Choose from full-size air-conditioned coaches, minibus tours, or safari-type vehicles that handle large and small groups. The more unique methods, such as trikes and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, take such few numbers that they are practically private tours.
Aruba has a wealth of both large and small tours, allowing visitors to tour exactly as they please.The advantages of guided tours, whether large or small, are many. Drivers and guides know the island well. Aside from getting you where you want to go with minimal wasted time, guides provide interesting and informative commentary, often seasoned with wit and folklore, making for an enjoyable interlude.
Disadvantages include the need to keep to a schedule at the expense of visitors being able to explore or savor a site for as long as they wish. This is when the smaller, personalized tours, with guides who can accommodate patrons’ whims, deliver the desired experience. Aruba has a wealth of both large and small tours, allowing visitors to tour exactly as they please.
Tours of Aruba by Coach
De Palm Tours
Aruba’s most prolific tour operator, De Palm Tours (L. G. Smith Blvd. 142, 297/582-4545, 10am daily, $35 adults, $26 children), has the largest fleet of air-conditioned coaches and a wide variety of tours. Coach tours tend to visit the more easily accessible and prosaic spots, with the required shopping stop at some local suppliers. Those wishing for a token glance at the island away from the resort centers, while travelling in complete comfort, will find this just about right. Buses take up to 65 passengers.
A mid-size tour operator and transport provider, EL Tours (Ir. Luymestraat 6, Pos Chiquito, toll free U.S./Canada 866/978-5913, on Aruba 297/585-6730, 9am-1:30pm daily, $35-45) uses smaller buses and takes fewer passengers. It also visits many of the standard sites, but provides an option to stop at Arashi Beach for an hour of snorkeling. Equipment is provided.
Tours of Aruba by Minibus
There are quite a few independent operators who take small groups of 11-15 visitors, maximum, at very reasonable prices and flexible times schedules. For large families it is easy to arrange a private tour, and most are done at a leisurely pace, allowing personalized exploration of the various sights. Vehicles are well maintained and air-conditioned, offering an attractive alternative that is less commercial than the ordinary bus tour. These independent bus operators are spirited tour guides with a wealth of information about Aruba.
Minibus tours generally operate from in front of the cruise terminal in Oranjestad. They also pick up at hotels when groups hire the entire bus. During the low season they will also provide transport for groups, saving money on multiple taxis. Minibus tours tend to stick to the more easily accessed sites and smooth, paved roads.
Xclusive Tours & Transfer Services
Working for over 14 years as a tour guide since he was 18, the last 5 on his own, Regmy Dubero of Xclusive Tours & Transfer Services (Rooi Kochi 30 C, 297/593-3551, $25) takes his responsibility as an “ambassador of goodwill” very seriously. He makes every effort to entertain his guests while proudly showing off his homeland. Tours can be customized to explore particular areas of the island. Favorite spots on the regularly scheduled tours include Casibari Rock Formation, Bushiribana Gold Ruin, Santa Ana Church, and Alto Vista Chapel. A standard tour is two hours, but it can be extended. A menu of tours is offered and passengers can pick the route that interests them most.
Sonny Binns (Binns Tours)
Sonny Binns (Pos Chiquito 81B, 297/568-2028, email@example.com, $10/hour pp, minimum two hours) has a larger bus than most independent operators: He handles up to 28 passengers. He has set tours of three and five hours, but is fluid about time and itinerary, customizing the trip to the tastes of his guests. He is also a veteran tour guide who decided to go out on his own, which makes him a very happy fella, indeed. He visits many of the popular spots, offering a selection of sights and timed tours.
After more than 24 years as a tour guide, Howard Folkes of HF Tours and Transfers (Piedra Plat 46H, 297/594-1954, $20 pp for two-hour tours, extra time is negotiable) knows every nook and cranny of Aruba. He has two busses, one that handles 29 passengers, the other 15. Trips are customizable. Though his normal point of departure is from in front of the cruise terminal, he will pick up at hotels, even if it’s not a private group. Depending on the departure point and time requirements, he will suggest a menu of easily accessible sites, such as Santa Ana Church, Alto Vista Chapel, California Lighthouse, and Casibari Rock Formation.
