Oranjestad is the capital city of Aruba. Located on the southern coast of the island, this colorful town originally settled by the Dutch offers visitors a plethora of activities to enjoy against a stunning backdrop. Here is a list of the top things to see and do in Oranjestad, Aruba.
While Aruba is home to many beaches, Eagle Beach is definitely one of the best. Situated in an area close to many small hotels and time shares, Eagle Beach is, by default, incredibly convenient for those staying in the area. The beach is also close to many restaurants and beach-goers can usually rent watersports equipment on-site.
Located on the outskirts of Oranjestad in Santa Cruz, the Aruban Donkey Sanctuary is definitely worth the trek. The sanctuary is run by a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the island’s population of donkeys, which used to be a main source of transportation. Purchase a feed cup at the sanctuary or bring your own supply of carrots and apples.
Taking place every Tuesday at Fort Zoutman, Oranjestad’s original fortification and oldest building, the Bon Bini Festival (meaning ‘welcome’ in Papiamento, the local indigenous language) welcomes tourists to Aruba with a lively cultural program. Dancers in traditional costumes twirl to the beat of thumping drums while vendors offer a wide variety of local crafts, food and strong drinks for purchase. In short, it’s a great way to get a sense of Aruban culture and traditions in a single evening.
With its prime seaside location, Oranjestad is the perfect starting point for a range of ocean-based tours. De Palm Tours, which is one of the top-ranked companies in town for boat tours and water sports, offers tourists many tailor made options. Check out De Palm’s ‘Palm Pleasure Snorkel Adventure’, which takes travelers to Aruba’s best snorkeling spots via sail boat, including Catalina Bay, Arashi Reef and the wreck of a WWII German freighter called the Antilla. A buffet lunch and bar is also included.
For an encounter with some of nature’s most beautiful creations, head over to the Aruba Butterfly Farm located just off Oranjestad’s Palm Beach. As you stroll through the peaceful landscape of perfectly manicured tropical gardens and koi ponds, tour guides offer interesting information on butterfly habits, life cycles, and species, all with a sense of humor. Arrive early and try to catch a glimpse of a new butterfly emerging from its cocoon for a first flight.
One of the most popular watersports in Aruba is deep-sea fishing. For tourists who want to give the sport a try, check out one of the outings offered by Driftwood Fishing Charters. Groups of up to six people can board the Driftwood I for a morning or afternoon of deep-sea fishing. Driftwood provides all of the equipment and bait. Potential catches include barracuda, tuna, sailfish, and even sharks. If you decide on an afternoon charter, head over to the Driftwood Restaurant afterwards for some of the freshest seafood in all of Oranjestad.
For a look deep into Aruba’s past, check out the National Archeological Museum that’s housed in the former home of the Ecury family. Indigenous artifacts dating from as far back as 2500 BC are carefully preserved in the museum’s collections and give visitors a glimpse into the world of the people who lived on the island before European settlers arrived a few hundred years ago. The museum also contains an exhibition of contemporary island artists who use historical themes in their pieces, and the large cistern used by the Ecury family to store rainwater collected from the roof of the house.
For lunch, check out Gostoso, a local restaurant that serves a mixture of Portuguese and Aruban dishes. The dining room, decorated with retro furniture and a vast collection of island knick-knacks, is at the same time incredibly charming and inviting. Their reasonably priced three-course lunch menu is a great way to try several different dishes, like Portuguese salt cod fritters (Pasteis de Bacalhau) and Creole shrimp.
Standing 165 meters above sea level on the outskirts of Oranjestad, Hooiberg (meaning ‘haystack’) is a volcanic formation that dominates the Aruban horizon. While not the highest point on the island, Hooiberg is a popular destination for hikers. The easiest way to access the top of this famous hill is to climb up the 587 steps built by Eduardo Tromp in 1951. At the top, the spectacular Aruban landscape extends outwards in every direction. On a clear day, Venezuela is visible to the south.
Oranjestad, like many large Caribbean cities, is a great place to go shopping. Head over to the Renaissance Mall, which is located right in the midst of downtown. With over 60 shops, entertainment options and restaurants, it’s possible to keep the kids fed and busy while searching for the perfect souvenir here, whether its luggage, cosmetics, clothing, or jewelry. Some featured brands include Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Michael Kors, and Cartier, and there’s a casino on-site too.