Presented in partnership with Marriott International
A hidden treasure of charming contrasts, Aruba, a tiny island nestled off the coast of South America blends turquoise waters with a dreamy desertscape and laidback luxury beachfront resorts with a bustling city center. The fusion of vibrant Caribbean culture and its Dutch colonial roots comes together in the island’s native tongue, Papiamento, a lively Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish hybrid.
The perfect escape for those wanting to relax and unwind on pristine beaches, explore fascinating naturescapes and colorful wildlife (stay tuned) immerse themselves in history or simply live it up indulging in delicious coastal cuisine, tropical cocktails, world-class casinos and shopping hotspots, Aruba will always leave you yearning to return.
On Travel Curator’s recent trip to Aruba in late September, we uncovered a hit list of the best things to see, do and experience on this idyllic slice of paradise and it’s with pleasure we share our Ultimate Guide to Aruba in partnership with our friends at Marriott International. As loyal Marriott Bonvoy members, you can unlock the ultimate curated experiences through the Marriott Bonvoy rewards platform and enjoy Marriott International’s core offerings like coveted location, upscale culinary delights, and world-class resort amenities like spectacular pools and rejuvenating spas.
As global travelers, we know the landscape for discovering the world has changed, and adhering to safety protocols is the top priority. The Government of Aruba along with the Department of Public Health has done an outstanding job putting precautions and restrictions in place to ensure ease of travel and safety, health and wellbeing of all guests. All travelers must complete the Embarkation/Disembarkation Card (ED) to be approved for entry into Aruba. This includes providing your basic travel information, completing a personal health assessment, taking a COVID-19 test 72 hours before arrival and submitting a negative test result, providing your travel insurance details (all travelers must have adequate health insurance) and giving consent to adhere to the government mandated rules and regulations. Once approved, travelers will receive a ED card featuring QR code that is scanned when you board your flight, at customs on arrival and when you check into your hotel or resort. For more information and to check the latest requirements visit Aruba.com.
A Short History Lesson….
The original inhabitants were the Arawak Indians, though legend has it that when Spanish explorers first discovered the island in 1499, they named it “Oro Huba,” meaning “there was gold”, though the Spanish never actually found any. Aruba came under Dutch rule in the 1600s after the war between Spain and Holland. Though it is still considered part of the Dutch Caribbean islands, Aruba became an independent nation in 1986. Fun fact: every Aruban citizen also has a Dutch passport and the evidence of its European past is clearly evident in the Dutch-inspired architecture that stretches to every corner of this vibrant Caribbean paradise.
The Hotel Scene…
Marriott International’s portfolio is a showcase of over 60 resorts and hotels in 14 dreamy destinations across the Caribbean and Latin America including LUX and Premium properties, so finding a gorgeous place to stay for your Aruban getaway is easy. Nestled on the white sandy shores of Palm Beach you’ll find the stunning Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. In the heart of downtown Oranjestad with unrivaled access to a breathtaking private island where flamingos roam free is the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. Or check-in, like we did, to The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, a bespoke beachfront hideaway to enjoy warm Aruban hospitality and that legendary stellar Ritz-Carlton service.
How to Chill Like a Local
Palm Beach: An endless two-mile stretch of coastline with stunning turquoise waters, Palm Beach is a favorite for tourists and locals who come to swim in its beautiful Caribbean waters as boats and kite surfers sail by.
Tribe Tip: Palm Beach is home to The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba where guests can enjoy the property’s private stretch of beach from the comfort of their own cabana or sun lounger.
Aruba Walking Tours: The best way to get to know the lay of the island’s land and immerse yourself in its history, culture and people is courtesy of Aruba Walking Tours, founded and run by local Mark Benson Denz, formerly of the Aruba Tourism Board, who is considered something of a celebrity in Aruba. Booked by the team at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, we went for the private Daytime Historic & Cultural Walking Tour hosted by Benson Denz himself. The two-hour tour (pack your best walking shoes) explores the historic heartbeat of Aruba’s town center – previously a fisherman’s village – where you’ll find the country’s oldest fort Aruba’s Parliament, the Archeological Museum, Queen Wilhelmina’s statue at Wilhelmina Park and many other hidden local gems. Along the way, you’ll refuel on local delights like pastechi – Aruba’s answer to the empanada traditionally stuffed with Dutch cheese – and discover an island highlight, an emerald green mansion with quite a history. Eloy Arends Manor, modeled after a Colombian mansion, was built in 1925 by a doctor named Eloy Arends for his bride Maria. As tradition once dictated, a man had to present his new wife with a fully furnished house and Dr. Eloy spared no expense making sure he built the most beautiful one on the island (much to the envy of his brother who built a rival property next door). Throughout the years the mansion has been a restaurant, election center and was ruined by fire. It was restored to its former glory in 1997 and today serves as City Hall, ironically presiding over marriages
Tribe Tip: Do your tastebuds a favor and book the nightly food tour with Aruba Walking Tours to embark on a 2.5-hour adventure through the culinary melting pots and flavors that ignite Aruba’s foodie scene – you’ll visit five restaurants to sample Jamaican, Cuban, Dutch, Italian, and traditional Aruban fare.
