can make or break your vacation, that’s why I want to tell you about some of the greatest places to eat on One Happy Island. What’s more, your vacation deserves a toast! Do it in the best places on Aruba.
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
L.G. Smith Blvd 101, Noord | +297 520 6600 | ruthschris.com
We are undeniably lucky to have a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Aruba, legends since 1960. I am always happy to be back and it has been a while, now it is renewed and looks better than ever. Whenever you visit Ruth’s Chris give yourself the luxury of time to enjoy at a slow pace. Started the night with a catch-up conversation alongside a Black Cherry Martini and that went down smoothly, a sign of a good mixologist behind the bar. The appetizers menu does not disappoint and we had in no time a Crabtini, yes! Delicious crab meat served in a chilled martini glass and also the spicy lobster, lobster bites with a spicy cream sauce.
Our appetite awoke and it was time to order the main courses. By recommendation of our incredible waiter, we all ordered the Ribeye, marbled cut that came sizzling at 500 degrees. Pro tip: order it bone-in! To be honest, Ruth’s Chris has my favorite side orders of all time, the sweet potato casserole, perfect compliment with a crunchy pecan crust. No dessert this time, celebrating our friend Chris’ belated birthday with a bottle (or two) of Veuve Clicquot. Dining at Ruth’s is always a night to remember.
Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant
L.G. Smith Blvd 82, Oranjestad | +297 280 1970 | lucysretiredsurfers.com
I now have a new place to meet for lunch, dinner or drinks downtown Oranjestad. Lucy’s across from the Renaissance Mall is the perfect stop to beat the heat of the day and have a drink! Friends encouraged me to have their infamous scorpion shot, hoping it would give me superpowers I decided to give it a shot, pun intended!
I heard wonders about their “Taco Tuesdays” but the rest of the menu is great too. Super delicious fish tacos, pulled pork sandwich, and crispy calamari were our favorites. The restaurant is fresh, pet-friendly and has a great view and service. Take a look at their gift shop too.
Wilhelminastraat 74-80, Oranjestad | +297 561 1563 | apotheekbar.com
Feeling a cold coming on? Has vacation taken a toll on you? Maybe it’s time to visit the Pharmacist, but not the kind of pharmacist you think. Apotheek bar is the new place to be in town, ring the bell at the door to get access and take a look at the board for a cocktail that will cure your affliction. Then the magic happens at the bar where all the ingredients to your drink are in medicine bottles and Erlenmeyer flasks, I tell you it’s legit. I had the Watermelon Kick, vodka-based with that habanero syrup kick that goes to its name. Then I had the Blueberry lemon Martini, smooth and fresh, all served in vintage sturdy glasses. The place is all about premium, fresh ingredients and craftsmanship far from crowds, they encourage you to take your time and savor the moment, it’s an intimate experience. Give it a visit, maybe you need to try a few remedies to find your relief.
Shop | The best stores to visit on Aruba
Aruba is not only nirvana for beach lovers but a shopper’s paradise. When I needed shopping advice, only one person came to mind: Ali Hector (@zhuzhedbyali). Let me tell you about Ali… not only is she is a professional certified stylist, but she’s also an Aruban-born ray of sunshine.
Whether you come to Aruba looking to experience the island’s retail scene and do some shopping, or if you’re a local who just needs a little guidance… Ali is your girl! On our shopping day, she arrived in her white blazer as if I called the fashion emergency line and she was my doctor! It was a blast!
Renaissance Mall, L. G. Smith Boulevard 82, Oranjestad | Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort
J. E. Irausquin Boulevard 85, Oranjestad | +297-529-9920 | gandelman.net
Gandelman is one of the oldest jewelry companies in the Caribbean. Founded in 1931 in Curacao as a dry cleaning business it is now well-known worldwide as a jewelry and watch company, how fascinating! They came to Aruba in 1981 to open their first shop and people thought they were crazy until the island became the place to be. Gandelman is a treat of experience, a world on their own.
Admiring one of the best Rolex collections available and getting to know all they offer in Bulgari and David Yurman among others, I was bowled over by their exquisite range, customer care, and incredible expertise. Most of their brands have special Caribbean Duty-Free retail pricing which means they are 5-15% less expensive than in the U.S. There is also no sales tax, they take care of it. Do I need to say more?
L.G. Smith Blvd 82, Oranjestad | +297 529 9984 | cartier.com
Entering the Cartier boutique is like entering a piece of the Maison in our island. Founded in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, the brand became the ‘Jeweller of Kings, King of Jewellers’ title given by King Edward VII, I could say that was their first celebrity endorsement. The attentive staff, dressed to their special duty of helping you discover all of this heritage will receive you with open arms and will tell you fascinating stories behind their iconic pieces such as the Santos watch, originally commissioned by the pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont, to wear while piloting his air dirigible and making the wristwatch, uncommon at the time a classic among men.
While having a glass of champagne we learned the story about the Juste un Clou, designed by Aldo Cipullo in 1971 inspired by the designer love for hardware, with the intention to be a standout piece and make the ordinary precious. Just a nail, wrapped around the wrist became one of the most iconic pieces of jewelry of all times.
We could not leave without admiring the Love Bracelet. They call it a child of the 70s in New York that remains today as a timeless sign of passionate love. In the beginning, you weren’t allowed to buy a bracelet for yourself but time has changed and we live in a self-love era that abandoned this rule. Still, the design is so complex yet so simple that it is really hard to put it on by yourself so remains the gesture of being fixed in your wrist by a loved one.
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 230, Noord | +297 586 1412 | global.tommy.com
Located at Royal Plaza Mall downtown Oranjestad and at Paseo Herencia Mall, Tommy Hilfiger has always been present in our shopping landscape. The world-famous American style that Tommy Hilfiger offers us is full of classics and for sure you’ll find everything from clothing, accessories to the perfect beach towel, always needed in Aruba. Ali pointed out at their Tommyxflags collection, explained me the color palette that’s on trend right now and mentioned the importance of dressing in quality and investing in pieces that will last longer and fit you better with time. The experience of shopping at Tommy Hilfiger is living the American dream.
Bula Surf Shop
Royal Plaza Mall 112, Oranjestad | +297 583 8458 | bulasurfshop.com
Located right at the top of the escalator at Royal Plaza Mall, Bula Surf Shop, founded in 2003, has always been the coolest place to go when you’re looking for originality. They have a well-curated selection of brands from around the world to fit the laid-back Aruban style. By Ali’s advice, you have to go there when shopping in Aruba. Bula has the coolest original merchandise that is not available anywhere else, not even online, it’s locally made and the best part is that has limited production. It all blew up when they put out the first “Dushi Yiu” (“very nice” as equivalent in English) t-shirt that was a local hype and since then they have been producing new designs. I consider their merch the coolest souvenir or gift.
Renaissance Resort, L.G Smith Boulevard 82, Oranjestad | vilebrequin.com
If you’re on the hunt for the best swimwear, Vilebrequin it is! The brand from Saint Tropez was founded back in 1971 by Fred Prysquel, it’s full of timeless pieces and a rich range of colors and motifs. It has always been one of my favorites, now all over Instagram sported by top influencers and celebrities their famous turtle logo became a classic. Ali and I enjoyed navigating their last collection and picked pieces to match the resort vibes. I promise you it’s worth the investment, the swim shorts last forever.
Zoutmanstraat 1, Oranjestad | +297 587 8709 | arubacosecha.com
Ali’s expertise is always important, not only in the style section but also she’ll make sure to incorporate the local touch, the culture, the Aruban art and craft. That’s why she took me to Cosecha, translated to “harvesting”, a space full of Aruban craft heritage and artistic supply of artisans, located conveniently in town housed in a beautiful traditional yellow building. Everything you’ll find here is authentic and has the SEYO certification, which is the national seal of craftsmanship, so you know you’re taking home the real deal!
Wilhelminastraat 11 Oranjestad | +297 583 7237 | kokoptica.com
What is a look in Aruba without a killer pair of sunglasses? If you’re thinking you need an upgrade in the eyewear department, KOK Optica has everything you need. Five stores around the island display a beautifully curated collection of high-end brands for you to choose from. Ideally, for Aruba, the fact of being part of the Dutch Antilles makes KOK Optica special because they can carry collections only made for the European market which probably make your sunglass shopping trip a treasure find. Impossible to miss them while shopping downtown because they are located in two beautifully restored “cunucu” houses, honoring the Aruban heritage. Ali’s Picks were black chunky Tom Ford sunglasses and a more futuristic Dior Homme pair in blue, my favorite color!
No therapy like retail therapy and if you want to find some treasures go to downtown Oranjestad. Its home to a great variety of jewelers and boutiques all over the area and for sure will satisfy even the finest shopper. It’s even possible to find that special item which sold out at home!
Do | The best activities to do on Aruba
The island might be small but don’t think it doesn’t have the options for you to choose and do the most when you visit or if you’re local, give a twist to your days off!
