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Aruba: A First-Timer’s Guide to Paradise

Unveiling Aruba’s magic! This insider’s guide unlocks the secrets of Aruba for first-time visitors. Discover hidden beaches, savor culinary delights, and find your happy place on the One Happy Island.

Ever heard of Aruba, the aptly named “One Happy Island”? Our very own Editor-in-Chief, Laura Bartlett, is no stranger to the Caribbean. Family roots in St. Kitts and Nevis nurtured a love for the region and countless trips to Barbados solidified her island-loving spirit. Yet, Aruba remained a captivating mystery, a jewel in the Caribbean crown she hadn’t yet explored. Intrigued by its vibrant reputation and undeniable beauty, Laura embarked on a journey to unveil Aruba’s secrets.

Nestled just 15 miles north of South America, Aruba basks in year-round sunshine with average temperatures of 82°F (32°C) and cooling trade winds. This blissful island boasts a nine-mile stretch of pristine, award-winning beaches, where turquoise waters lap against the shore. Charming Dutch architecture adds a unique touch, while the island’s infectious Latin vibe keeps your toes tapping.

From world-class resorts to intimate boutique hotels, exciting nightlife to a plethora of water sports and activities, there’s something for everyone. The island even boasts a vibrant calendar filled with cultural and sporting events throughout the year.

Now, back from her sun-kissed adventure, Laura is here to share an insider’s guide crafted specifically for first-time Aruba explorers. From discovering hidden culinary gems to uncovering the island’s best-kept secrets, this guide will equip you to navigate Aruba with confidence and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Where to Stay in Aruba

Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Aruba

Okay, Aruba newbies, gather ’round! Let’s talk about the hidden gem that stole my entire heart (and maybe a few hours of work time, but hey, #balance, right?): Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Aruba.

This place wasn’t just a hotel, it was an experience. Imagine stepping into a lush, tropical oasis – a former coconut plantation, no less – dotted with charming casitas that felt more like your own private island bungalow than a hotel room. Seriously, mine was gorgeous. Think comfy king-sized bed, a breezy patio perfect for morning coffee (or sneaky afternoon cocktails, no judgment!), and all surrounded by swaying palm trees.

But the real star of the show (besides the resident iguanas, those guys were chill) was Coco Cafe. This open-air restaurant was basically an extension of the whole island vibes. Think colourful seating under a stunning seashell chandelier (seriously Instagrammable), friendly bartenders ready to whip up your favourite tropical drink and a menu that was, well, a total vibe. The protein smoothies became my go-to and the tacos were a no brainer. 

We’re talking local Aruban flavours mixed with Belgian goodness (the owners have some heritage there!), plus a sprinkle of Mediterranean inspiration they picked up on their travels. Basically, it was a party in your mouth, and everyone was invited (except maybe the iguanas, they seemed more into sunbathing).

Here’s the best part: Coco Cafe wasn’t just about amazing food (though the Breakfast Tower – delivered straight to your casita, hello lazy mornings! – was a true champion). It was the perfect spot to catch up on emails (free Wi-Fi, obvs) with the sound of the breeze rustling the palm trees as your soundtrack. Plus, happy hour from 3-5 pm? Sign. Me. Up.

So, if you’re looking for a place to unwind, recharge and maybe sneak in a little work without feeling like you’re in a boring old office, Boardwalk Boutique Hotel is your jam. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to unplug, sip a cocktail and just send “One Happy Email” to the world.

Coco Casita starts from $425 US dollars per night (low season), excluding the taxes. 

Where to eat 

Aruba isn’t just about stunning beaches and turquoise waters (although, let’s be honest, those are pretty darn amazing). To my surprise, it’s also a haven for foodies, with a vibrant culinary scene that reflects the island’s rich cultural heritage. From fresh seafood to international flavours and healthy options, there’s something to tantalise every taste bud. 

During our exploration of Aruba, we discovered a delightful mix of restaurants that perfectly complemented our island adventures. Whether you’re craving a casual lunch by the beach, a romantic beachfront dinner, or a delicious breakfast to fuel your day, we’ve got you covered. 

