I am back home in Austin, Texas after spending a month in Aruba, and to help ease my post-vacation blues and assist my re-entry into society, I have binge-watched HBO's The White Lotus, living vicariously through the show's beach vibes, which can venture into the delusional (more about that later).
There is something carnal about a beach vacation. As humans, we crave them.
Something about the ocean's blue, the waves crashing on the white sand and showing off your new bathing suit seems to make all of life's other moments bearable.
Furthermore, during my two-decade plus working career in Corporate America, I never had the privilege to go on vacation for a month. Now that I have started my own business, launched a second career and become a digital nomad, I can take advantage of the ability to work from an island paradise like Aruba.
I have been visiting Aruba for over 30 years, and my favorite thing about this wonderful destination is its plethora of beautiful beaches. While most hotels have beachfront access and therefore allow for ocean and sand just steps away from your room, I have found that exploring Aruba by car and experiencing the diversity of the island's tropical splendor can be a rewarding and spiritual exercise.
Here are the Aruban beaches that I visited on this year's Summer 2021 trip.
Tres Trapi / Boca Catalina
Mangel Halto / Spanish Lagoon
Flamingo Beach at Renaissance Island
Arashi - A Classic Caribbean Beach Experience
Arashi Beach is located at the northern end of the island, almost to the California Lighthouse. From the low- and high-rise hotel areas, drive on the main highway past the Ritz Carlton, the Malmok Boardwalk and Boca Catalina to arrive at Arashi.
There is ample free parking and a beach shack for food, drink and bathrooms. While there are a few palapas available for free on a first-come-first-serve basis, there are people on the beach who will rent you a chair and an umbrella. I always bring my own chair and/or towels to sit on (every beach in Aruba is public and free as long as you bring your own towels/chairs and do not need to rent them).
The beach is about 80 yards long with plenty of space to lounge. This year, I noticed more people at Arashi than I ever have seen before, which is a testament to its popularity. Arashi is excellent for swimming, although the current is stronger than at Palm Beach.
Divi - My Favorite for Sunsets
The low-rise hotels sit alongside Divi, Eagle, Manchebo and Druif beaches, which really are all connected with each other. One of my favorite pastimes is to walk along the Divi beach at sunset and watch the catamarans sail in front of the setting sun as the waves lap on the beach, which is both narrow and broad at different parts. There is a paved trail along the beach, where many of the Divi all-inclusive hotels are located.
Hotel guests at the Divi have access to beach chairs and palapas as part of their stay; however, if you are not staying at one of their beautiful all-inclusive resorts, you can still sit and swim at this beach if you bring your own gear. Pelicans are constantly diving for their supper and sometimes the hotels have live music around sunset, which provides a perfect backdrop as another Aruban day turns into night.
Alternatively, you can sit at the Ocean View Bar, which seems to sport a predominantly Dutch crowd, to grab a cocktail or bite. From your beachfront table, you can watch the sun falls below the horizon, sip on a Balashi (the local beer) and witness the evolving palette of pinks, reds and yellows as another day turns into night.
Palm - The Beach Most Tourists Know
Palm Beach is home to all of the high rise hotels, including the Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, Riu and more. As a result, the two-mile long stretch of beach feels more like Florida in the sense that it is a main strip with thousands of chairs stretching in front of every hotel. However, the water is crystal clear and with minimal current, so it is ideal for swimming and water activities varying from jet skis and snorkel cruises to ocean yoga on a paddleboard.
In fact, if you are looking for watersports, Palm Beach is the ideal spot, as there are beachside vendors at every high-rise hotel. Apparently, this year watersports activities are at a premium, with many booking up fully weeks in advance.
One of my favorite exercises is to take a walk along Palm Beach in the morning before (or after) beating the crowd to obtain your palapa and chairs (usually by 11am or noon it is slim pickings). A visit to Aruba is not complete without visiting Palm Beach during the day or in the evening, as many of the nightlife activities are across the street from the hotels lining the beach.
Tres Trapi / Boca Catalina - Great for snorkeling
Tres Trapi means “three steps” in Papiamento, the native language of Aruba, and there are three steps to walk into the water from the rocks. While the beach is pretty rocky and therefore, not the best for lounging, the snorkeling here and at the neighboring Boca Catalina beach is excellent.
