Trip Date 02/24/2019
Posted On 04/22/2019 17:15:43
Destinations | Cruises | Aruba | Oranjestad | Free sites in Aruba | How to Spend One Day in Aruba | What to Do in Aruba | Aruba Shore Excursions | DIY Touring in Aruba | Explore Aruba On Your Own
Aruba, one of the three island destinations comprising the ABC Islands, offers visitors a wide variety of things to see and do. From swimming and snorkeling to relaxing in the sun or shade and from natural scenery to man made structures, there are even many free sites in Aruba. It's truly easy to navigate and explore Aruba on your own with just a day in port. With DIY touring in Aruba, there is plenty of time to get a taste for why people keep returning to the island.
If you have plans to visit Oranjestad via cruise ship and are wondering what to do in Aruba or how to spend one day in Aruba, check out this post. These 13 attractions can all be enjoyed at no cost (other than the costs associated with renting a car). There's something to do for the most active of travelers as well as for those who prefer to enjoy some rest and relaxation. For a perfect Aruba shore excursion, choose what you and those with whom you are traveling would most enjoy seeing and doing, or try to see and do all 13!
Car Rental in Oranjestad, ArubaResponses from the various rental car agencies that we contacted prior to leaving home ranged from already being fully booked to not having locations near the port (and as is unfortunately common, some never responded at all). We reserved a one-day car rental with Amigo Rent-A-Car and were happy with both the price and service.
An Amigo representative met us at 8:15 AM across the street from the port near the I Love Aruba store and sign as promised. After driving us a short distance to the rental car agency, we completed the required paperwork (including a credit card hold for vehicle damage) and inspected the car. With maps in hand, we departed on our island journey before 9:00 AM.
Returning the car was just as easy - our car was inspected upon our return to the rental car office and the credit card authorization was adjusted to reflect no damage to the car. We hopped back into the car, this time as passengers, for the ride back to the port.
Renting an economy-sized car for a full day came at a cost of $54.06 (including insurance). After seeing each of these 13 sites plus exploring Arikok National Park , we spent $13.26 at a nearby gas station to refill the tank.
. . . And now, the 13 Free Attractions in Aruba in an order for you to easily create a driving route - can you make it to all of them?
1. Eagle BeachFirst on the list due to its proximity to Amigo Rent-A-Car is Eagle Beach, but this destination is actually three-in-one! With its powder-like white sand, the beach is an awesome place to spend some time either relaxing or enjoying the Caribbean waters.
Before packing up to head to another of the 13 free spots to see on the island, don't miss seeing the two famous Divi Divi Trees. The island breezes blow in from the northeast causing these trees to appear bent and pointing to the west.
Near the same end of the beach as the trees, but closer to the palapas, find the tree that has a wooden seat attached to a branch with two ropes. Swinging on the beach is fun for both children and adults!
2. The Olde MolenOver 200 years ago in the year 1804, a Dutch Windmill was built in Holland to pump water. After twice being damaged by storms (in 1878 and 1929), it was decommissioned. Thirty years later, the remains were brought to Aruba and rebuilt as a restaurant and museum.
3. The Old Cunucu HouseOriginally built as a farmhouse over 150 years ago, The Old Cunucu House has been operating as a restaurant for the past 25+ years. Houses such as this one were carefully designed and located so that several generations of families could live comfortably together. Being constructed of large rocks helped ensure a cunucu house could survive hurricane winds. The thick walls with windows located to take advantage of the island breeze provided for natural air-conditioning.
At a minimum, drive by to see the restored structure that has survived so many years on the island. If you have the time, consider eating lunch or dinner prepared with "Grandma's secret recipes".
4. Malmok Beach
A stop at Malmok Beach gives you the opportunity to experience more of the island's sandy beaches and clear Caribbean waters. An excellent snorkeling spot, you'll likely see the snorkels worn by passengers from boat tours bobbing up and down. As you approach the beach, make sure to be on the lookout for the shipwreck remains, popular with divers.