Alto Vista Chapel: Up a winding dirt road lined with cactus and white crosses, Alto Vista Chapel sits on the site of Aruba’s original Catholic church (the island is predominantly catholic). The small picturesque yellow chapel, where locals come for sacred moments of prayer and reflection, has its own Peace Labyrinth and bright blue interiors which provide a stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscape while offering panoramic views of the ocean.
Natural Bridge: Naturally formed entirely of coral limestone and once part of an ancient cave, Aruba’s Natural Bridge was one of the largest and most photographed bridges in the world before it collapsed into the sea in 2005. Visit what’s left of this natural wonder today to marvel at the turquoise waves crashing into its remnants.
California Lighthouse: A beautiful beacon atop Aruba’s northwestern tip, the California Lighthouse is a must-see island landmark. Now retired, the old stone whitewashed lighthouse built in 1910 has the most spectacular views of the island’s western coast and shorelines from its hillside setting. Climb all the way to the top for 360-degree views or to get a birds-eye view of the full moon during one of the islands Full Moon Night Viewing Celebrations.
Ayo Rock Formations: Aruba’s rich history can not only be felt but seen, especially at the massive and awe-inspiring Ayo Rock Formations. This ancient site composed of intricately placed towering rock boulders was once considered a sacred site by the island’s first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians. Today, visitors can discover rock drawings dating back thousands of years and walk through vast stone pathways to gain a deeper understanding of Aruba’s ancient roots. To elevate your experience and immerse yourself in the magic and tranquility of this ancient site, the team at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba can pack guests luxe picnic lunch complete with charcuterie, fresh wraps, tropical fruits and champagne to enjoy a light bite and toast to one of Aruba’s most striking backdrops.
Natural Pool: Inside the rugged terrain of Arikok (Aruba’s National Park) uncover one of the island’s most remote hidden gems, the Natural Pool. Known as “Conchi” or bowl for its round shape, the unique volcanic rock stone formation is truly a mystical natural wonder.
Tribe tip: The Natural Pool is only accessible by foot, horseback, or a 4×4 vehicle so planning ahead is a must.
Aruba Aloe: In Aruba, aloe is a big deal — it’s even featured in the country’s coat of arms – and its introduction to the island in the late 1890s kickstarted the economy. Aruba’s desert-like environment intensifies the plant’s natural healing properties, meaning the most potent aloe vera gel in the world is produced here. So naturally, no visit is complete without a visit to the island’s oldest company, Aruba Aloe, which as you might suspect specializes in the creation of aloe-infused cosmetics. We were treated to a tour of the factory and fields where one million aloe plants are grown – and discovered how each aloe leaf is hand-cut and quickly harvested to protect its rich nutrients before being created into Aruba Aloe’s signature skin care products, lotions, soaps and shampoos (we also got to take some home).
