Year-round sunny weather, white-sand beaches, friendly locals, and tasty international cuisine—these are a few of the reasons we love Aruba, and think you might, too. In addition to clear waters, which are perfect for snorkeling and diving, this Dutch Caribbean island offers plenty of opportunities to go windsurfing and parasailing, thanks to its consistently flowing warm winds. (It's no wonder it's dubbed itself as "One Happy Island.") But there's plenty more worth knowing before you head to Aruba. Below, we've compiled a list of 12 things that will help you make the most of your trip.
1. Aruba is one of the safest islands in the Caribbean.
It's hard to talk about safety in Aruba without revisiting the 2005 disappearance of 18-year-old American tourist Natalee Holloway. The still-unsolved disappearance became widely known throughout the U.S., partially thanks to Holloway's parents, who called for a travel boycott to the island. The incident was a dark tarnish on a beautiful island that still haunts locals today. Despite this tragedy, Aruba is considered one of the safer islands in the Caribbean in terms of crime and personal safety. It is also lies outside the hurricane belt, meaning that you're less likely to run into a seasonal natural disaster than other popular spots like the Bahamas. However, you should always exercise caution when traveling.
2. You don't need a visa to enter Aruba.
Traveling to Aruba doesn't require a pre-arranged visa for U.S., Canadian, or EU member citizens. All you have to do is hand your passport over to the immigration officer upon arrival and you'll receive a free visa stamp that's valid for 30 days. For those who end up falling in love with Aruba and want to extend their stay, it's important to note that tourist visits are capped at a strictly-enforced 180 days per year.
3. Gambling is legal.
It's not only the sun, sand, and relaxation that bring travelers to Aruba—some come to try their luck in the casinos. Gambling is legal in Aruba, and it is such a popular pastime here that all major resorts have their own in-house casinos in addition to the standalone spots dotting the island. Several casinos are open from noon until the wee hours of the morning, while others keep the games going 24 hours a day. For a taste of something local, try your hand at a game of Caribbean stud poker. The Crystal Casino at Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino is one of the classiest places to gamble in Aruba—it sparkles with Austrian crystal chandeliers, gold-leaf columns, Spanish mirrors, and Italian marble and brass. Open 24/7, this almost 15,000-square-foot (1,394-square-meter) parlor features over 370 slot machines, as well as tables for roulette, craps, blackjack, Caribbean stud poker, and Texas hold 'em. The Stellaris Casino at Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is the largest on the island, open 24/7, and includes 26 gaming tables and over 500 slot machines.
4. It really is "One Happy Island."
One thing we were most pleasantly surprised to find in Aruba was that their slogan, "One Happy Island," was no misnomer. Wherever we went, locals greeted us with smiles and positive attitudes. Sure, you might run into the occasional Grumpy Gus, but overall, it was good vibes all around. We spoke to a local at the Brickell Bay Beach Club & Spa about all the smiles and they explained that nearly everyone on the island resides in the middle class. This controls the cost of living and social classism, reducing inequality and offering a more level quality of life throughout the island. Plus, as tourists, it's hard to be in a bad mood when you're surrounded by balmy weather, beautiful sunsets, fun activities, and tasty food.
5. The legal drinking and gambling age is 18.
While this probably won't impact most travelers to Aruba, it's a good thing to know for anyone planning a spring break getaway or family trip. Aruba is home to plenty of booze-serving bars and casinos, and anyone who is at least 18 years old can enter them, get served alcohol, and throw down a bet.
6. You can leave your water purifying tablets at home.
While some tropical destinations may have you questioning whether it's safe to drink the water, you can confidently gulp down the H2O in Aruba. In fact, Aruba has some of the cleanest water in the world. The island is a veteran of the desalination process and has been creating their excellent drinking water using this method since 1932. That being said, travelers can leave the bottled water and purifying pills at home. Instead, opt for a refillable bottle and fill 'er up from the tap to stay hydrated.
