Wondering whether it would be possible to visit Aruba highlights in a day? This beautiful small island located in the southern Caribbean Sea has so much to offer and it’s definitely possible to get the most of it if you plan your day!
Before I first came to Aruba, I didn’t know much about the island, except that it had gorgeous, sandy beaches and great cocktail bars in its capital, Oranjestad. Since it was the very first time for my friends and me to visit Aruba, we decided to rent a car and organize an Aruba highlights tour, so that we can take a general glimpse of the island. We didn’t have much time as it’s always limited when you are working on a cruise ship, but we managed to plan our Aruba day trip and see a huge portion of the island!
Read below how we organized our trip, starting and ending in the capital of Aruba, Oranjestad, where our ship was docked.
Suggested article: Aruba Cruise Port Guide, Highlights & Top 10 Shore Excursions
Oranjestad, the Capital of Aruba
Oranjestad is the largest city in Aruba located on the western part of the island. Its name refers to the orange color which is symbolic and typical for the Netherlands. Wondering why? – well, Aruba is a constituent country of the Kingdom of Netherlands, along with a few other Dutch islands.
When we first left the cruise terminal building, there were so many local vendors and people renting cars, ATVs, UTVs, jeeps, and offering other activities and tours of the island. Our idea was to get a car and start our road trip which would cover all the top attractions that were on our bucket list for that day.
Suggested article: 25 Top Shore Excursion Packing List Items
Aruba is a very small island 32 kilometers (20 miles) long from its northwestern to its southwestern end, and 10 kilometers (6 miles) across at its widest point. Roads are quite well connected and it’s possible to visit a lot of places in a relatively short time.
Car Rental in Aruba
The first thing we needed to do is to find a car. As we were four, a regular car would work, so we started negotiating the price with one of the local car rental agencies we found outside the cruise terminal area.
And here is my Aruba tip number one: if you decide to rent a car from the street vendors (although I highly suggest renting a car from a reliable car company), ALWAYS negotiate the price first! Local vendors don’t have fixed prices! They know that cruise ship guests are willing to pay a lot of money if needed because they are limited with time and would pay whatever price just to have their day fulfilled. Sometimes, they give you a higher price on purpose, so always, always, always negotiate!!!
We knew that, so we negotiated with a car rental agency and paid our car only 60 USD (they accept dollars). It wasn’t rented for the whole day but only until 6 pm, which worked for us perfectly because by that time we needed to get back on board. Once we dealt with the paperwork which took less than 15 minutes, we were ready to hit the road! The driver’s license was required, but from your own country (the international one wasn’t necessary).
Aruba Highlights in a Day
The First Stop: Eagle Beach
Once we left behind the colorful facades of Oranjestad and the city center filled with bars, restaurants, shops, and a beautiful promenade stretching along the coast, we headed toward the northwest of the island and reached our first stop: Eagle Beach.
My first impression was: WOW! I’m DREAMING!
Eagle beach is a long sandy beach with crystal clear waters boasting an immaculate light blue color. The beach is natural and there are no large hotels or beach resorts nearby. It doesn’t offer many water activities either and has only a few bars spread along its coast. That’s what makes this beach a perfect place for all of those who want peace, silence, and good rest.
As it was our first stop, we didn’t stay here for a swim break. Instead, we found a perfect spot for taking a photo – the famous Fofoti tree, located just across from Amsterdam Manor, right on the beach. An interesting fact is that Fofoti trees best grow in Aruba because of the island’s climate and therefore are one of Aruba’s most popular trademarks. We took a few pictures at the tree place and headed toward our next stop: Palm Beach.
How to Get to Eagle Beach?
There are many ways to get to Eagle beach. It took us only 10 minutes by car (just following the road northwest) from Oranjestad city center and there are also buses and taxis getting you there.
The prices can vary. If you are traveling on a cruise ship, there will be buses in front of the terminal area taking you to the beach and back. The ticket cost is not high (not more than $5) but if you are limited with time – think twice because buses can be delayed, particularly on the way back, so it’s always advisable to share a taxi with someone.
Once I took a taxi to Eagle beach and it cost us $18 one-way, for a group of three people. Always bear in mind to negotiate the price as sometimes they can charge you more than usual.
The Second Stop: Palm Beach
Palm Beach was our second stop and for those of you who prefer beaches filled with water activities, hotel resorts, bars, and beach clubs – Palm Beach is a perfect choice!
It is 15-20 minutes driving distance from Oranjestad and there are a lot of buses and taxis offering transport services to take you there. From our first stop at Eagle Beach, it took us only 10 minutes to reach Palm Beach, following the same road taking us northwest.
The water at Palm Beach is clear, warm, and beautiful, although the beach itself is crowded and packed with tourists from hotel resorts. We accessed the beach passing through one of the hotel resorts (I can’t remember which one exactly, but there are many of them offering direct access to the beach).