Where to Eat Like a Local
Italy In the World: This historical gem, a stop on our Aruba Walking Tour that we made a point of returning to experience, is located in the oldest house in Oranjestad and exudes a warm Euro-Caribbean vibe. Stepping through the tiny door of Italy In The World into the intimate bright yellow restaurant, you’ll discover only a handful of tables, a curated wine stash lining the walls, and a menu of handmade pastas scribbled on a blackboard that changes daily which if you’re lucky come paired with the chef’s favorite wines. +297 748 8985
Barefoot Restaurant: Enjoy dining on fresh-caught seafood with the sand between your toes underneath a traditional palapa (umbrella) overlooking the Caribbean sea at Barefoot Restaurant. The ocean-inspired menu, enhanced by local flavors, produces standouts like Dutch crab cakes or Romance Of The Sea, a delicious combination of grouper, snapper, and Mahi served with a lemon-garlic sauce. Did we mention shoes are optional? +297 588 9824
Flying Fishbone: The perfect place to catch an Aruban sunset, Flying Fishbone is just steps from the shoreline. Indulge in fresh seafood to the sounds of rustling palm leaves in a tropic-chic setting in the heart of Savaneta, a traditional fisherman’s village. The menu changes daily according to the catch but you certainly can’t go wrong with the Seafood Pasta served with scallops, shrimp, mussels, calamari and the fish of the day in a light marinara sauce. Be sure to leave room for dessert, the chocolate ravioli with poached pear and vanilla ice cream drizzled in chocolate sauce is out of this world. +297 584 2506
Zeerovers: A local gem, Zeeovers (translation pirate) is where you go for traditional Aruban fare by the ocean. This rustic culinary haunt redefines catch of the day – fishermen literally pull their boats into the wharf beside your table and clean and cook your meal in front of you – and the menu features one or two daily fresh catches served with local sides. Simplicity at its finest and freshest. +297 584 8401
Quinta Del Carmen: Embark on a culinary journey and Aruban history lesson at Quinta Del Carmen. Built in 1916 as a luxe Caribbean style home, today it’s a foodie hotspot and beautifully restored landmark complete with lush expansive courtyard and grounds. Enjoy a casual tapas-style experience in the alfresco courtyard, or head inside to indulge in fine dining Dutch cuisine with a Caribbean flail – think cheese croquettes served with a raspberry coulis and traditional Dutch Sucade Lappen, iron steak stewed for hours in red wine and served in its own gravy. The wine list is extensive so we suggest taking a look at the Treasure Cellar Collection, a bespoke showcase featuring rate and vintage vinos from around the globe. +297 587 7200
Best Hotels in Aruba
A romantic beachfront oasis steps from Palm Beach’s pristine shoreline, The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba seamlessly blends tropical Caribbean style and elegance with the best of five-star luxury and modern amenities. The resort has six onsite culinary hotspots, (the team can also arrange private dining experiences on the beach), a lively 24-hour casino, and an ultra-luxe 15,000-square-foot spa with 13 treatment rooms.
A long palm tree-lined driveway took us to the grand lobby where we were greeted with a warm “Bon Bini” (welcome) and floor to ceiling glass windows offering endless views out over the ocean. The hotel has 320 guest rooms all designed in quintessential Caribbean style with expansive private balconies and lush marble bathrooms with soaker tubs. There’s really no reason to leave the resort, so like us, you may want to spend your days soaking up the sun and the resorts relaxing Caribbean vibes at either of the two pools (both come with stunning ocean views) or beachside in your own private cabana (your wait staff will arrive on speed segues).
For Club Level guests, the 7th floor is home to a chic private lounge where you can enjoy stunning seascape views and a curated menu of complimentary bites. A dedicated concierge service is also on hand to take care of every aspect of your stay to ensure its unforgettable.
Tribe tip: The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba welcomes dogs under 20 pounds and caters to your fur baby with exclusive dog beds and bowls, a curated doggy menu complete with delectable treats and even in-room massages for you and your pup. For little ones of the human variety, Ritz Kids will keep your kids entertained with a curated supervised program of experiences and activities so you can enjoy some R&R.
Family-friendly option: If you are traveling with the family, we recommend checking into the beautiful Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. Also a tropical island paradise overlooking the Caribbean sands of Palm Beach – stunning views from your own private balcony await – the hotel is just steps from shopping, restaurant and entertainment hotspots and filled with luxury resort amenities and activities for everyone (including the H2Oasis adults-only pool and Tradewinds Club). Spend your days sipping on handcrafted cocktails in your private cabana, relaxing in the sauna or whirlpool, or indulging in massage treatments at the hotel’s Balinese-inspired Mandara Spa. Come evening, dine in style at either Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Atardi, or La Vista before trying your luck at the buzzing 24-hour Stellaris Casino.
Best Restaurants in Aruba
The perfect way to kick off your day in paradise, Solanio is a casual indoor/outdoor trattoria offering a delicious assortment of breakfast options from pastries to a bubble bar and a full menu of favorites like avocado toast and mango breakfast parfait.
Madero Pool & Beach Grill
Our go-to spot for a casual cocktail and bite by the pool and ocean, we couldn’t get enough of the poolside classics like the fish tacos and Fisherman’s Hut Sandwich with grilled mahi and sweet plantains.
Papagayo Bar & Grill
A culinary gem and a highlight of our day trip to Renaissance Private Island where you’ll be treated to the sight of wild flamingos (more on that later), Papagayo Bar & Grill offers an unforgettable alfresco dining experience on the beach. The octopus salad with coconut-infused balsamic vinaigrette and classic shrimp tacos are always a hit but also bringing the star factor are the restaurant’s signature inventive cocktails served in beautiful decorative glasses. Order a Tropic Like It’s Hot, infused with ginger and elderflower syrup, fresh lemon juice, tequila and splash of ginger ale, or the Flamingo named after the island’s stunning inhabitants made with a fresh blend of lemon juice, raspberry, gin, and egg white.