While underwater, I saw many different kinds of fish. The current can be strong, so you probably need to be a good swimmer to go out far. However, all of the snorkel cruises make a stop here, and there is a ramp where people jump into the water to the left of the Tres Trapi if you are facing the ocean.
In addition, this is an area of the island where sea turtles tend to flock, and I saw one come to the surface while aboard a boat here and yet another while snorkeling. There is nothing like seeing a sea turtle glide underwater in the azure Caribbean Sea.
Mangel Halto / Spanish Lagoon - An off-the-beaten path paradise
Mangel Halto refers to the mangrove trees that line this off-the-beaten path beach paradise. While the beach itself isn’t one of the top for lounging, it is known for its excellent snorkeling and scuba diving as well as the innumerable shades of blue you see in the sea.
There are a couple of palapas for free to provide shade, but you really need to bring everything yourself to this beach (drinking water and restrooms are scarce and there is no one to sell chairs or food). Furthermore, I have heard that theft is on the rise, so do not leave your valuables unattended when you go into the water to snorkel. Make sure there is someone in your party at all times to watch your items.
If you are lucky enough to book a charter boat tour (1 Fool and A Boat is the one I did - TripAdvisor review here: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g147249-d15288394-r801796253-1_Fool_and_a_Boat-Palm_Eagle_Beach_Aruba.html?m=19905), or you are a world-class swimmer and can swim out from Mangel Halto, you can snorkel or scuba in the Spanish Lagoon. The Spanish Lagoon offers crystal clear water in various shades of blue.
If you go to Mangel Halto in the morning, you can head about ten minutes further south into Savaneta and go to Zeerover, my favorite local fried fish place on the island, which opens at 11am. The lines can grow to be very long as the day goes on, so try to go early.
Surfside - The Playa Next to the Airport
Any time I need to pick someone up at the airport in Aruba, I head over to Surfside beach to watch the planes land and soak up some sun on this beautiful part of the island close to Oranjestad.
There is plenty of free parking, bathrooms and a restaurant called Surfside Beach bar. There is also a waterpark for children to play for a fee. If you are into exercise, they have some equipment near the parking area, kind of like Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California.
Flamingo Beach at Renaissance Island - The Insta-Famous Beach
Access to Renaissance Island is available primarily only to guests staying at the Renaissance hotels downtown, which makes it one of the most exclusive beaches on the island. Guests of the hotel board a shuttle boat to take the 10-minute cruise to the private island.
On the island there are two beaches - Iguana Beach and the Insta-Famous Flamingo Beach, where you can swim and take pictures with the flamingo population. Each beach is a crescent with a private lagoon in which to swim.
When you are sitting on the beach on Renaissance Island, you start to envision yourself on a truly private island, and any visit to Flamingo Beach is bound to be a top highlight of your vacation.
Malmok - For Fitness Enthusiasts on the Boardwalk
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Malmok has been transformed with the addition of a hike-and-bike trail that opened up in February 2021.
This trail is called the Malmok Boardwalk, and I highly recommend using it for a sunset walk or jog along the beach. There were so many Arubans using the boardwalk for exercise that the scene reminded me of The Trail on Lady Bird Lake in my hometown of Austin, Texas, where throngs of healthy Austinites found solace through fresh air, outdoor exercise and camaraderie during lockdown. For more on the Malmok Boardwalk, please check out my article here: https://www.socialmusingsbyaustin.com/post/did-the-pandemic-change-the-island-of-aruba.
The pandemic has changed so much about our lives, and now it seems that with the Delta and other coronavirus variants, we may be in "pandemic-mode" for quite some time now. When I was in Aruba, last minute nightly room rates at the Marriott were over $850 a night. Americans (we comprise 83% of the visitors to the island in 2021) are obviously looking for "a place to get away from it all"* and visit the beautiful beaches and waters in Mexico, the Caribbean and Florida, and they are willing to pay for the privilege.
* This is a lyric from my song "Aruban Sunsets", which can be viewed on my Social Musings by Austin YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvDAlGjeBbr8fUZ5S2OYwg
Which brings me all the way back to the beginning. After watching The White Lotus, I wonder if we as a society resemble the characters in this gem of a series. Coming out of pandemic-driven isolation, are we all trying to maximize the visceral experience of those rare moments when we can actually feel alive, especially if it is in a tropical locale?
Enjoy wherever your beach is this weekend.