10 Free Things to Do in Aruba Beyond the Beach
By Susan Campbell
Looking for free things to do in Aruba? Wondering if it’s expensive to vacation on this sunny island in the Dutch Caribbean?
Countless fun-in-the-sun pastimes abound on Aruba’s beautiful beaches — all open to the public free of charge – but there are many other memorable and unique things to do beyond the beach that you can enjoy absolutely free.
Read on for some unique ideas for the best things to do in Aruba on a budget. Plus, we’ve added some bonus insider tips as well!
So, let’s go!
1. Watch the Spectacular Paseo Herencia Water Show
This water fountain light show is one of my absolutely favorite free things to do in Aruba at night and I encourage all first-time visitors to go and check it out. The colonial style courtyard at Paseo Herencia Mall is just off the Palm Beach tourist strip and holds enchanting entertainment for families and adults via their magical “liquid fireworks” show in the water fountain.
Three times a night ( at 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 pm) the fountain spouts to the skies in brilliant neon colors in a synchronized water ballet to music. View it from their old-fashioned public stone amphitheatre where they also often host free music and dance shows, especially around holidays.
Insider Tip: A brand-new gourmet cheese and wine spot called Melt Away Cafe is just the thing for decadent gooey grilled cheese “tostis” and fondue, and of course Dutch cheese is always so “Gouda” any way you eat it! Pair your bites with a great selection of quality vintages by the glass. It’s an ideal place for great eats beside the fountain when you don’t want to spring for a full meal.
2. Ride the Oranjestad Trolley
A wonderful way to explore the newly renovated downtown capital of Oranjestad is on an eco-friendly tram through the back streets and with nine stops so you can soak up the colorful, colonial charm and decide where you might want to return to later. Riding the Oranjestad Trolley is one of the best free things to do in Aruba on a cruise.
The trolleys are free to the public and you can hop on and off as you please. Choose a double-decker if you want a great vantage point from the open-air top level or enjoy shaded seating below to beat the heat. The trolleys run about every half hour and begin at the cruise ship terminal.
Best Place to Eat in Oranjestad: A brand new café called Taste My Aruba is located in the beautifully restored 100-year-old mansion that houses Cosecha the island’s premier art collective foundation. This lovely little spot excels in offering up the best of authentic local treats yet often with a very creative twist and at prices that won’t break the budget. They also team up with Cosecha to offer an Arts and Farmer’s Market “under the stars” once a month.
For more ideas on the best (and budget-friendly) places to eat in downtown Oranjestad, read Eat Like a Local in Downtown Oranjestad, Aruba.
3. Enjoy Oranjestad’s Free Outdoor Concerts
There’s always free live music at night in the common square at Renaissance Marketplace on the Oranjestad marina. It’s a wonderful spot to simply meander and take in the al fresco nightlife. The vibe is enchanting with the sparkling lights over the water. Many of the cafes and restaurants there also often have their own live outdoor bands as well.
There are many spots for budget bites and cheap snacks where you need not order a full meal to enjoy the establishment’s hospitality like Café the Plaza for Dutch tapas or Cuba’s Cookin’ where their new Back Door Bar on the mall walkway serves up specially priced snack platters for two and discounted cocktails. They have nightly live Latin music, too.
Insider Tip: Outside of Djiespie’s Place in the back streets of downtown every Friday night starting at 6pm there is free live music and a big dancing-in-the-streets local affair where visitors are more than welcome to join in.
4. Explore the San Nicolas Aruba Art Walk
Thanks to the annual Aruba Art Fair, now in its third year of operation, the streets, alleys, and buildings of old refinery town San Nicolas have exploded in stunningly bright colors and larger than life outdoor art exhibits and murals left behind by the international creators who participate in the festival each year.
Stroll through the streets of San Nicolas to view the massive 3-D and tromp d’oeil installations, ceramic creations, incredible sculptures and wall murals at every turn, with more being added each year. The San Nicolas Art Walk is home to the most Instagrammable places in Aruba.
For a self-guided tour, there is an online Map of the San Nicolas Art Walk to learn where they are, discover more about each piece and choose the best Instagram and photo spot. With the popularity of the new art walk, many new snack spots and cafes are cropping up there now for budgets eats and fast refreshment like Mundi Health Café in the newly restored and historic Nicolaas Store.
Insider Tip: There are two regular free festivals to enjoy if you are there at the right time! Experience San Nicolas is a daytime arts, crafts, food and music fest typically popping up the last week of each month, and the Thursday night Carubbean Festival – a mini carnival of sorts — will resume their regular schedule Feb. 2019 on Main St. San Nicolas.
5. Climb the Otherworldly Casibari Rock Formations
These other worldly looking rock formations crop out of the blue in Aruba’s arid interior and attract visitors to explore them from all angles with manmade staircases and tunnels dug throughout. There is no admittance charge, and photo ops are excellent at this unique point of interest in Aruba.
There is also a similar rock formation nearby at Ayo Aruba, but no manmade stairs. However, they are also worth a visit to view the ancient Arawak petroglyphs carved into the rocks there.
Insider Tip: Casibari Café, a crazy, colorful restaurant across the street from the rock formations is also flanked by the same weird geology and sports all kinds of bizarre décor like an old English telephone booth and statues of celebs like The Blues Brothers and Elvis!
For lunch, enjoy chicken satay sticks, gourmet paninis and creative salads, and it morphs into a BBQ and grill for dinner. If you’re there on a Thursday, stay on for a treat because that’s all-you-can-eat-ribs night, and the colored neon lights highlighting the odd rocks give it an absolutely surreal alien vibe after dark. It’s worth adding this attraction to your list of things to do in Aruba at night. Closed Sundays.
Love outdoor adventure? Check out our picks for 7 Epic Adventures in Aruba.
6. Commune with Rescued Donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary
A visit to the Donkey Sanctuary is one of the top things to do in Aruba for families and animal lovers of all ages. The friendly four-legged critters at the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary are always happy to receive visitors, especially if you bring a few treats like apples and carrots.
This non-profit foundation is free of charge to visit, but of course donations are always welcome. Interact with the donkeys up close and you can also adopt a donkey (virtually) at their ranch or on their website to sponsor its care for a year.
Originally brought by the Spanish, Aruba’s donkeys were left to roam wild once they were no longer needed for transportation. But they often need human help when they fall ill or become injured. This donkey rescue and sanctuary ensures that those in need have a safe forever home.
Insider Tip: On your way to the Donkey Sanctuary, stop by Mauchi Smoothies in Savaneta. It’s a roadside stand with great organic fare as well as healthy smoothies and snacks gleaned from the local area and owner Maureen Laaf Ras’s garden. Burgers, quesadillas and hot dogs available, too! The very good prices make this a great place to eat if you’re on a budget.
7. Experience a Heavenly View at Alto Vista
The high summit site of Aruba’s oldest Catholic church dates back 250 years, and though the original church was built in 1750, the one standing there now was erected in 1952. But the lookout is still as heavenly as it was when first chosen as a spot for spiritual reflection. Admission is free, and the interior of the chapel is charming, though very tiny, so the best time to visit before flocks of tourists arrive on their island bus tours is early morning and very late afternoon. Alto Vista means high view and this spot is also called Pilgrim’s Church since it’s the site where the annual Easter pilgrimage culminates.
Insider Tip: Make sure to have a few dollars handy to buy fresh coconut water from the famous coconut man out front who will chop a fresh one open for you.
8. Celebrate Carnival
Aruba’s almost two-month long ongoing annual carnival is awash in free entertainment for locals and visitors alike, parades, pageants, concerts and celebrations abound all over the island starting in January and running through to the first week of February. Best bets for super spectacles and surreal sights and sounds are the night time Lighting Parade in San Nicolas and the day time Grand Parade in Oranjestad. For updated carnival events and times for 2019 visit Aruba Carnival on Facebook.
Insider Tip: Everyone is welcome to join in the road march “Jump Up” parade in San Nicolas which is also dubbed the “pajama party” since it begins at 4am with the sunrise, and many folks attend in their PJs!
9. Hike the Mt. Hooiberg Haystack
Mt. Hooiberg–which means haystack in Dutch–is not the highest peak on the island at 541 ft. (Mt. Jamanota in Arikok Park at 661 ft. earns that honor) but it’s the only mountain with a built-in stone staircase that makes is easier to hike. Admission is free, so the only thing you will spend traversing some 500 stairs is your energy. Expect to spend lots of it as the trek is hot and the climb mostly vertical.
Bring water, wear sunscreen and a hat, and take your time to the top where you will be rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of the island. And on a clear day you can also spot Venezuela in the distance.
Insider Tip: Reward your efforts with some sweet treats from famous Bright Bakery nearby. It’s on the way and home to Aruba’s best authentic local baked goods.
10. Strike Photo Gold at Bushiribana
Though the Spanish came looking but never did find it, gold was discovered on Aruba after they left! It’s well worth a drive out to the northern coast to explore the ruins of the old Bushiribana gold mill facing the sea. The remnants of the old stone walls contain full window frames which make excellent frames for your photos as well. The striking contrast of the black rock windows looking out onto the impossibly aqua sea is a popular setting for unique wedding photos as well.
Insider Tip: There is actually a second gold mine ruin out near Frenchman’s pass at the tip of Spanish lagoon. Just follow the wooden sign for the Balashi gold mines. There you will find what is left of the mill buildings all overgrown with foliage and surrounded by stone staircases that also make a romantic setting for fabulous photos.
More Fantastic Aruba Deals and Free Things to Do in Aruba
Check out these extra ideas for cheap things to do and more ways to save money on your next holiday in Aruba:
- You can also get all kind of free stuff with the coupons you’ll find in the free on island guides like Aruba Nights magazine or check out their online printable coupons at Nights Publications. These discount coupons are ideal if you’re visiting Aruba on a cruise as there are two casinos near the cruise ship terminal and the coupon book is filled with coupons for free gifts you can get while shopping at retail stores, bars, restaurants as well as activities. You can even download them online ahead of time.
- Although not initially free, your first admission to the Aruba Butterfly Farm is good for as many complimentary return visits as you like during your holiday.
Aruba Travel Resources
Aruba Tourism Authority: Get maps, travel advice and other valuable resources on the official tourism website. In accordance with guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), Aruba has introduced a policy requiring travellers from select countries to have proof of vaccine against yellow fever effective March 1, 2018.
Exceptions include people with certain medical conditions as well as those 60 years of age and older. Check the official Aruba Tourism Authority site for details.
Where to Stay: Check out our five favourite hotel hideaways in Aruba.
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