All of Aruba's beaches are public, but chairs and palapas (shade huts) provided by resorts are the property of the hotels and for guest use only. If you use them at a hotel other than your own, expect to be charged. Few of the smaller beaches have facilities other than a shade hut or two, so if you venture afar for privacy, bring your own food, water, and gear. Beer cans and charcoal ash litter a few remote areas, but Aruba's beaches are expansive, and trash is easily avoided. The following beach tour starts at the island's northwest tip, near the California Lighthouse, and moves counterclockwise.
The calm surf and sandy bottom make Arashi Beach, near the California Lighthouse at the island's northwestern tip, one of Aruba's best swimming sites. Snorkelers like it for the elkhorn coral, while sunbathers spend lazy minutes watching pelicans fish. The white sand is soft, but look out for pebbles and stones. Although there are no facilities in the immediate area, a few beach huts provide shade.
Just a few minutes south, Boca Catalina, with its gentle, shallow water and plentiful fish, is another good spot for snorkeling. The sand is white, with some pebbles and shells, but the real hazard is horse manure left behind by some horseback-riding tours. This small pocket beach has no facilities, but it offers seclusion and tranquillity. Boca Catalina is the beach that you see from every snorkel sail excursion; likewise, from the beach itself, you see the mob of catamarans and sailboats clustered around the nearby reef.
A bit farther south, Malmok Beach is another popular swimming and snorkeling spot with tiny coves, white sand, vast shallow waters, and abundant fish. This strand has no facilities, but you can fantasize about the accommodations in the nearby mansions. A scuttled German freighter on the seabed not far from the coast attracts divers. The steady winds make the beach extremely popular with windsurfers.
The island's mecca of windsurfing, though, is just minutes south at Hadicurari beach, or Fishermen's Huts. Every July, this site hosts the Hi-Winds World Challenge, an important pro-am windsurfing competition, but on any day, you can watch the brilliantly colored boards and sails dance along the waves. The shallow water is also excellent for swimming. A sunken wreck resurfaced in a recent storm and sits frozen and upright, like a rusted ghost ship that ran ashore. Facilities include picnic tables and shade huts, but the white-powder-sand beach is flecked with pebbles and shells at the water's edge.
Home of the High-Rise hotels, Palm Beach is Aruba's best spot for people-watching. This stretch of white sand, adjacent to Hadicurari beach, is also great for swimming, sunbathing, sailing, fishing, and snorkeling. The resorts sift the sand daily to get rid of pebbles and sharp shells, ensuring a beach as soft as talcum powder. Located smack-dab in the heart of things, it can get crowded, though, and hotel guests stake out the scores of palapas sprouting from the sand early in the morning. With two piers and numerous watersports operators, Palm Beach is also busier and noisier than Aruba's other beaches. The least-crowded areas are to the north, between the Holiday Inn and the Marriott, and to the south, between the Wyndham and the Divi Phoenix. As you walk along the shore, you can wander through the splendid gardens of the beachfront resorts, watch the thriving bird and iguana life, and stop for a cold tropical drink at one of the many open-air bars. The eponymous trees, coconut and date palms, were planted in 1917.
Separated from Palm Beach by a brief outcrop of limestone that's home to a splendid green flock of parakeets, Eagle Beach is across a small road from several timeshare resorts. The wide beach here stretches as far as the eye can see. The sugar-white sand and gentle surf are ideal for swimming. The ambience is relaxed and quiet. A couple of bars, as well as numerous palapas and chairs maintained by the hotels, punctuate the expansive strand. Shaded picnic areas are provided for the public, and the beach is popular with tourists and locals alike on weekends. Prime sand conditions are directly in front of the Amsterdam Manor. The famous divi divi tree pictured on many an Aruba souvenir can also be found here, but a sabotage incident in 2005 necessitated heavy-duty pruning and removal of its main graceful branch that leaned longingly windward. Look for the unusually symmetrical lone tree with a visible stump about eye high.
For sheer tranquillity and open space, Manchebo Beach, also known as Punta Brabo, is top-notch. Because the sand here stretches 110m (361 ft.) from the shore to the hotels, congestion is never a problem. The handful of smaller resorts that occupy this coveted location, next to Eagle Beach, offer beverages and food, and the discreet atmosphere makes Manchebo one of Aruba's only tops-optional beaches. The white-powder sand is spectacular, but the surf is steady and brisk. With no watersports in the area, serenity is guaranteed. The premier spots are in front of the Bucuti Beach and Manchebo Beach resorts.
Druif Beach meets Manchebo Beach farther east along the coast. The sand remains white but the strand narrows considerably, and the surf becomes more restless. Rocks and pebbles come out in profusion here. The beach between the Divi Aruba and the Tamarijn Aruba resorts is the widest stretch in the area; the strip south of the Tamarijn is also nice.
South of Oranjestad and across the street from the Talk of the Town Hotel & Beach Club, Surfside Beach is sleepy and intimate. Although the hotel operates a bar and provides towels and beach chairs for guests, the small strip is also popular with Arubans, especially residents of nearby Oranjestad. The calm waters are great for swimming, but there are prettier beaches; Surfside's proximity to the capital is its major selling point.