Here we took a 30-minute swim break and enjoyed Captain Morgan rum cocktails. At Palm Beach, you can find everything you need, from beach beds and cabanas to the fancy beach bars and watersports. Be careful though, because prices here can be quite high!
Toward the North of the Island: California Lighthouse
After a refreshing break, we continued our trip to the north of the island and after a 15-minute ride, we reached the California Lighthouse, one of Aruba highlights.
It was named after the steamship California which sunk nearby in 1891. The lighthouse was constructed decades later on a high seaside elevation and today offers the best 360-degree view of the whole island.
It is possible to climb to the top of the lighthouse and the cost is around 5 USD, but we didn’t manage to do it as our time was limited. We bought some refreshments and ice cream instead, as there is a local kiosk where you can buy snacks and beverages.
NOTE: The terrain where the lighthouse is located is challenging for people with walking difficulties – it’s uneven and has many rocks, so beware of this fact if you decide to climb to the top.
If you have more time to spend in the area, check out the Arashi Beach located nearby. It’s a beautiful family-friendly beach with a small beach bar, offering all the necessary beach facilities for both kids and adults.
Alto Vista Chapel – Our Next Stop
After visiting California Lighthouse we drove southeast to our next stop: Alto Vista Chapel – a must-see attraction for all visitors coming to Aruba. It is 10 kilometers away from California Lighthouse and it took us approximately 20 minutes to drive there.
The road itself was decent, and the way to the chapel was well marked. The scenery changed, though. On the way to the chapel, we could spot huge cacti trees, Divi Divi trees (or Watapana trees, similar to Fofoti trees), lizards, and even donkeys. The chapel was built in 1952, at the same place where the original chapel dating back to the 18th century used to stand before it was ruined. It’s a catholic chapel open to the public, so we took a moment to enjoy the peace of it for a while.
There’s not much around the chapel, apart from tall cacti trees and local people selling refreshments, so if you want to buy some snacks you should better do it on the way there at one of the supermarkets. But beware that markets are really expensive as most of the products on the island are imported (I remember paying for a chocolate bar, coffee, and some crisps around $15)!
On the Way to Casibari Rock Formations
Only 8 kilometers south of Alto Vista Chapel, we reached an unusual place known for its mysterious rock formations referred to as Casibari Rock Formations. It is one of main Aruba highlights so don’t be surprised if you see many people around.
There’s also a restaurant and parking place, as well as toilets available. Evidence of prehistoric rock drawings is visible at the formation, and it’s possible to climb to its top as there are few walking trails and steps through the rocks allowing hikers to climb. Once at the top, you will be able to enjoy an extraordinary view of the island.
The Natural Bridge: One of the Main Aruba Highlights
The following stop was one of the main highlights of Aruba: the Natural Bridge, located on the east coast of the island. It took us around 15 minutes by car to reach the place.
Once we crossed to the eastern part of the island, we encountered some difficulties as the terrain became rugged and not suitable for cars. This whole area is part of Arikok National Park which can be accessed only by off-road vehicles such as ATVs, UTVs, or jeeps, and therefore is not recommended to access the area with a regular car.
Aruba boasts many natural bridges but this one is one of the most beautiful and photographed ones. Although it collapsed in 2005, it’s still one of the greatest tourist attractions on the island. The place around the Natural Bridge boasts a souvenir shop and snack bar with refreshments, so here we made a small break before hitting the road to our last stop: Baby Beach.
A Perfect End of Aruba Day Trip: Baby Beach
To get to our last stop, Baby Beach, we needed to get back to Oranjestad, which took us a bit more than 20 minutes. We dropped off our friend who needed to go back to the ship, and we continued to the southernmost point of the island: a beautiful, secluded Baby Beach – and we reached the place right at sunset time.
Baby Beach is a kids-friendly Caribbean pearl hidden in a calm lagoon, ideal for families and kids of all ages due to its shallow and crystal clear waters. We came there for a swim and ended up admiring the gorgeous sunset reminding us that our perfect day was reaching its end.
Back to Oranjestad
Our return to the ship lasted a bit more than 40 minutes due to the dense traffic we got into on the way back. The road taking us back to the capital is the only one so you cannot make mistakes and get lost, just keep in mind that it can take time to get back.
On the way back we passed by the city of San Nicolas, the second-largest city in Aruba located 19 kilometers from Oranjestad. Upon arrival at the capital, we admired colorful lively cities and already started planning our next trip to Aruba!
Aruba – One Happy Island!
To conclude, Aruba is a gorgeous island and I highly recommend everyone to visit! Although it is flat (I prefer mountainous places), nature is wonderful and the beaches truly breathtaking (and natural!). Whether you are on an Aruba cruise and staying only for a day, or spending a week or more on the island, renting a car in Aruba is always a great idea as it allows you to tour Aruba highlights on your own terms!
However, if you want to get more insight into the island’s history and its natives, and you prefer a tour guided by a professional, there are many choices there, as well!
One is sure: you will have an unforgettable in Aruba – One truly happy island!
This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.