Aruba is known to have some of the Caribbean’s best beaches. In fact, many travelers agree Aruba’s beaches rival those of Thailand, Australia and Hawaii. Though the island is relatively small, with around 105,000 residents occupying just under 180 sq. km, there is no shortage of locales for aspiring beach bums to choose from. Take your pick from secluded and romantic to lively and action packed. From miles and miles of powder-white sand to limestone cliffs overlooking crushing surf, Aruba has nearly 20 well known beaches for travelers to explore. It was an enviable task, but on my recent trip to the island I committed to touring nearly all of them. Here’s my list of Aruba’s top beaches, in no particular order.
Palm Beach: Where the Action is
Palm Beach occupies an impressive two-mile stretch of Aruba’s northwestern shore, adjacent to the community and hotel zone of Noord. Palm Beach is the island’s largest and most well-known beach destination, as it’s home to a major strip of hotel complexes from the RIU Palace in the south to Ritz Carlton in the north. For more on my favourite boutique hotel on the island, located just behind Palm Beach, check out Adventure In Aruba With Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba.
Palm Beach is a winner because of the incredibly gentle water and long sandy slope of the shore. Typical of most beaches in Aruba, there is also virtually no shells or garbage to contend with. It’s easy for practically anyone to let hours pass by floating in the calm water, perhaps with a drink in hand. Or you can stay on land renting a lounger from various vendors and watch all the water sport action that is popular in the area. Though natural beauty and the sunset views are impressive, the popularity of this area means it’s better suited for travelers looking for action (think jet ski, banana boat rides and stand up paddle board rentals) and proximity to bars and restaurants. It’s certainly not ideal for travelers looking for a secluded romantic escape or snorkeling. For avid runners, early mornings along this westerly facing beach are ideally shaded and offer a comfortable workout before the crowds build.
Perhaps the best time to visit Palm Beach is around dusk, where a sunset happy hour crawl is sure to satisfy any beach bum. Start on the far south of the beach at Bugaloe Beach Bar & Grill for half price drinks from 5-6pm, or opt for the more centrally located Pelican Pier Bar (in front of the Holiday Inn) with 4-6pm happy hour if you’re looking for an earlier start to the fun. Then head north to the Nos Clubhuis second story bar (5-6pm happy hour) located just a few paces south of the Marriott resort complexes. Right next to Nos Clubhuis you’ll find the iconic MooMba Beach Bar (6-7pm Happy Hour) which also serves up generous all-you-can-eat Sunday BBQs. The drink specials across these operators are fairly standard; all offering $2-4 beers and $3-5 classic cocktails during happy hour. There is also something to be said for packing your own cooler and chairs (regularly offered for free from various hotels and Airbnb hosts) and situating yourself on a quieter northern portion of the beach to enjoy your own sunset picnic.
Boca Catalina & Catalina Cove: A Snorkeler’s Paradise
Located three km or a five minute drive north of Palm Beach on the northwestern tip of the island, Boca Catalina sits between the larger Malmok and Arashi beaches. The actual size (small) and amenities (basically zero, but for a few palapas and trees generously providing shade) are certainly not what sets Boca Catalina apart. It’s what is under the water that counts most here.
It is a snorkeler’s paradise thanks to its rocky outcrops and easily accessible coral reef. Snorkelers will find the likes of sea urchins, barracuda, parrotfish, starfish, eels, squid and plenty of schools of juvenile fish. Mid-sized sea turtles are also spotted daily. Encounters with pods of dolphins, though much rarer than turtle sightings, also occur. In general, it’s best to go snorkeling at Boca Catalina early in the morning when the current and wind are low and the crowds are minimal. Wear water shoes or booties and you’ll be able to explore to your heart’s content.
What else makes the area so popular? 500 meters off the coast, the famous German shipwreck the Antilla attracts a near constant stream of day tour operators and catamarans. Thankfully these groups don’t come to shore, so while they may make it into some of your landscape photos, they won’t be taking up prime beach real-estate next to you. Despite the area’s notoriety among tour groups and independent travelers alike, Boca Catalina still feels nearly empty relative to Palm Beach.