7. It is a desert island.
Unlike many Caribbean islands, Aruba is less tropical and more desert. The landscape here is arid with brittle shrubs, cacti, and those trademark divi-divi trees. For anyone who doesn't feel like they are on vacation without a collection of palm trees swaying in the wind, don't fret—much like the desert oasis of Palm Springs, Aruba is also home to its fair share of palms. This also means that the climate is much drier and milder than your typical humid and steamy tropical island. Another bonus? Aruba's desert landscape also has a plethora of aloe vera plants (and their high-quality aloe is quite famous), so you'll never be too far from a natural remedy for any sunburns.
8. It is small.
Caribbean islands aren't often known for being massive and Aruba is no different. At approximately 74 square miles, it weighs in at about the same size as Brooklyn. Luckily, it never feels crowded, though locals do mention they have an ever-growing number of expats who find their paradise here and never leave. Plus, the smaller size yields a sense of community around the island. It also makes getting around to different beaches, sites, and restaurants a breeze.
9. The UV rays can be pretty intense.
Another thing we love about the near constant trade winds that blow across Aruba is that you never get too hot and sweaty, even when the temps reach 80 degrees. The island is a mere 866 miles from the equator (roughly the length of the California coastline), and while these cooling winds can feel blissful on the beach, they can also hide exactly how much heat you're soaking in from the sun. The sun is strong, so be sure to bring plenty of eco-friendly sunscreen with a higher SPF, plus light cover-ups like a sarong or thin long-sleeved shirt, sunglasses, and a hat for optimum protection. Tip: Don't forget to slather your feet with sunscreen.
10. There's much more to do here than just relax at the beach.
While there are plenty of people who come to Aruba to take it easy on the beach, others find their happy place among the destination's several other activities. Aruba is one of the world's best places to go kitesurfing and windsurfing, thanks to the constant trade winds, but there are a ton of other heart-pumping activities to take part in, too. Jump in a kayak and paddle through the mangroves, try your hand at deep-sea fishing, swim in the rock pools, or hop in a jeep for a bumpy off-roading adventure through the gorgeous Arikok National Park (you can also get out and hike around the photogenic landscape). Other ways to see the island include horseback riding along the coast, taking a walking tour of Oranjestad's renovated monument homes, and visiting local rum shops. Check out the local crafts at Cosecha or head over to Zeerover's, located in the quiet mostly locals-only area of Savaneta. Here, you can nosh on simple plates of fried fish while watching fisherman bring in the catch off the back docks.
11. You can pay in U.S. dollars.
While Aruba does have its own currency, the florin, travelers can also pay for most things at most places in U.S. dollars. For example, when you dine out, you'll often be asked which currency you prefer to pay in and most vendors accept American bills.
On a similar note, Papiamento, a Creole language rooted in Dutch, English, Spanish, African, Portuguese, and French (among a few other languages), is the official mother tongue of Aruba. It also happens to only be spoken in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. However, English is widely spoken as well, especially in tourist resorts, so there's no need to worry about communication mishaps while on vacation.
12. You don't have to rent a car, but you can if you want to.
The bus system is pretty solid on the island, with a major line running up and down the main beaches. While you won't find Uber or other ride-sharing companies in Aruba (all taxis are government-regulated), it's fairly easy to flag down a taxi, especially in popular tourist areas. If you don't mind the exercise, it's also possible to walk in Aruba. For example, you can walk the entire length of Palm Beach in about 20 minutes—just be sure to cover yourself from the sun, wear comfy sneakers, and carry water.
If you want the freedom to explore all the island has to offer, we recommend renting a car, at least for a few days. We'll give you the good news first: Aruba drives on the same side of the road as the U.S., so any anxious drivers need not panic about learning to navigate a vehicle in the opposite lane. It's also worth noting that Aruba may have different road rules than you're used to, such as no turning on red. Some people find the street signs a bit confusing, so you may want to study up before you head down. If you are planning on checking out the Arikok National Park on a self-drive tour, we recommend a jeep, as it can get pretty bumpy.
NOW WATCH: 8 Things Every Traveler Should Know Before Traveling to Aruba
Check out our full travel guide to Aruba here.
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