5. Arashi BeachAnother fabulous spot for snorkelers, Arashi Beach is just north of Malmok Beach and on the route to the famous lighthouse. Solos, couples and families head here to both relax on the white sand and to get their fill of the beautiful Caribbean water. Draw a picture in your mind of the perfect beach day, and you're likely to find it here. Whether it's swimming, snorkeling or just plain sunbathing in your photo, don't miss checking out Arashi Beach.
6. California LighthouseYou can't miss noticing the California Lighthouse standing tall on the northwest tip of Aruba. Named after a steamship that hit a rock and sunk in the nearby waters, the lighthouse was originally completed in 1916 and quickly became an iconic landmark of the island.
For those wishing to challenge themselves with climbing to reach the top, it's just over 100 step. All but the first few are grouped into flights of 12 steps with a small landing between each flight. The staircase is so narrow that when someone is approaching in the opposite direction, everyone pauses against the wall of the lighthouse allowing them to pass by.
The reward at the top is a unique bird's eye 360 degree view of the island - albeit a bit blocked by the chain-link safety fencing all around.
Although during our late February visit no one appeared to be selling or collecting tickets, I've read that the cost to climb the lighthouse is $8.00 per person.
7. Alto Vista Water Tank ViewpointStill in the northwest part of the island, there's a turnoff that leads up a hill to the Alto Vista Water Tank. Although the tank is not the attraction, if you are in to reading graffiti there is plenty here for you.
The real attraction here is another unobstructed view of the island. Even the island's regulars bring newbies here to enjoy the panorama. Make sure to walk around to catch some photos from different points. You'll likely be able to see your cruise ship, some of Aruba's resort hotels and, of course, the lighthouse.
8. Chapel of Our Lady of Alto VistaYou'll know that you are nearing Alto Vista Chapel when you begin seeing the crosses lining the roadside. Located on the site of the island's first chapel, Alto Vista Chapel was rebuilt in 1952 after the original laid in ruins for over 135 years. Now constructed of more permanent materials than the branches and wood used to build the predecessor chapel, the original altar stands inside after having been restored by a sculptor in the Netherlands.
9. Casibari RockActually a huge rock formation, there are two options to reach the summit of Casibari Rock. The route we took required a combination of climbing stairs along with some squeezing and crawling through the rocks. Once at the top, we saw the much easier to navigate but a little longer stone and concrete stairway which we chose to take on our descent!
Be on the lookout for some interesting desert creatures as you are walking around - you might spot an iguana!
Most people make the drive to Casibari Rock for the sole purpose of taking the short hike up to see the view of the island which is, without a doubt, spectacular. While you're there, however, take a few minutes to ponder just how these rocks could have come to this place on the island. With a variety of very interesting shapes and many of massive size, the rocks certainly weren't moved here by a couple of humans on a weekend!
10. Hooiberg StaircaseLooking for some real exercise plus a reported awesome view from one of the highest points on the island? Look no further than Hooiberg Staircase located near the center of the island. It's certainly the highest point on the island where you can enjoy a free view, but your body will definitely pay for it in the workout it takes to reach the top!
After meeting a couple returning from their trek straight up (and back down) and hearing their estimate of 650 steps in each direction, we passed on taking the journey. After all our original intent was to spend the entire day at Aruba's National Park, and at this point the morning was nearing its end. There is reportedly a resting point at about the half-way point of the climb also with a nice view.
11. Ayo Rock FormationsThe island's original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, considered Ayo Rock Formations a sacred site. Like Casibari Rock, the boulders making up the formations are all different shapes and sizes, but even the smallest of them are huge! Wander along the pathways at ground level or climb a series of rock stairs that will take you as high as you desire during your exploratory visit.
Near the base there are several palapas with bench seating around the sides, great for enjoying a snack or taking a break for lunch. (There is one palapa with a table as well, but it's likely to be the one chosen first by the earliest arrivals!)
