Aruba’s principal attractions are the gorgeous beaches and azure waters. But it is worth it to travel beyond the beaches to explore the culture and unique topography of the island. Main tourist areas offer a myriad of choices for dining and nightlife. Though free musical entertainment is offered at several venues, the most stunning show is the daily gorgeous, colorful sunset along Aruba’s western shore. Hotel beach bars and independent lounges provide happy hour prices to enjoy this spectacle, which can segue into a romantic dinner right on the beach.

The white sand of Oranjestad Beach juts out into turqoise water with the land and cityscape stretching into the distance.

Oranjestad Beach. Photo © Phil Corneau, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Day 1

On your first evening run down to the beach to savor the sunset and take advantage of happy hour. Look for 2-for-1 cocktails at most hotel bars and cafés like Bugaloe at the end of the De Palm Pier. Stay for dinner and enjoy a fresh fish meal at Pelican Nest.

After hours, take in some free live music at Palm Beach’s Arawak Gardens, Fusion Wine and Piano Bar in the Alhambra Shopping Bazaar, or at the bandstand by the water at the Renaissance Marketplace in Oranjestad. If it’s a weekend, find a great band and fun crowd at Café Chaos across the street from Renaissance Marketplace.

Day 2

If it is a Sunday, check out the luxurious Sunday brunch at Windows on Aruba at the Divi Links. Enjoy an exhilarating morning jog along the paths parallel to Eagle Beach, or following the shore from Marriott to Malmok. Or, if you prefer, refresh your chi with some yoga on the beach at the Manchebo Beach Resort. For a true introduction to pampering and relaxation, Okeanos Spa will take you out to Renaissance Island for a treatment in their private cove.

Head over to the Butterfly Farm in Palm Beach for your first real outing; it won’t be your last visit. Butterflies are most active in the mornings.

Those eager to learn to snorkel or dive should join a sailing and snorkeling tour. Dive operators like Unique Sports of Aruba will have you exploring under the water in a few short hours. Quick morning courses allow novices to dive at one of the easier, shallower dive sites around the west coast, or snorkelers can enjoy a trip to the Antilla shipwreck and Arashi Beach.

Underwater view of an array of tropical fish on a reef.

Colorful fish inhabit the reefs off the shores of Aruba. Photo © vilainecrevette/123rf.

Enjoy a romantic dinner on the beach at Passions by the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort. Afterwards, stroll along the Palm Beach promenade for some souvenir shopping. Stay until late to party at Señor Frog’s.

Day 3

Catch a bus to Oranjestad for the day. Explore the landmark buildings that house the National Archeological Museum Aruba (NAMA) and the Aruba Historical Museum located within Fort Zoutman.

A charming lunch spot with a view of the harbor is The Paddock. Or meet island movers and shakers at their favorite power lunch restaurant Aquarius. For dessert, try some freshmade gelato at Lecca Lecca. Break up the day with a half-hour exploring Aruba from the air with HeliTours, or indulge in an underwater adventure on Atlantis Submarine.

Enjoy dinner at celebrated L.G. Smith’s Steak & Chop House or romantic Pinchos Grill and Bar.

Day 4

Today, get away from the beach and towns and do some touring with Madi’s Magical Tours, a highly personalized, unique safari tour with a dawn trip to Conchi (Natural Pool) on the north coast. From there, Madi can take you on an outback adventure lasting all or part of a day.

Or rent a 4×4 to tour on your own: Start the day by watching the sun rise from the California Lighthouse. From there you can head down the north coast road or make your way back to Noord and take in such sights as Alto Vista Chapel, Philip’s Animal Garden, and Santa Ana Church. If venturing farther along the coast in a four-wheel drive, follow the gravel road to the Bushiribana Gold Ruin, and the Aruba Ostrich Farm. The Ostrich Farm is a nice spot for lunch, followed by scrambling around the Ayo Rock Formation. Next to the Ostrich Farm is Gold Mine Ranch, where you can schedule an exploration of the area on horseback.

Unwind from an exhausting day of touring with a sunset “toes in the sand” dinner at Footprints at the Hyatt.

Day 5

Enjoy a day of hiking or horseback riding at Arikok National Park and the caves and coves beyond. A light breakfast can be had at Huchada in Santa Cruz, on the way to the park, if you wish to get an early start. Paved roads allow exploration by car, or park rangers will guide you through various hiking paths, such as Cunucu Arikok Trail, or to the summit of Seroe Jamanota, or to Conchi (Natural Pool), which will take up a morning or nearly the entire day. Enjoy a lunch of authentic Aruban cuisine at Urataka Center on the road leading to the park. Call Rancho Daimari if you prefer to take the tour on horseback.

Two horses are hitched to a post with rolling hills in the distance.

Still one of the best ways to see Aruba’s north coast is via horseback. Photo © Michelle Bailey, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Enjoy a gourmet dinner at Carte Blanche, in the Bucuti & Tara Beach resort, for a long, full, and entertaining evening of socializing with the chefs while watching them prepare dinner.

Day 6

Try one of Oranjestad’s many early morning eateries, such as Smit & Dorlas Coffee House. A drive to San Nicolas will allow you to enjoy the scenery of “Sunrise City.” Take a dip at Baby Beach or Roger’s Beach, two of the most beautiful inlets on Aruba. You can also set up diving or snorkeling in this area with Jad’s Dive Shop.

Heading back from San Nicolas, stop at Zeerover in Savaneta for fresh fish, island style. B-55, next to the old drive-in theater, on the main highway, has great BBQ and a beautiful view. From either of these eateries you can easily stop at Mangel Halto beach for a relaxing swim.

For a full day of water fun, families also enjoy the Aruba Waterpark off the Oranjestad-Santa Cruz road, which also has a great kitchen for lunch.

Returning from the waterpark takes you directly past Casa Vieja restaurant, which offers a dinner stop of authentic Middle Eastern or regional cuisine at bargain prices.

Day 7

Dig into gourmet crepes for breakfast at Le Creperie in Palm Beach to fuel up for learning windsurfing or kitesurfing with Aruba Active Vacations. For a real thrill, try Skydive Aruba in the field across the road from the windsurfing center. Scuba is a no-no less than 24 hours before departure, but sailing and snorkeling are always an option. Try something really different by exploring the south shore with Aruba Kayak Adventures, which includes lunch, or a customized surfing tour with Aruba Surf School.

In the evening hours you can pick up some last-minute souvenirs and explore the hot spots at Arawak Gardens. It is a good time to give in and buy that necklace or earrings that caught your fancy at Kristie’s Jewels or at the Caribbean Queen shop in Palm Beach Plaza. Combine shopping with some island history and culture while enjoying the Waltzing Waters at Paseo Herencia Shopping Mall. Finish the day at Sky Lounge where you can while away the night and count the stars.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Aruba.