The beaches of Renaissance Island are restricted to guests of the Renaissance resort, who board a skiff in the hotel's lobby in downtown Oranjestad for the 10-minute trip to the private island. The 40-acre tropical retreat features cozy white-sand beaches, intimate coves, and protected swimming areas. One secluded area is tops optional. Hammocks span the palm trees, and beach chairs are also provided.
In the hamlet of Pos Chiquito between Oranjestad and Savaneta, Mangel Halto is a favorite picnic spot. Its white-powder sand and shallow water are additional enticements for Aruban families, especially on weekends.
The charm of Rodger's Beach, south of San Nicolas, is initially overwhelmed by the gigantic oil refinery looming on the western horizon. Like something out of Orwell's 1984 or Dr. Frankenstein's lab, the smoke-belching towers contrast bizarrely with the idyllically beautiful Caribbean waters. The refinery is harmless (they say) -- no obvious water pollution, no stench (if the wind's blowing in the right direction) -- and the gentle, protected waters are ideal for swimming. The narrow strip of soft, white-powder sand is popular with locals, but tourists who want to get away from the more familiar sites show up as well. Palapas and giant sea grape bushes provide shade. There's also a small bar and grill, an array of colorful fishing boats, and shower facilities. Equipment, including snorkeling gear, can be rented nearby at an easy-to-spot shop called Jada. The water is shallow for almost 15m (49 ft.) out, and multicolored fish and coral formations are easy to spot.
Baby Beach, near Aruba's easternmost tip, is a prime destination for families with young children. Like a great big bathtub, this shallow bowl of warm turquoise water is perfect for inexperienced swimmers, thanks to the protection of rock breakwaters. The water is never deeper than 1.5m (5 ft.), and the powdery sand is friendly to bare feet. Be on the lookout for gnarled driftwood and sharp shells, though. Giant sea grape bushes and palapas offer protection from the sun. Facilities are restricted to a refreshment stand and washrooms. On weekends, the beach is very popular with Arubans, who party with music and barbecues. Coral reefs farther out used to be popular with snorkelers, but a recent storm did a lot of damage and the surf is rough outside the protected lagoon; keep an eye on the kids if they tend to stray. Bring your own towels and snorkeling gear.
If you find yourself sometimes snarling at children, avoid Baby Beach and drive north a few minutes to Boca Grandi, a virtually deserted expanse of dramatic sand dunes and sea grasses. The salt air and terrain are reminiscent of Cape Cod, but the aqua, azure, and sapphire waters are unmistakably Caribbean. A penitentiary crowns limestone bluffs rising behind the dunes, and the inmates suffer the ultimate punishment: viewing the ocean and beach and knowing they can't enjoy it. The low-lying sea grapes provide next to no protection from the sun, and pockets of trash and jetsam mar some of the intimate coves. The sand has pebbles, too, but the steady breeze and rolling surf are excellent for advanced windsurfing and kiteboarding. Because the surf is riled up most of the time, Boca Grandi is appropriate for strong swimmers only.
Boca Prins, in Arikok National Park on the north coast, also boasts dunes and hardy seaside vegetation, but the rough-and-tumble waters here make swimming out of the question. You'll need a car, preferably an all-terrain vehicle, to get here on the rutted dirt roads. Plan a picnic lunch, or eat at the nearby cafe, also called Boca Prins, walk along the limestone cliffs, and slide down the dunes instead of risking the water.
Dos Playa, a 15-minute walk west along the coast from Boca Prins, is an even more popular picnic spot. With crashing waves and a rugged coast, it too is picturesque but unsuitable for swimming.
De Palm Island (tel. 800/609-7374; www.depalm.com) offers a 1-day package that includes transportation to the island, open bar, all you can eat buffet, snorkeling, and a visit to the Blue Parrotfish Water Park. There are several tiny beaches and a tanning area with trucked-in sand, but with world-class beaches at the doorstep to every hotel, its hard to justify the journey and expense to this remote destination. The Blue Parrotfish Water Park is a small area where young children can splash, slide, and frolic in a safe and contained area. The cacophony of squeals from the hoards of giddy tots adds to the crowded and somewhat frenetic atmosphere. However, it's great for parents with young children since it's easy to supervise your children from a shaded area with lounge chairs. The nearby pocket beaches with protective jetties are also great for kids.
Protecting the Next Generation of Turtles
During turtle breeding season in April and May, you might notice some barriers erected here and there above the high tide mark. These are to mark and protect the location of turtle nests. At night, the buried eggs hatch and the young turtle hatchlings dig themselves out of the sand and make a frantic dash for the shore. Take great care to not disturb these sites and if you happen to see any young emerge during a nocturnal stroll, turn off all lights in the vicinity as the young use the moonlight to navigate to the water and can easily be disoriented by light pollution from cars, flashlights, or hotels. Keep in mind, too, that it is a violation of international laws to disturb or molest breeding or hatchling turtles, so feel free to speak up if you see someone trying to unearth some of Mother Nature's buried treasures.
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.