Last updated on March 3, 2023 by Wandering our World
If you’re looking for white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and a laid-back vibe, then Antigua and Aruba are both great choices. However these islands, despite their similar size, are quite different.
That means making the right decision about whether to visit Antigua or Aruba for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday or honeymoon is especially important…
For example, while both islands have picture-perfect Caribbean beaches, Antigua arguably has the better ones. With lush rainforest and mountains, it also has arguably more beautiful scenery and better hiking opportunities than flatter, more arid Aruba.
However Aruba is a lot easier to get around – which is a big plus point. The island has well-developed infrastructure, is upscale and has good shopping and lively nightlife. It also sits outside the hurricane belt so is safe to visit year-round and has almost constant sunny weather, but consequently it attracts a lot of tourists.
However it’s impossible to really show you what sets these two Caribbean islands apart from each other in just a few words.
That’s why after visiting both, we compare Antigua and Aruba below and show you what each has to offer.
We look at which has the better beaches, nightlife, what activities there are to do in each, the food on offer and lots more. All so you can make the right vacation decision!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- Which Has The Better Beaches & Natural Scenery?
- How Does The Culture Compare?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- How Does The Cuisine Compare?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview & Comparison
Both of these islands have gorgeous beaches, but Antigua – as the slightly less touristy of the two – tends to have more isolated and secluded choices.
It arguably has better beaches than Aruba too. However the infrastructure in Aruba is more developed, and it’s a very easy island to get around. In theory that means you can get from beach to beach in Aruba a lot easier than in Antigua.
In fact you can easily walk between beaches in Aruba, dipping your toes in the coastline as you go. That’s not so easy to do in Antigua where walking between beaches is often not possible due to the rugged terrain of the coastline.
When it comes to natural scenery though, Antigua has more to offer than just beaches.
Unlike Aruba which is quite arid and flat, Antigua is more tropical and has pretty mountains and a small rainforest. That opens up outdoor excursion opportunities away from the coast, such as hiking and trekking.
Antigua also feels more rustic and remote than Aruba, which is more tourist-orientated, upscale, and resort dominated.
So if you’re looking for a vacation which involves more of an authentic Caribbean island vibe, you’re far more likely to get that in Antigua than Aruba.
However as for safety, while both islands are considered safe destinations, tourists have reported crime issues in Antigua at more frequent rates than in Aruba.
We look at each island, and what’s on offer in both, in more detail below:
Which Has The Better Beaches & Natural Scenery?
Antigua: The Beaches & Natural Scenery
Beaches are Antigua’s crowning glory, with all 365 beaches on the island – one for every day of the year – accessible to the public.
It is also home to many white sand beaches, the holy grail for sunbathers and beach swimmers the world over. That’s actually one of the reasons Antigua made our list of the best Caribbean islands for couples!
For some of the best white sand and turquoise swimming waters in Antigua – and the Caribbean – head to Dickenson Bay. It’s one of the most popular spots on the island, but the white powder sand is breathtaking.
Another beach we recommend is Half Moon Bay. The landscape is a bit more rugged and remote here – and there’s no facilities – but that also means there’s very few people. It’s secluded and has that deserted island feel to it.
Antigua is also home to some fantastic snorkeling spots. One is just off Galley Bay, were you can see teeming sea-life amid the coral thanks to fantastic clear blue waters. This dive map shows the best spots on the island.
Some of the best snorkeling spots in Antigua are far from shore though.
One of those is snorkeling at the shipwreck off Deep Bay. One tip is to hire a small boat from Reef Riders in nearby Jolly Harbour, and join them on an accompanied trip to the shipwreck. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
There’s still some forest in Antigua that can be explored. Head to Fig Tree Drive, a road which takes you up into the forest and wild vegetation.
This is probably Antigua’s most scenic road, and it shouldn’t be missed. In fact this is where Antigua differs from Aruba too, as this area of forest is great for hiking, exploring, wildlife spotting and more.
Public transport in Antigua can be hit and miss depending on where you are on the island. Buses are cheap and frequent in the southwest and southern parts of the island, so beach hopping is easy. However in the north there is much less public transport, and in some cases none between resorts.
But in general, Antigua is a fantastic beach destination with some of the Caribbean’s best coastline. On top of that there’s opportunities for nature activities away from the coastline too – more so than in Aruba.
Aruba: The Beaches & Natural Scenery
Aruba is flatter than Antigua, and on the surface looks more bare and barren, but you can expect plenty of gorgeous beaches and crystal clear waters.