Caravan and Specialty Tours in Aruba
Caravan tours offer the best of both worlds: a chance to drive your own 4×4 or heavy duty safari-type vehicle, and a tour guide in a lead car showing the way. Most caravans take 6-10 passengers. These will usually deploy the rougher roads, which are often more direct. Excursions may last a full day with a good number of stops, as standard sights are mixed with those exciting, out-of-the-way locations. Some tour operators also offer shorter tours focusing only on off-road sights. Pick-up times at resorts are 15-30 minutes prior to tour times quoted, as guest will be transported from their hotels to a centralized departure point.
Using Jeep Ramblers seating only four, the EL Tours (Ir. Luymestraat 6, Pos Chiquito, toll free U.S./Canada 866/978-5913, on Aruba 297/585-6730, 9am-5pm daily, $75 half-day, $93 full-day) safari excursions are a bit more intimate, often providing friends or family with their own car. Full-day tours include lunch at the highly recommended B-55 restaurant. Aside from 4×4 tours, EL also is a go-between for interesting alternatives such as guided hiking and mountain biking, horseback rides and Harley-Davidson tours, along with dedicated eco-tours. These are customized tours, so prices and hours vary depending on size of group, length of tour, and choosing a guide or exploring on your own.
The first safari tours on Aruba were run by ABC Tours and Attractions (Schotlandstraat 61, 297/582-5600, 9am-5pm daily, $99 adults, $59 children, includes lunch; 8:30am-12:30pm $79 adults, $49 children, natural pool only, no lunch). They set a standard that many still copy. Owner Marvin Kelly is always thinking innovatively and working to make the tours better. They use Land Rovers with shade canopies. In 2013, they opened their own safari-style restaurant, Waka-Waka, where they stop for a BBQ lunch. The guides compete with each other to make their tours the most interesting and fun. The heavy-duty vehicles allow them to take passsengers to the more out-of-the-way spots, including Conchi, Aruba’s natural pool on the north coast. Patrons do the driving while following the leader, so skill at using a standard transmission is required of at least one person in a group.
Alternate tours include the Ostrich Farm, Ayo Rock Formation, Andicuri Beach, and the Donkey Sanctuary.
Madi’s Magical Tours
Madi’s Magical Tours (Shete 19, 297/746-1397, Sunrise Conchi Tour 5:30am-8:30am daily, $75 adults, children half price; 4.5-hour private tours $100) are run by Madi, a fifth generation Aruban who grew up with the countryside as her backyard. She admits to being a “bruha” (a white witch) with an encyclopedic knowledge of island folklore, bush medicine, and out-of-the-way sights. She is more than just a tour guide; her tours always have the feeling of ban keiro (“let’s go tripping”). They’re like an excursion with family and friends, rather than a paid excursion.
Madi takes very small groups and tries not to tie the guests into a set schedule or routine. Tours usually go well beyond proscribed times as patrons are reluctant to depart her charming company. She is quite the character, with memorable, unusual tours. Pick up and return to your hotel is provided. The safari-type vehicle puts passengers in the car with her, not relegated to the back, so all can enjoy her running commentary.
Guests can choose from a sunrise tour to Conchi, which departs before dawn. Expect some breathtaking photos as the sun rises on this dramatic area of the north coast. Madi is continually adding new, undiscovered areas to her itinerary. Madi is the person to see for a tour that specializes in the unusual.
Nature Sensitive Tours
Nature guide Eddy Croes harbors a passion for the outdoors and Aruba’s environment, which he shares during his Nature Sensitive Tours (jeep tours begin with pick up at hotel, 297/585-1594 or 594-5017, hiking tours by appt. $79, fullday jeep tours $85). He was a powerful force behind Arikok National Park becoming a protected preserve and the first to begin identifying and labeling much of the flora found there. His tours are a unique experience, focused not only on the typical sights. He offers a more thorough exploration and understanding of how the many unique outback land formations came to exist.