J.E. Irausquin Boulevard 382A, Noord | +297 586 6533 | paseoherencia.com
Whether you’re a visitor or a local Paseo Herencia will always be a present. Located in the hotel area of Palm Beach, the open-air mall offers a good selection of stores and experiences. If you go in the morning for breakfast, your coffee run or at night for shopping and dining, Paseo will have you covered. For shopping, it is always nice to walk around and discover what the stores have to offer. Although small, Paseo has the nicest options for you to shop, going from perfumes and beauty, jewelry and world famous brands to even something to get as a souvenir for your friends back at home. If you decide to go out for dinner, Paseo offers a wide selection of restaurants with Argentinian, Dutch, African, American and Mexican cuisines that will make you feel full of options. They have a daily schedule of live entertainment on their amphitheater that’s worth checking out. My top picks are DLG and Tommy Hilfiger.
San Nicolas Art Tour
The art scene in the island is more happening than ever and during October the Aruba Art Fair welcomes new artists to showcase their work on the streets and to bring new colors to San Nicolas, at the south side of the island. San Nicolas is like our very own Wynwood District with beautiful murals all over the area, a must see. Cosecha’s lovely director Joanne Dirksz invited me on a tour pre-Art Fair which was ideal for me to learn more about the existent murals and I even got the fortune to talk to an artist working in site preparing for the big reveal the following weekend.
I was lucky enough to talk to Elco van den Berg (@iameelco), Mr. Dheo (@mrdheo) and Pariz One (@parizone) about their work-in-progress and was amazed to learn this is all handmade until the last drop of paint. Also, the Museum of Industry is an amazing place to visit and learn more about the island’s economic history. San Nicolas offers you so much life and colors I dare to say your trip to Aruba is not complete without taking a walk through these streets, plus if you’re looking for an Instagram moment, the pictures are going to be out of this world.
Pelican Private Jeep Tour
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 232, Noord | +297 587 2307 | pelican-aruba.com
When I was going through activities to feature in this guide, there is no doubt that one had to be a Jeep tour. If you’re visiting our island or if you’re a resident it is always amazing to take a day to discover what our natural monuments have to offer and taking a Jeep tour is the best way to be able to see it all in one day.
Pelican Adventures has an incredible option if you’re looking for something more private away from the crowds, a private guide in your own Jeep. We started at 9 in the morning heading to the California Lighthouse located at the north end of our island, recently renovated to its original splendor it is a great point to take a view of the north side. The cool part is that from the hill where it is located you can take a look at the blue waters of Arashi Beach all the way to Palm Beach but also if you turn around you can see the dunes and more wild waters that guard the coast.
Off to Bushiribana Ruins, an old gold mine. Imposing on its own and located right next to our wild coast as I like to call it, you get to learn a lot about the past economic activities of the island. Local tip: it is a great photography spot for sure.
Right next to it there’s the Natural Bridge stop.
Mother nature took its toll and it collapsed in 2005 but don’t worry, we have a new small one that you’ll be able to see right there. Also from a distance, you’ll see Andicuri beach which is just 10 minutes away from the parking area and if you’re willing to take a small walk among the rocks you’ll find a beach of crystal clear wild waves. It is a local favorite and my own.
Off we go to Arikok National Park, the Jeep tour includes the park entrance fee so it is only a 15-minute drive away. I really enjoyed the drive around back roads. I’m pretty sure you’ll always discover some new sights and roads you’ve never been before and if you’re visiting, you’ll see diversity and get to find out more about the quiet island way of living.
Arikok National Park has paved roads, so there’s no need to worry if you’re not an experienced off-roader, roads that took us to Quadirikiri Caves. It was my first time in the caves and where our tour guide, Victor really shined, telling us curious facts about the local language and indigenous occupancy as well as the origins of the local population. The caves have 3 chambers all with easy access so no need to be fearful. You’ll be surprised how amazing they are and for sure one of your best trip pictures will be taken in there cause the main chamber has natural light that enters and create the perfect lighting to show the intricate structure. The cave has its own inhabitants, super friendly bats that are a protected species of the park. But don’t worry, they won’t bother you at all.
Taking a back road you’ll pass by the windmills what make a cool contrast with the wilderness of the island to reach out to Seroe Colorado. Local tip: Don’t miss a chance to take a picture at the red anchor, if you go to Aruba and don’t take a picture there, did you really go to Aruba? The road leads you to Baby Beach, always incredible and serene, the local favorite to enjoy with the entire family due to its shallow waters and no waves. It’s the last stop of the tour perfect to cool off with a dip before heading back to Oranjestad.
To finish the tour, it’s included lunch on the pier at the Pelican Nest. Perfect grouper fillet and fries with a cool lemonade replenishes your energy and makes the perfect ending to the experience.
Aruba evolves every year but remains the paradise we all treasure! There is no doubt we all want to make the most with our hard earned days off and whether if you’re local or visiting I hope I got you inspired to discover more of what One Happy Island has to offer. Until next time!