Divi Sushi Bar & Lounge
The buzzy lobby bar hub of The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, Divi Sushi Bar and Lounge is the place to go for an expertly crafted cocktail, fresh sushi and light bite. Enjoy sips while admiring the statement wooden light fixture overhead, a glamorous nod to the natural landscape just beyond the outdoor terrace.
You’ll find BLT steak, a modern American steakhouse with a classic bistro ambiance on the ground floor of The Ritz-Carlon, Aruba. Expect foodie nirvana thanks to the specialty steaks which come seasoned with Aruban spices and flavors and served with mouthwatering sides. Our expert server Andres and his team walked us through the culinary intricacies of our meal – we opted for the 7oz USDA Prime Filet Mignon in garlic butter, we chalked this up the best Filet Mignon we’ve ever had. This melt-in-your-mouth experience was washed down with a bottle of Bodega Catena Zapata Mendoza Malbec (we highly recommend).
Tribe tip: Every dish comes accompanied by BLT’s famous popovers so be sure to just have a nibble and leave room for the main events. Especially when the appetizers include a rich liver pâté crostini chilled East Coast oysters served with mignonette and cocktail sauce and burrata, featuring toybox tomatoes, basil oil, basil seed and ginger vinaigrette that’s like no burrata we’ve ever tried before.
Waves Beach Bar & Grill
Poolside and by the beach, Waves Beach Bar & Grill at Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is the place to go for light bites and specialty cocktails anytime, but especially as the sun sets on another day in Caribbean paradise. The cuisine is casual American and the signature cocktails are designed to keep the party going.
The signature restaurant at Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, enjoy spectacular ocean views from the open-air terrace at La Vista where it’s all about al fresco dining. Start your day right with their fresh breakfast buffet, and then gather family and friends for lunch or dinner – the culinary specialty here is elevated international with a focus on Italian classics. Seafood pasta anyone?
Casa Nonna New York
The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba’s other fine-dining outpost, Casa Nonna New York serves elevated Italian comfort food in a chic, sophisticated setting. We dined with our gracious host, Hotel Manager, Louella Brezovar on the restaurant’s signature fresh pastas by talented Chef Luis Duarte and his team. The evening kicked off at Louella’s recommendation with a blood orange margarita before ordering a crisp white from the curated wine list. As is the Italian way, Casa Nonna New York specializes in family-style dining, there’s a lazy susan perched atop the table so you can sample all the delicious options. Like the grilled octopus in a sherry vinaigrette, spinach salad with toasted almonds, strawberries and ricotta and the Polpettine beef and pork meatballs with warm ricotta – a house favorite. As for the fresh homemade pastas, expect to be spoilt for choice. We went for the best of both worlds by ordering the Siamese Agnolotti made with savory veal ragu and truffled pecorino fonduta finished with a marsala glaze, followed by the Pansotti Di Zucca featuring squash ravioli made with brown butter, sage, walnut pesto and dusted with amaretti cookie which could almost double as dessert. Speaking of, do leave room for Zio Steve’s Spumoni a rich blend of chocolate, pistachio, and cherry almond ice cream inside toasted meringue or the Crostata Di Pera, a pear tarte on a bed of almond paste topped with salted caramel and vanilla gelato (we’re still thinking of both).
For a real toes-in-sand luxury dining experience, Atardi, shoreside at Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, is one of the best-kept secrets in Aruba and the place to go for an epic sunset and cocktail amid the blow of tiki torches. A true pop up dining destination, every afternoon Atardi is set up to create an intimate one-of-a-kind experience. As if it isn’t romantic enough, you can also enhance your experience by having your own candlelight table set up steps from the sand. Specializing in elevated seafood, the highlight dishes by Chef Caesar and his team include zucchini short rib rollup amuse-bouche on a bed of mango chutney topped with bleu and parmesan cheeses and cilantro. An exquisite slow-cooked octopus a la plancha, Caribbean grilled lobster tail served with a tarragon-Pernod sauce and last but by no means least fresh sea bass with a cauliflower puree and delectable champagne sauce.
Best Things To Do in Aruba
Take relaxing to the next level in your own private cabana. Luxuriously outfitted with plush lounge chairs and beds, personalized amenities, and elevated service (think snacks and refreshments served by your own dedicated team), the hardest decision you’ll have to make is deciding between lounging pool or beachside. For cabana package information or to make a reservation ahead of your arrival contact the team at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba here.