Eddie has a wealth of stories and folklore to impart and has become something of an Internet personality, so his tours are in demand. He now takes groups of 20 or more for hiking tours using a refitted military truck. The canvas sides of the truck do not allow passengers to view the countryside while moving between locations.
Madagascar Aruba Adventure
Tourists are raving about Alfredo and his Madagascar Aruba Adventure (Caya Seyda 9, 297/746-0572, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8:30am-1pm and 2pm-6pm daily, $50 adults, $30 children). This tour, like Madi’s, is singled out for the charm and enthusiasm of the owner-guide. Passengers report tours often go over the allotted time because all, including their host, are having so much fun. A little young to be called “Papa Alfred,” Alfredo is very much all about taking care of his patrons and is well informed about the island and the sights. Groups are limited to 12; his shaded safari truck is well set up for taking lots of pictures.
Tour Aruba by Motorcycle, ATV, and Trikes
In the past few years, tour operators have realized that getting there can be half the fun when the transportation is funky.
Big Twin Harley-Davidson
On the western outskirts of Oranjestad is the Big Twin Harley-Davidson dealership (L. G. Smith Blvd. 106, 866/978-6525 or 297/586-8220, 9am-5:30pm Mon.-Sat., $140-175 half-day rentals $175-200 full-day rentals), easily spotted by the HOGs lined up in front. If it has always been your dream to be an Easy Rider, you can rent your own or take one of their guided tours for an additional $20 per person fee, gas not included. Two on a bike is allowed. Tours are conducted with only three bikes at a time, for a very personal, interesting way to see the island, Availability is limited and it’s best to reserve online prior to arrival on Aruba. Always attempting to be different, the tour includes a lunch or refreshment stop at Charlie’s Bar in San Nicolas.
Watapana ATV Tours
Indulge in the current craze for off-roading with Watapana ATV Tours (Schotlandstraat 50, 800/482-2140 or 297/583-5195, natural pool 9am-noon daily, island tour 2pm-5:30pm daily, $88 single rider, $99 for two). ATVs are particularly suited for those tough Aruban outback trails and great fun.
Show off your sense of style and see the island with Trikes (L. G. Smith Blvd. 333, De Olde Molen parking lot, 297/738-7453, office hours 8am-5pm Mon.-Sat., tour times are flexible, $120 for 2, $20 extra for a third person, $50 to drive on the trike with the guide). You will see heads turn as you pass. These motorcycle and car hybrids are very comfortable and easy to drive; a short lesson and practice precedes the actual tour. Some skill with a stick shift is helpful.
Michelangelo is a very personable guide. Tooling around in these hot-colored three-wheelers is just plain fun; be ready to be noticed. The lunch stop on the all-day tours is at Zeerover for an authentic taste of Aruba.
Horseback Tours in Aruba
Still one of the best ways to see Aruba’s north coast is via horseback. Rancho Daimari (J. E. Irausquin Blvd. 382 A, 297/586-6284, 8am and 2pm daily tours, lasting 2 hours, Andicuri Tour $65, Natural Pool $78, resort pick-up and return), just north of Arikok National Park, is one of the best situated and most experienced stables, specializing in treks to the Natural Pool.
Gold Mine Ranch
Alternative north coast destinations via horseback are on the tour route of Gold Mine Ranch (Mativadiri 60, 297/585-9870, tours depart 9am and 5pm daily, $65-75, private tours available). The tours make seven stops along the way, boasting to be the only ranch offering a beach trot through the waves. These tours are for capable and experienced riders exclusively. Riders are paired with a horse that matches their riding skill.
El Paseo Ranch
Closer to Palm Beach resorts and offering horseback tours along the Malmok Coast is El Paseo Ranch (Westpunt Z/N, 297/593-1440, daily tours at 9am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm, $110). This stable is one of the few that includes rides with a snorkel stop in Arashi, a good spot for novice snorklers. Excursions include drinks and snacks, snorkel equipment, vests, and instruction.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Aruba.