Spend every day on the beach if you want -- but you'll miss Aruba's wilder charms. With stark wind-swept hills, towering cacti, and rough and rocky coasts, the outback is completely different from the posh resort areas, and worthy of exploration. The island's small enough to cover in a day or two. For a complete adventure, rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle: The most picturesque routes are rubble-strewn dirt roads; ordinary cars will do, but rugged Jeeps are better, and in Arikok National Park they are highly recommended. The circuit around the island's northern tip -- to California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Bushiribana Gold Smelter Ruins, and Ayo and Casibari rock formations -- is the most popular. Although less frequented, Arikok National Park, with its flora, fauna, caves, dunes, and history, is just as worthwhile. If you're not the outdoorsy type, visit Oranjestad's small museums or drive down to San Nicolas on your way to Rodger's Beach or Boca Grandi.
Major tour operators conduct guided tours through the outback or around Arikok National Park. Several incorporate sightseeing with swimming and snorkeling. De Palm Tours (tel. 297/582-4400; www.depalmtours.com) dominates the field, with half-day and full-day excursions in air-conditioned motorcoaches, four-wheel-drive vehicles, or all-terrain buggies. On the four-wheel-drive trips, you drive your own Jeep as part of a caravan led by a guide who broadcasts commentary over the radio. Competitors include ABC Aruba Tours (tel. 297/582-5600), and Pelican Adventures (tel. 297/587-2302; www.pelican-aruba.com). Three-hour excursions start at $45; for 4 1/2-hour trips with refreshments and snorkeling the price climbs to $77. For a more natural experience your best bet is Aruba Nature Sensitive Hiking and Jeep Tours (tel. 297/594-5017 or 585-1594; http://naturesensitivetours.com) where you can take an easy or challenging hike in Arikok National Park, or a moonlight hike, complete with transportation in an open-sided transport. The company is owned by one of the founding members of Aruba's natural parks, Eddy Croes, who is a driving force of conservation on the island and a wealth of knowledge.
For a bird's-eye view of the island, take a helicopter tour with Heli-Tours (tel. 297/731-9999; www.arubahelitours.com), located at the heli-pad near the Renaissance Marketplace in downtown Oranjestad. A 15-minute Beach Safari to the lighthouse is $95 per person; a 30-minute tour of the entire island will set you back $160 per person.
On Your Own
If you'd like to explore at your own pace, rent a Jeep. Prices for a roofless four-wheel-drive with standard transmission start at around $48 per day. Air-conditioned automatics are $65 and up. Driving around on your own is fun, but be forewarned that road signs are often small, handmade, and unnoticeable. Ask for a map: Even if it's hopelessly inaccurate -- which it will be -- a bad map's better than no map at all. If you plan to take a popular route, discreetly join a caravan or ask directions along the way. Even if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, the island's too small to truly lose your bearings (the wind always blows from east to west). Some car-rental agencies will also rent you a cellphone along with the car for a nominal fee. This may be a good option if you are worried about getting lost or breaking down. If you're more interested in sites along paved roads and don't feel like getting lost, hire a cab. The going rate is $50 per hour for a maximum of five people.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.