Honestly, the food on the island surpassed all of my expectations and whilst I was in Aruba, I was able to explore the world through my tastebuds. This list could have been endless so I’ve whittled it down to the top three must visit restaurants when you visit. 

Ever Restaurant 

Forget saving the best for last, Aruba’s culinary scene throws a knockout punch right from the start with Ever Restaurant. This isn’t your ordinary fine dining experience; it’s a freestyle symphony conducted by the maestro himself, Chef Ever de Peña. Picture this: you’re nestled in an intimate dining room with only 13 other lucky souls, the Oranjestad marina twinkling outside the window. Chef Ever and his team, visible through the open kitchen, orchestrating a culinary masterpiece – an eight-course journey through his artistic vision.

Let me tell you, the look of pure artistry and passion on Chef Ever’s face while he crafts each dish nearly rivalled the final presentation. It was enough to make this hopeless romantic sigh and declare, “Until I find a man who looks at me the way I’m looking at his food, I’m staying single!”

But seriously, the food at Ever Restaurant is a revelation. The focus is on fresh, seasonal ingredients, with a menu that changes every eight weeks or so. Expect a delightful dance of flavours, featuring the bounty of the sea, succulent meats and of course, a decadent finale. While dietary restrictions aren’t currently accommodated, trust me, this is an eight-course adventure your taste buds won’t soon forget (and neither will your Instagram followers – the plating is seriously photogenic!).

Just be sure to book well in advance, because with only 14 seats available, this hidden gem gets snatched up fast!


Forget your standard restaurant fare; Caya is an electrifying adventure for your taste buds, a passport to a world of international flavours where palm trees whisper secrets in the breeze as you settle into a charming table, anticipation building with every rustle.

The name itself, “Caya” (Papiamento for “street”), hints at the restaurant’s inspiration. Founded by two friends united by a passion for globetrotting and good food, Caya pays homage to their summers spent savouring the hidden gems of Latin America and Europe.

Caya’s menu isn’t a static list of dishes; it’s a dynamic tapestry woven by the visionary Chef Jhon Gomez. Think bold Asian spices mingling with Latin American rhythms, all harmonised with fresh, seasonal Aruban ingredients. One minute you might be savouring a Japanese empanada with a kick, the next you’re diving into a succulent duck dish infused with the smoky magic of a Peruvian mole. Don’t be surprised if a taste of Europe peeks through in a reimagined pasta dish, or the vibrant flavours of the Caribbean take centre stage in a seafood creation. This is the beauty of Caya – a symphony of international influences where every bite is an exciting discovery.

Caya’s Pastry Chef William Herrera is the genius of sweet finales. Using a foundation of homemade bases and fermented sourdough, he crafts desserts that are as delightful as they are guilt-free. Imagine textures that melt in your mouth and flavour combinations that leave you wanting more. 

This, my friends, is Caya.

Olivia Restaurant 

Olivia Restaurant isn’t your typical Aruban dining spot. Launched in 2022 by the celebrated Chef Dennis van Daatselaar (famous for his restaurants Carte Blanche and Wilhelmina), Olivia whisks you away to the heart of the Mediterranean, all under the twinkling Aruban sky.

Imagine a romantic, trendy, yet undeniably cosy open-air setting. Picture yourself escaping the crowds and settling into a comfortable chair, the gentle murmur of conversation and the rustle of palm leaves creating a calming ambiance. This is the prelude to a food adventure that will tantalise your taste buds and transport you to sun-drenched piazzas and bustling souks.

While Olivia’s lighting might be a touch more intimate (perfect for a romantic date!), the true star of the show is the food. You might even be lucky enough to have Chef Dennis himself grace your table, just like we did! During our visit, Chef Dennis personally curated a feast featuring his all-time favourite dishes from the menu.

The result? A whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean, with each bite bursting with fresh, healthy flavours inspired by Greece, Italy, Morocco, Lebanon, Spain and southern France. Think mouthwatering meats, vibrant vegetables and an explosion of spices guaranteed to tantalise your taste buds. And don’t forget to save room for dessert! Olivia’s homemade creations are the perfect ending to this unforgettable food journey.