Druif Beach: A Little Bit of Everything
Often overlooked for nearby Divi Beach, this area is perhaps the ideal mix of large palapas (thatched huts), wide beach and fun surf, all within proximity of several casual low rise resorts in the area. Druif Beach itself is very close to downtown Oranjestad, making it a perfect place to enjoy a swim (waters are choppier than Palm Beach but still swimmer friendly). What makes the experience at Durif Beach even more memorable for beach bums looking to soak up the sun in peace, is that motorized watersports are not permitted. This means a quieter vibe thanks to the absence of watersport vendors that typically dot the larger beaches. Another plus? While loungers and umbrellas at most of the popular beaches are reserved for hotel guests (or available for rental to passersby), there always seems to be a plethora of chairs and huts in this area that aren’t strictly guarded. Perhaps I simply lucked out two days in a row, but I had no issues borrowing a lounger for a few hours at mid-day, no payment required.
Aruba has several iconic images including the Divi Divi trees on Eagle Beach or the now collapsed natural stone bridge. Druif Beach is also home to a classic image and one of my all-time favorites from my trip to Aruba. The remains of the pier emerge from the surf, approximately 15 meters from shore. Now home to a rotating flock of pelicans, it’s easy to see why the pier also attracts it’s share of amature travel photographers.
Baby Beach: Fun for the Whole Family
Drive 45 minutes south of Palm Beach to Aruba’s most southern shore and you’ll find Baby Beach. It’s actually a manmade, half moon shaped lagoon. Beach bums can enjoy incredibly sheltered swimming experiences in shallow (ankle to hip deep) water extending hundreds of meters from shore. For these reasons it’s a favourite for tourists and locals with small children in tow, hence the name Baby.
The lagoon does open up to the Caribbean Sea beyond its large protective boulders, though the outer currents can be extreme making snorkelling beyond the cove ill advised. Marine life within the lagoon itself is fairly disappointing for experienced snorkelers or adventurous travelers. Your best bet to enjoy Baby Beach is therefore to simply float and lounge. Or lounge then float. I suppose the choice is yours.
Along the 600+ meter arch of white sand that makes up Baby Beach, visitors can enjoy casual food and drinks from various beach shacks or take advantage of wind shield and lounger rentals. You can even visit nearby JADS Dive Center Aruba to arrange more underwater adventure on the island. If budgets are tight, rest assured there are a fair amount of very large palapas for free public use, and like all beaches in Aruba, bringing a cooler full of your own food and drinks is definitely encouraged.
The one downside of Baby Beach’s location in Seroe Colorado is the proximity to a massive oil refinery off the southwest coast. Though not a major distraction while enjoying the area, it is inescapably part of the broader view (more so for nearby Rodger’s Beach). Thankfully, prevailing currents and wind mean there is really no immediate impact to travelers on Baby Beach. Sadly, Aruba’s most recent oil spill just took place in June 2017. Ironically, the 200 barrel spill actually originated in nearby Trinidad and drifted over to Aruba’s northern shores on the opposite side of the island from Baby Beach and the refinery.
Dos Playa: Where You’ll Find Surf and Serenity
One of the highlights of my trip to Arikok National Park was without a doubt Dos Playa (two beaches). The sand is so soft and deep that you seem to sink at least six inches with each step. The beach itself is set between impressive limestone cliffs. Thousands of years ago, the cliffs themselves were actually part of a massive submerged coral reef that constituted the entire mass known today as Aruba. Water here is far too rough to partake in if you’re a swimmer. It is however paradise for experienced surfers or beach bums looking to enjoy the perfect view with a picnic. Just like the crashing surf, the easterly trade winds shouldn’t be underestimated here.
