With its picture-perfect beaches and firey sunsets, Aruba is practically made for romance. But there’s a whole other side to the island that’s all about adventure.
Adrenaline junkies won’t be disappointed: caving, skydiving, scuba diving, and deep-sea fishing are all on offer. Whether you prefer your thrills on land, in the sky, or under the sea, there’s something on Aruba to get you excited.
Below, we’ve rounded up the best experiences on Aruba for adventure lovers, including hiking mysterious rock formations, touring the ocean floor in a submarine, or kayaking at night in a glass-bottom boat.
Explore caves, natural pools, and more in Arikok National Park
The beach gets all the glory in Aruba, but Arikok National Park is equally impressive. The rugged, desert-like area in south Santa Cruz takes up nearly 20 percent of Aruba’s landmass, with 20 miles of terrain that can be explored on foot, on horseback, or by ATV, UTV, or Jeep Safari with companies like ABC Tours and FoFoti Tours.
Dotted with cacti and native flora like calliandra, dornasol, and plumeria, the park is home to hidden beaches, natural bridges, pools, caves, and a historic gold mine, as well as wildlife like rattlesnakes, owls, and blue whiptail lizards. One of the biggest attractions is the Guadirikiri Cave, which extends for about 100 feet and features two chambers. Sunlight streams through the holes in the roof and, in the deeper parts, hordes of bats hang from the ceiling.
If you’ve come to see cave paintings, however, go instead to the Fontein Cave, where drawings by Indigenous Arawak people from up to 3,500 years ago cover the ceilings and bring Aruba’s history to life. Then check out the Huliba Cave and its 300-foot-long Tunnel of Love, so named because of its heart-shaped opening. Just be sure to bring along a flashlight. (It’s possible to explore all of Arikok’s caves solo, but those who don’t want to go it alone can consider outfitters like De Palm Tours, which offers a variety of experiences in the park.)
After adventuring through the caves, cool off with a dip in the pristine waters of the Natural Pool, a basin formed from volcanic rock and filled with water from the Caribbean Sea.
Hike among petroglyphs at the Ayo and Casibari rock formations
Of all the appealing places to hike on Aruba, the Ayo and Casibari rock formations (in Ayo and off the main road in Santa Cruz, respectively) are two of the best. Featuring series of boulders that appear to have been gathered, piled, and deliberately set across a few square miles of desert, the sites carry an air of mystery. Scientists remain baffled about the geological event that could have created the formations, while archaeologists and historians are fascinated by the petroglyphs and paintings on the rocks, presumably by Aruba’s native Arawak people. Trails weave around the enormous stones, many of which have been named for the animals they resemble. When hiking the boulders, keep your eyes peeled for everything from iguanas to burrowing owls and prepare for 360-degree views from the top.
Go for the gold at the Bushiribana and Balashi mills
First discovered on Aruba in 1824, gold mining remained an important industry on the island until around 1916. The precious metal is even reflected in Aruba’s name, which is said to come from the Spanish phrase oro huba (meaning “there was gold”). Learn more about the island’s relatively unknown gold rush at the former Bushiribana Gold Mill, where windswept stone ruins now stand in the middle of a wide expanse of untouched land.
Also worth exploring is the abandoned Balashi Gold Mill at the tip of the Spanish Lagoon; remains are still visible near the narrow canyon of rocks known as Frenchman’s Pass. If you’re looking to pick up some interesting facts, go on a guided tour of either site with experiences like the Aruba ATV Tour Adventure with Kini Kini (which includes a stop at Burshiribana) and the Historical Balashi Gold Mine Adventure Walk.
Take a leap with Skydive Aruba
When you’ve had your fill of land-based exploits, look upward for the next thrill. Skydive Aruba operates in one of the most scenic drop zones in the world, offering tandem jumps from a custom Cessna 182. During a two-hour excursion, you’ll reach heights of 10,000 feet before free-falling at 120 miles per hour while harnessed to an experienced instructor. If you dare open your eyes, expect sweeping views of sandy beaches and the blue-green waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Dive deep at the Antilla Shipwreck
Snorkelers and divers will find their happy place among Aruba’s colorful underwater flora and fauna and many shipwrecks. The island’s entire southern coast is lined by coral reef, with more than 20 dive sites and 11 diver-friendly wrecks (including a plane, tugboats, and cargo ships). Head to the especially impressive Antilla Shipwreck with outfitters like Red Sail Sports Aruba and S.E. Aruba Fly ’n Dive. At 400 feet long, the former German freighter is one of the largest shipwrecks in the Caribbean, with an intact porthole, deck, and interior to explore.
Experience the ocean floor on a submarine or Sea Trek tour
Those don’t snorkel or dive can still go deep in Aruba with help from De Palm Tours, which runs underwater tours (via a semi-submarine or real submarine) of reefs, shipwrecks, and more.
For even more of a kick, walk the ocean floor with Sea Trek. During the one-hour experience, you’ll don a specially designed diving helmet and descend 20 feet below the surface to a custom walkway for an up-close view of Aruba’s marine life. Take in the colorful tropical fish, spot a sunken Jeep and bus, and pose for a photograph while sitting in the underwater Sea Trek Café. Even nonswimmers can take part in the fun.
Take snorkeling to a new level on a Seabob
Sure, you can enjoy one of the beautiful sunset sails or dinner cruises that are classic Aruba, but there’s even more fun to be had on a Seabob. Essentially an underwater scooter, the vehicle can dive down more than 130 feet and travel up to speeds of almost 10 miles per hour, powering passengers around snorkeling sites like Malmok and Boca Catalina beaches. Expect to lose count of the hundreds of multicolored fish as your guide leads the way through the turquoise Aruban waters. Those who are lucky might even get to cruise alongside some sea turtles.
Stay on the surface with a kayak or paddleboard tour
Step up your kayaking game with a Night Glass Kayak Tour. During the two-hour experience, watch the sunset from Arashi Beach before heading out in a glass-bottom kayak to observe vibrant coral reefs and tropical fish with the help of LED floodlights. Be sure to also check out the starry night sky before paddling back to the beach, where you’ll celebrate your ride with delicious snacks and fruit.
If you’d prefer a daytime activity, opt for Aruba Surf & Paddle School’s popular Mangrove/Eco Tour, which takes place in a secluded canal lined with mangroves on the south side of Aruba. While you won’t see any homes, cars, or even other people, you will encounter birds, fish, and iguanas as you paddle quietly along the canal.
Cast a line on a deep-sea fishing adventure
Work for your dinner with a deep-sea fishing trip with Adventure Sports Aruba. The company offers four-hour excursions for up to six people that are customizable, whether you want to stay close to the coast or head farther out to sea. Feel the trade winds in your hair as you glide over the waves, then cast a line in hopes of reeling in barracuda, grouper, kingfish, albacore, tuna, wahoo, and dorade. A life-long fisherman, Captain A.J. will help guests with every step of the process, and even teach them about the typical Aruban fisherman’s life.
Another fine option is Dorothy Fishing Charters, which runs both six-hour and full-day trips aboard a 32-foot boat with a comfortable interior and spacious flybridge for relaxing. Besides being an experienced fisherman, Captain Roberto is a passionate chef and will provide cleaning and cooking tips for your freshly caught fish.
>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Aruba
Sheryl Nance-Nash Sheryl Nance-Nash is a writer based in New York.