12. Bushiribana Gold Smelting Plant RuinsYes, it's only ruins, but ruins from the Bushiribana Gold Smelting Plant in operation nearly 150 years ago. Originally built in 1872 with the machinery to operate the plant installed the following year, gold mining in Aruba didn't become profitable until 1897. Sadly, just two years later, this plant was abandoned in favor of a newly built plant in Balashi.
13. Natural BridgeAlthough the Natural Bridge collapsed in the latter part of 2005, it's still a site worth seeing. Originally part of a cave, it was over 23 feet high with a span of more than 100 feet from end to end. Check out the nearby stacked rocks courtesy of guests who visited previously.
Sharing the same plot of land, you'll also find a building home to a gift shop and snack bar. If you're hungry or thirsty, it's a great place to make a purchase to tide you over before dinner once back onboard your home away from home. (A soda and sports drink cost us $7.00, but it was worth it at the time to quench our thirst!)
Tips for Driving around Aruba in a Rental CarHere's a few tips to help ensure that you are ready for an awesome port visit on Aruba:
- Before you leave home:
- Reserve your rental car (While the roads to the last few attractions in the list above are not paved, as long as you take it slow, you don't need a four-wheel drive vehicle);
- If you will be traveling with a smartphone, install the maps.me app, download the map for Aruba and add markers for each of the sites that you plan to see. Once on the island, you'll be able to navigate and explore without a cellular connection;
- Pack swimwear, sunscreen, comfortable walking / hiking shoes, hats and, if desired, your snorkel equipment;
- Before disembarking your ship in Aruba:
- Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen and a hat;
- Wear or bring along your swimwear and walking / hiking shoes (especially if you intend to climb);
- Pack beach towels and, if desired, snorkel equipment;
- Request an island map either in the port building or from your rental car agency;
- Plan plenty of extra time for refueling and returning your rental car plus transportation back to the port;
- Finally, here's a few rules of the road for Aruba:
- Seatbelts are required for all passengers;
- All cars should travel on the right side of the road;
- Yield to pedestrians who have the right of way in crosswalks;
- Posted speed limits are in kph (kilometers per hour);
- Use of turn signals is required prior to making any turn;
- Right turns on red are prohibited on the island;
- Unless otherwise posted, traffic coming from the right at intersections always has the right of way;
- When entering a traffic circle, wait for an opening as the vehicles already in the circle have the right of way; and
- Drive in the right lane; Passing other vehicles can only legally be done on the left side.
Aruba Shore ExcursionsWhile Celebrity did not offer a tour that packed in anywhere near the number of sights that we were able to see, the two closest offerings were:
- Sights, Scenes & Tastes of Aruba (available exclusively for Captain's Club Members) included "upgraded transportation" and stops at Natural Bridge ruins, Baby Bridge, Bushiribana Gold Smelting Plant Ruins, California Lighthouse and Eagle Beach. Priced at $89.00 per person for the 3 1/2 hour tour, each guest was also treated to a "dushi pastechi di keshi" (a popular breakfast item described as a cheese patty).
- The 4 hour Aruba Island Sightseeing and Beach Adventure included an air conditioned panoramic drive with commentary passing by key landmarks. The $49.75 per person tour concluded with one hour of free time at Eagle Beach.
For less than $68.00 including transportation and fuel costs for both of us, plus the ability to travel at our own pace for the entire day, we would not have traded our plan for either of these excursions.
The ABC Islands of the CaribbeanIf your cruise is visiting the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), be sure to take a look at our post titled All West Beach Hopping on the Island of Curacao. While we didn't spend the day on our own, our tour had fewer participants than most cruise line organized tours and we made great use of our time in port. With stops for sightseeing, swimming and/or snorkeling and enjoying the island's natural beauty, you'll get a great taste for all that the island offers to its visitors.
Ports of CallWhat's your favorite way to spend a port day while traveling on a cruise ship? (Do you prefer to join tours offered by the cruise line, organize or reserve private tours, walk, drive or use public transit to get around a port city on your own ... or enjoy time on the cruise ship when it's not crowded?)
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