What to do 

Kayaking and Snorkelling with Aruba Outdoor Adventures


One of the most unforgettable experiences on our Aruba trip was venturing out on the turquoise waters with Aruba Outdoor Adventures. Forget battling waves with traditional paddles – these guys do things in style with Hobie pedal kayaks! Let me tell you, after a few minutes of cruising along the stunning southern coast, my arms were thanking me (and secretly judging all those tourists struggling with paddles).

This effortless exploration allows you to truly focus on the breathtaking scenery, from secluded coves to vibrant coral reefs. But the adventure goes beyond the surface. Snorkelling with Aruba Outdoor Adventures lets you dive into a kaleidoscope of colourful fish, revealing the wonders of Aruba’s underwater world. And the best part? Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a complete novice, the stable and user-friendly Hobie kayaks ensure everyone can enjoy this unforgettable adventure.

Aruba Outdoor Adventures is more than just comfy kayaks. They’re all about creating life-enriching experiences that combine adventure with cultural immersion. Our knowledgeable and multilingual guide made us feel safe and secure and this will go down in the memory bank as one of the most enriching experiences of my life. 

Antigravity Aerial Yoga 

Ditch the downward dog and say hello to downward delight! Imagine yourself suspended in mid-air during Maria’s Antigravity Yoga class, held right in her charming backyard garden. The gentle Aruba breeze whispers secrets in your ear as you sway in your hammock, feeling weightless and free like a feather. 

This isn’t just yoga; it’s a full-on sensory experience that will leave you feeling rejuvenated and connected to your inner zen. The best part? Maria’s class is perfect for all levels, from complete beginners to seasoned yogis. Her welcoming personality and expert guidance will have you striking those tricky poses (or simply hanging upside down in blissful relaxation) in no time! 

North Shore Hike 

Ditch the tourist traps and awaken your inner explorer with a trek along Aruba’s dramatic north shore. This adventure is all about immersing yourself in the raw beauty of the island. Imagine rugged limestone cliffs meeting the turquoise embrace of the ocean, the sound of crashing waves filling the air. 

Your journey takes you to hidden coves like Andicuri Beach, a haven for surfers and kitesurfers, and Blackstone Beach, where volcanic pebbles paint a unique black canvas against the crystal-clear water. This north shore adventure is a feast for the senses, a chance to truly connect with Aruba’s wild soul.

Ayo Rock Formations 

Forget souvenir shops and crowded beaches – unleash your inner Indiana Jones with a visit to Ayo Rock Formations. This isn’t your typical tourist attraction; it’s a journey back in time. Scattered amidst the cacti-studded landscape, these giant volcanic boulders stand like ancient sentinels, whispering tales of Aruba’s geological past. 

Clamber through hidden caves, explore mysterious pathways, and imagine the Arawak people who once used these rocks as a lookout point. The Ayo Rock Formations are more than just rocks; they’re a portal to a bygone era, waiting to be explored and best of all, it’s completely free! 

So lace up your walking shoes, grab your sense of adventure, and prepare to be transported back in time – all without putting a dent in your wallet.

Getting there

BA weekly flight route as it is the easiest way to get to Aruba. 

British Airways’ offers weekly return flights on Sundays from London Gatwick to Aruba starting from £475 per person.


Truthfully, when I touched down in Aruba, I wasn’t sure what the allure was. But with every bite at Ever Restaurant, every colourful fish encountered while snorkelling and every delicious surprise at Caya Restaurant, Aruba’s magic unfolded. The friendly faces, the vibrant culture and the sheer beauty of the island seeped into my soul. By the end of my trip, I wasn’t just leaving with a tan and a camera roll full of memories, I was leaving a piece of my heart on this “One Happy Island.”

Aruba isn’t just a place; it’s an experience. It’s a place where your taste buds take flight, where hidden gems unfold around every corner and where the rhythm of island life washes away your worries. So, pack your bags, grab your swimsuit and get ready to discover your own happy ending in Aruba. 

This island paradise awaits!