9) 8 a.m. Arikok National Park
Arikok National Park, Aruba’s only national park, covers almost 20 percent of the island and is packed with changing landscapes. You can visit the park by horseback, Jeep or four-wheeler, but perhaps the best (and most quiet and environmentally sustainable) way to really experience the park is through a hike across its belly. The park’s visitor’s center is staffed with helpful guides who, if arranged ahead of time, can guide you through the park on a free tour (tips, of course, encouraged). Many tourists make a beeline to the Natural Pool, a formation of volcanic rock that creates a walled pool between the ocean and the beach. On the southern side of the park, stalactite-covered caves protect cave drawings that date back to Aruba’s first-known inhabitants, the Arawak-speaking Caiquetio Indians. And if you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss the wind farm, or the pond where fish nibble at your feet. Park entry, $11 (children are free).
10) 1 p.m. Catch of the day
A favorite stop, Zeerovers offers fresh-from-the-boat seafood on a wooden dock over the ocean, about a 20-minute drive from the Arikok park entrance. The daily catch rotates, but often includes Aruban wahoo and tuna and Venezuelan shrimp. Everything is fried, so pick up a local Balashi beer to wash it down with. Lunch for two, $30.
11) 3 p.m. Strolling and shopping
Far from the bustle of the high-rise hotels, the hamlet of San Nicolas is a little town once known as the home to one of the major refineries that supplied Allied forces with fuel during World War II. The refinery shut down decades ago, leaving San Nicolas’s economy in limbo. But stepping into that vacuum is a vibrant new art scene that has splashed colorful murals across the town’s main streets. Read about the town’s history at the Museum of Industry before stopping by Cosecha to purchase local artists’ driftwood sculptures, hand-painted greeting cards, and colorful mosaics. Artists keep 100 percent of the purchase price, and if you call ahead, you can participate in an interactive art workshop with local artists. Top off your tour with a drink at Charlie’s Bar, an iconic San Nicolas watering hole crammed with character and characters.
12) 6 p.m. Sunset finale
Named Baby Beach because it is calm enough to splash in with your babies, this protected bay on the southern tip of the island, just past San Nicolas, offers nearly waveless, clear water and a gorgeous sunset view — and occasional green flash — perfect for your Aruban finale.
Many of the big chain hotels such as Hilton, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton have prime beachfront locations in Palm Beach, and flocks of tourists fill them up year round, turning one part of the island into an indoor-outdoor mall of hotel lobbies, restaurants and shops, numerous enough to warrant the area a highway exit sign reading simply “Highrises.” For a more distinctive experience, consider some of the smaller boutique hotels on the island.
At Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Eagle Beach (L.G. Smith Boulevard 55B, Oranjestad; from $403) 100 rooms and beach chairs spaced far apart on a wide white sand beach make this boutique resort seem much larger than it is. It stands out especially for its environmentally conscious offerings. The hotel restaurant offers complete vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menus, and in place of plastic travel shampoos, the hotel dispenses Aruba Aloe bath products from the shower walls. Guests are even given reusable coffee travel mugs, encouraging them to avoid single-use plastic that coats some of Aruba’s remote eastern beaches. Book months ahead for best room selection.