Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, is good for shopping by day and dining by night, but the “real Aruba”—with its untamed beauty—is discovered in the countryside…

Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, is good for shopping by day and dining by night, but the “real Aruba”—with its untamed beauty—is discovered in the countryside. Rent a car, take a sightseeing tour, or hire a cab by the hour to explore. Though remote, the northern and eastern shores are striking and well worth a visit. A drive out past the California Lighthouse or to Seroe Colorado will give you a feel for the backcountry.

The main highways are well paved, but the windward side of the island has some roads that are a mixture of compacted dirt and stones. A car is fine, but a four-wheel-drive vehicle will enable you to better navigate the unpaved interior. Remember that few beaches outside the hotel strip along Palm and Eagle beaches to the west have refreshment stands, so pack your own food and drinks. Aside from those in the infrequent restaurant, there are no public bathrooms outside of Oranjestad.

Traffic is sparse, but signs leading to sights are often small and hand-lettered (this is slowly changing as the government puts up official road signs), so watch closely. Route 1A travels southbound along the western coast, and 1B is simply northbound along the same road. If you lose your way, just follow the bend of the divi-divi trees. They always point toward the resorts.

Aruba’s high season runs from early December through mid-April. During this season you’re guaranteed the most entertainment at resorts and the most people with whom to enjoy it. It’s also the most fashionable and most expensive time to visit, both for people staying a week or more and for cruise-ship passengers coming ashore. During this period hotels are solidly booked, and you must make reservations at least two or three months in advance for the very best places (and to get the best airfares). During the rest of the year hotel prices can drop 20% to 40% after April 15

Aruba doesn’t really have a rainy season and rarely sees a hurricane—one reason why the island is more popular than most during the off-season from mid-May through mid-November, when the risk of Atlantic hurricanes is at its highest. Temperatures are constant (along with the trade winds) year-round. Expect daytime temperatures in the 80s Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures in the high 70s year-round

Aruba is 2½ hours from Miami, 4½ hours from New York, and 9½ hours from Amsterdam. The flight from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico, takes 3½ hours; from Miami to San Juan it’s 1½ hours; and from San Juan to Aruba it’s just over an hour. Shorter still is the ¼- to ½-hour hop (depending on whether you take a prop or a jet plane) from Curaçao to Aruba.

Many airlines fly nonstop to Aruba from several cities in North America; connections will usually be at a U.S. airport.

Nonstop Flights There are nonstop flights from Atlanta (Delta), Boston (American, JetBlue, US Airways), Charlotte (US Airways), Chicago (United), Fort Lauderdale (Spirit), Houston (United), Miami (American), Newark (United), New York–JFK (American, Delta, JetBlue), Philadelphia (US Airways), and Washington, D.C.–Dulles (United). Southwest Airlines has begun flights to Aruba from Baltimore and Houston as well. Seasonal nonstops from major Canadian cities are available from WestJet and Air Canada and charter airlines like Sunwing and Air Transat.

A taxi from the airport to most hotels takes about 20 minutes. It’ll cost $22 to get to the hotels along Eagle Beach, $25 to the high-rise hotels on Palm Beach, and $18 to the hotels downtown (rates are a few dollars higher at night). You’ll find a taxi stand right outside the baggage-claim area. Aruba taxis are not metered; they operate on a flat rate by destination.

Aruba is a small island, so it’s virtually impossible to get lost when exploring. Most activity takes place in and around Oranjestad or in the two main hotel areas, which are designated as the “low-rise” and “high-rise” areas. Main roads on the island are generally excellent, but getting to some of the more secluded beaches or historic sites will involve driving on unpaved tracks. Though Aruba is an arid island, there are occasional periods of heavy rain, and it’s best to avoid exploring the national park or other wilderness areas during these times, since roads can become flooded, and muddy conditions can make driving treacherous.