Getting to Dos Playa can be an adventure unto itself. You’ll need an ATV or 4 wheel drive vehicle to make it to the site within the national park. Don’t forget to pay your park entrance fee. Moreover, it’s important to remember to pack up before you arrive, as there are literally no amenities at this location. Zero washrooms, food vendors or lifeguards on duty. Plus, you won’t find an umbrella rental stand for miles. But therein lies the beauty of this area. Travelers who make the trip are well rewarded with an often deserted beach. Literally. During our visit, we enjoyed lunch in complete solitude.
The one downside of being the only people on a beach is that no one else is around to take your picture should you want one. My deepest thanks go out to whoever perfected the time delay function on cameras. Though the time delay portraits didn’t make it into this article, they are among the most memorable from my entire trip to Aruba.
More Beaches with Honorable Mentions
While the five destinations above rank highest in my books, there are dozens of other notable beaches in Aruba. Are you a traveler dedicated to making your way around the entire island to see them all for yourself? If so, here are a few additional spots that although didn’t make my list of Aruba’s top beaches, they certainly merit honorable mentions on your tour:
The ultimate spot to enjoy sunsets in Aruba. While most of the long westerly coast of Aruba offers memorable sunset views, this location takes the cake. Away from the crowds, bars and noise of Palm Beach, Arashi offers simple pleasures. A few palapas dot the narrow stretch of sand along with bathroom facilities and the odd drink vendor. That’s about it. With plenty of nearby parking you can actually watch sunset without even getting out of your car – but you miss out on feeling the sand between your toes!
To really get the most out of sunset in Aruba, consider driving up to the California Lighthouse, hiking the nearby dunes, then grabbing a pre-sunset drink from La Trattoria Faro Blanco. Be warned, at Faro Blanco reservations for seating anywhere but the small bar must be made in advance. And guest attire is comparatively formal by island standards. Predictably, there is also a huge rush of guests at sunset that results in infuriatingly slow service, but the views may be worth it for some travelers. You can then make your way 1.5km down the main road to Arashi to take in the final moments of the setting sun.
Also known as Fishermen’s Huts, Hadicurari is located south of Malmok Beach and just north of the Ritz Carlton on Palm Beach. It is the mecca of windsurfing and kitesurfing on the island thanks to the near constant trade winds and huge expanse of shallow water. The beach itself has a few more pebbles than the likes of Palm or Baby beach. The same winds that make action sports so great may also mean that simply lying, reading or eating on the beach without taking in a mouthful of sand can be a challenge. Each July the beach is host the Hi-Winds Aruba Tournament, the largest windsurfing competition in the Caribbean. 2017 marks the 31st year of the competition, which attracts athletes from around the world and eager spectators alike.
Without a doubt Aruba’s iconic tourist beach. In addition to the standard powder white sand, crystal water and calm surf, Eagle Beach is the widest beach on the island. For a few months of the year it’s also the epicenter of local turtle nesting in Aruba. Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green and Hawksbill sea turtles all nest here, and a chance encounter is without a doubt one of the most memorable things a traveler can ever experience.
For those looking for an active day in the sand, Eagle Beach is also home to several beach tennis courts operated by Beach Tennis Aruba, which runs a range of leagues, tournaments and lessons. I’m not joking – beach tennis is a legitimate internationally sanctioned sport. Imagine a game of doubles tennis played on what’s more like a shrunken volleyball court. Then add a requirement that the ball not touch the sand (like a game of badminton), blazing sun and cheering fans. Welcome to beach tennis, and one of the most challenging things you’ll do on vacation.
This is another gem within Arikok National Park. A visit to Boca Prins can be easily bundled with Dos Playa as they are only a 15-minute walk along a coastal trail from one another. Like Dos Playa, Boca Prins receives surf too strong to actually swim in. However, stunning grass covered sand dunes make the perfect backdrop for photos, picnics or lounging in relative seclusion. Take note, you’ll need an ATV or strong 4 wheel drive vehicle to reach this destination, and like Dos Playa, washroom or food facilities are non existent.
Looking for more on Aruba travel? Be sure to check out our other articles on this sunny island: