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13 things I wish I knew before I went to Aruba [avoid these newbie mistakes]

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It’s easy when you are planning that exotic Caribbean trip to get lost in the pleasure of just getting away. But it’s also important to do your research too before you visit Aruba or any foreign destination if you want to avoid spending excess money or wasting your time.

Here are the 13 things I learned both before and after I visited Aruba. I wish I knew all of these things about Aruba first!

1. Cash is king when you visit Aruba!

Though Aruba has its own currency system, the US dollar is accepted everywhere. So, no need to get money changed over. I expected that I would need some cash, but have gotten relatively comfortable knowing that credit cards are widely accepted in most countries now. It is even safer to use credit cards as any fraudulent charges will be refunded and many offer zero foreign transaction fees.

2. Taxis are expensive in Aruba!

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Taxis prices to hotels in Aruba are regulated by how tall the hotel is!

I had asked someone who travels to Aruba regularly about the cost of a taxi and they said it was “relatively inexpensive”. I guess cost is truly relative. I didn’t think that $31 + tip is inexpensive. Interestingly, taxi rates are determined by how many stories a hotel has. Yep. The signs are clearly posted at the Aruba airport. Plus they do not take credit cards. Welp, there went about fifty percent of the cash I had brought with me to Aruba.

Fun fact: Drivers must be born in Aruba to be a taxi driver.

3. Don’t rent a car in Aruba.

When we arrived and found out how much taxis cost in Aruba, we were frustrated and my husband thought it might be a good idea to rent a car and go exploring on the island. However, we took a off road safari one day and the ride to and from the tour departure site, gave us a good idea of what we could expect to see driving around Aruba and we decided against renting a car.

Fun fact: We didn’t see any traffic lights in Aruba. They just use roundabouts!

4. Buy duty free or you will pay dearly for booze

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Buy booze at the duty free store in Aruba or pay dearly at hotel resorts and restaurants!

When you arrive at the airport, buy your booze at the duty free store. When we visited Costa Rica years ago, before the tourist boom, we were surprised at how inexpensive alcohol is. But, that’s not the case in Aruba. Both resorts and restaurants are pricey! At our resort, drinks were approximately $15 each. Ouch! We saw many of the seasoned traveler bring their coolers down, no doubt with booze in it. Smart.

5. Stores are closed on Sundays in Aruba

I get it, everyone needs a day to rest, so in Aruba they close the downtown stores. It is one of the reasons we decided against renting a car when we visited the island. The colorful buildings and myriad of cuisines did beckon us, but the best day to explore on our short trip would have been Sunday. So, know in advance, things are pretty shut down in downtown Oranjestad Aruba on Sundays.

6. SPF 30 sunscreen isn’t strong enough!

Usually the day before a trip, I hit up Target and get the carry on essentials – makeup remover, lotion, shave cream and sunscreen. Have you noticed that all the carry on varieties of sunscreen are SPF 30? Well, Aruba is VERY close to the equator and SPF 30 sunscreen just won’t do the trick. My husband got a bit of sun poisoning even though he lathered up each and every day every part of his body.
Why do hotels give you body wash, shampoo, conditioner, shower caps, sewing kit but NOT sunscreen? Oh that’s right, you can go pay a ridiculous price for it in the gift shop.

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Save money on your UTV tour in Aruba by packing your own goggles!

7. Off road tours – what the extra cash is for

We took an off road (UTV tour) in Aruba. It was the best thing we did when we were on the island! They mysteriously said “bring extra cash” but never were clear on what exactly it was for. Turns out, if you are doing a off road tour there is no windshield in the UTV and sunglasses won’t do the trick for keeping dirt our of your eyes. So, they will want to sell you goggles for 10 bucks a pop. Do yourself a favor and buy some on your own so you can save your cash. Some of the other guests also bought lunch (we pigged out at our breakfast buffet) so were able to avoid the food truck lunch and I recommend you do the same if possible.

8. Water is okay to drink.

In fact, the water is more than okay. The filtration system in Aruba is fantastic and you don’t have to worry one bit about getting sick. We drank water right out of the tap from our hotel and it tasted terrific. So don’t waste money buying bottled water when you go to Aruba.

Fun fact: everyone in Aruba speaks four languages: English, Papiamento, Dutch and Spanish!

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You have to pay to use public bathrooms in Aruba. Keep lots of dollar bills handy!

9. Listen to a time share pitch and get a free meal

If you thought time shares died in the 90s, like me, you would be wrong. At least in Aruba. We were offered a meal voucher if we were willing to listen to a 90 minute presentation on a time share. I don’t know why anyone would buy into one these days. It is so risky. But if you are wanting a fancy meal and don’t mind giving up 1.5 hours of your vacation it might be worth it.

10. Public restrooms aren’t free in Aruba

Yeah – that’s kind of a bummer. It will cost a buck to use a public restroom. Plan to explore the island on your own? Make sure you have lots of dollar bills – not just for strip clubs anymore!

11. You clear customs in Aruba, not when you are back in the US!

“I can’t wait for my island vacation to be over!” said no one ever. The end of any vacation is almost always a sad time. On the bright side, you can look forward to the fact that when you are back on US soil, you are ready to go, since you clear customs and immigration in Aruba upon departure. And, we had plenty of time. We left our hotel four hours before our flight and made it to the airport in record time. I’m not saying cut it close, but getting through security and customs was a breeze, and there was no air conditioning in the Aruba airport, so that was a pretty miserable couple of hours. So, pick your poison.

 

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You clear customs in Aruba so you are free to go when you land in the US!

12. Check to see if there is construction scheduled at your hotel before booking

While some Caribbean islands have only gained popularity in the last handful of years, such as the Dominican Republic, Aruba is a seasoned veteran, with many visitors returning year after year. While I loved that the island is breezy and doesn’t have the mosquito problem I encountered in the newly discovered DR, it does mean that some properties are in need of updating. So, reach out to the hotel and find out if there will be construction during your stay as that would be a bummer to spend all that money to go and not enjoy your vacation.

13. Tipping policies are intentionally vague

Despite all the reading I did on tipping, I could never find out a definitive answer on tipping in Aruba. I read a lot of posts that said that gratuity was auto added on but it wasn’t except for at breakfast where they tacked on a $9 service charge for the breakfast buffet? Then they suggested a 20 percent tip which made no sense as all our server did is bring us a pot of coffee. We ended up tipping about 15 percent.

 

Aruba’s breezy climate + tasty cuisine make it a terrific vacation destination. Armed with the tips in this article you can avoid some first time visitor’s mistakes and have a great time on this tropical island.

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About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!

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