Mixology Experience & ‘Bahada di Solo’ Sunset Celebration
Celebrate the island’s tropical cocktail history with a curated mixology experience at Divi Sushi Bar & Lounge. The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba’s resident mixologist, Greg, showed us how to master the hotel’s signature, the Cadushi. A sweet refreshing blend of white rum, orange liquor, water, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and special secret ingredient – a native cactus known for its health benefits, the cocktail pays homage to the island’s desert landscape.
Renaissance Mall Aruba
A playground for stylish tastemakers, the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino is home to the island’s high-end shopping hub Renaissance Mall. Here you’ll find over 75 boutiques, including local gems, alongside luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel. Make sure you have extra room in your suitcase.
Renaissance Private Island
For a day trip you’ll never forget, Renaissance Private Island is a must-see-to-be-believed experience. The 40-acre luxury island paradise is home to the only private beaches in Aruba, including the famed Flamingo Beach, a tropical fantasy and Aruba’s most Instagrammed destination where flamingos wade freely in the crystal waters and strut across its glittering sands. The island, which is accessible only by water taxi (see below for travel tips) also has its own curated watersports program and the luxury Spa Cove, a private sanctuary where rejuvenating treatments are enjoyed overlooking the Caribbean sea. For a totally indulgent curated experience, you can also book an overnight stay for two where you will be treated to a 5-course dinner on the beach under the stars of your own private island, beach bonfire with marshmallows, overnight cabana access and complimentary breakfast at Papagayo.
Tribe Tip: Access to Renaissance Private Island is complimentary to guests staying at Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. Day trips can also be arranged via your hotel concierge and ours was seamlessly planned thanks to the team at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba.
The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Aruba
Another highlight of our getaway was our trip to The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Aruba. This beachfront rejuvenation sanctuary has 13 treatment rooms, a high-tech fitness center, relaxation lounges with whirlpool, saunas and steam rooms, hair and nail salon, and an oxygen bar for when you need an instant energy and skin-boosting hit. Our journey started in the calming ambiance of the relaxation lounge before we were greeted by our therapists, the lovely Robyn and Wendy, who led us into our private treatment rooms to undergo the blissful Misterio Di Aloe (read on). Also on the must-try signature treatments list are indigenous inspired scrubs and baths infused with natural ingredients from the island and centered around the four elements of fire, water, sky, and earth.
Misterio Di Aloe
Meaning, “Mystery of Aloe”, embark on a nearly two-hour pampering session and wellness journey utilizing the healing, hydrating properties of Aruban aloe during The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Aruba’s signature spa treatment. Misterio Di Aloe includes a full body massage, rejuvenating facial, and reflexology of the feet to aid the release of toxins in the body through the foot’s pressure points. Mind, body, and soul restored, we returned to the relaxation lounge and tucked into a detoxifying aloe juice with an incredible gel texture and an aloe and white chocolate mousse treat topped with a delicate lavender macaroon, because, well let’s face it, in Aruba, there’s no such thing as too much aloe.
Tierra del Sol Golf Course
The 18-hole Tierra del Sol Golf Course, only a 5-minute drive from The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, is a unique desert-links course designed by famed golf architect Robert Trent Jones II. The championship course, designed to bring the elements of wind, sea, and earth into harmony is perfect for players of all levels and also offers private lessons, clinics, a full driving range, rentals, pro shop, beverage cart and grill. As an access partner, arrange tee-times through The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba concierge.
After long days soaking up the sun at the beach or poolside in your own private cabana, Aruba turns things up a notch come nightfall with their electrifying casinos. Enjoy an evening with Lady Luck at The Casino at The Ritz-Carlton, a glamorous 15,000 square foot casino outfitted with 17 tables for traditional table games, 265 dazzling slot machines, two sporting bet kiosks, luxury bingo, and where complimentary drinks are served to players 24/7. Up your game with a BlackJack clinic or enroll in the VIP membership program to enjoy a host of benefits, complimentary services, and rewards that can be redeemed towards the hotel’s luxurious amenities. While you’re on a roll, also make sure to try your luck at the glamorous Stellaris Casino at Aruba Marriott Resort. Experience dazzling entertainment with Vegas-style gaming home to over 26 gaming tables and impressive Aruba poker tables featuring Let It Ride Poker, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, and Blackjack. Sports fans can find their fun at Stellaris Casino’s state-of-the-art Race and Sports gaming kiosks to get in on the action ahead of kickoff.
The Travel Curator team wants to extend our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for the stellar welcome, service and safety protocols put in place by the country of Aruba and the incredible teams at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, and Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, during our trip to beautiful Aruba.
Imagery Credit: Natalie Goenaga