For a fantastic swimming spot, and a long stretch of white sand, then head to Eagle Beach in the island’s north. It’s the picture perfect image of a Caribbean coastline.
Palm Beach is another is one of our favorite spots in Aruba with white sand and lots of water sport activities.
It’s lively, surrounded by high-rise hotels, watering holes, casinos and lots of restaurants. That makes it a fun outing whether it’s day or night. Albeit that also means it can get pretty crowded most of the time.
And that’s an important point. While the beaches in Aruba often have more facilities, amenities and resorts beside them than their counterparts on Antigua, they can also get much busier.
What makes Aruba really stand out in the Caribbean is the colorful sealife you can see when snorkeling and diving here.
This island has some of the best snorkeling spots in the Caribbean – arguably better than the ones in Antigua – where you can watch numerous colorful reef fish, and swim with sea turtles.
Malmok Beach is another great beach and snorkeling spot. The water is exceptionally clear – almost glass-like. In fact it’s possible to even see the 400-foot SS Antilla – now a haven for sealife – from the surface. And that’s despite the shipwreck being on the seabed.
Another wonderful spot for wildlife is De Palm Island, a small private island off the coast of Aruba. It’s home to a friendly flock of flamingos!
Or to escape the crowds, head to Andicuri Beach on the north coast.
This beach is renowned for its beautiful sparkling waters and tranquility. It’s far more secluded than others, has fewer tourists, and during the off-season you may even have the entire beach to yourself.
With favorable weather year-round in Aruba – which makes it the better choice if you want guaranteed beach days no matter when your vacation is – and almost no likelihood of a hurricane, this really is a fantastic beach destination for those looking to sunbathe and tan more than anything else.
How Does The Culture Compare?
Antigua definitely has an authentic Caribbean feel to it and is far less touristy than Aruba, which has a distinctive ‘Americanized’ vibe.
Aruba also has a lively nightlife, good shopping scene, and a number of American chain restaurants.
Antigua has a fun evening scene too, but its nightlife is arguably a bit more laid back than Aruba’s. Although the Antigua carnival is very energetic and lively!
Along with the natural scenery on offer, both Antigua and Aruba have a wealth of attractions and cultural experiences worth checking out.
Here’s some of the top cultural highlights in each island:
Antigua: The Culture
Around 95% of Antiguans are descendants of African slaves, so the culture has heavy African influences, as well as British influences due to colonialism.
The Antigua Carnival has its roots in the abolition of slavery, and is therefore a happy, fun and colorful festival that takes place during July. Expect street parties, fantastic street food, and parades when Carnival comes to town!
If you want to learn more about the colonial period, then you should visit Betty’s Hope Estate. This was a working sugar plantation that was run by the British during slavery.
It’s now been converted into an open-air museum so that tourists and locals can learn about that dark period of history.
For those keen to learn more about Antigua’s past, then head to the 18th century Nelson’s Dockyard in Saint Paul Parish.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to centuries old colonial buildings, and a maritime museum that documents the turbulent times around Antigua. However it also remains the only continuously working Georgian dockyard on the planet!
Aruba: The Culture
Although officially part of the Netherlands, Aruba has been under Spanish and British control in recent centuries, and all of that has left a mark on the island.
There was a small gold boom in the 19th century, and the ruins from that can be toured. The old gold smelters, Bushiribana and Balashi, are outside of Aruba’s capital Oranjestad and give an interesting insight into the dash for Aruban gold.
Staying near the capital, the Butterfly Farm is well worth visiting. This is an opportunity to step into a lush forested area and enjoy the colors of thousands of exotic butterflies above your head.
Apart from the beaches, what Aruba is really known for however is its nightlife! All major hotel resorts have casinos that are popular when the sun goes down, and Oranjestad has a fun nightlife and shopping scene.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Tropical Garden Cottage is a wonderful self-contained apartment (complete with garden and hammock!) that’s situated in the center of the island and so is perfect for exploring. It’s a fantastic budget option. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: If you’re looking for something unique and extremely photogenic, the exceptional Royalton Antigua has the only overwater bungalows on the island they’re absolutely perfect for romantic vacations and honeymoons. See photos and rates here.
Budget: If you are looking to travel on a budget, there are also some low-end backpacker options in Aruba. These options are located in and around Oranjestad and the best is probably Aruba Harmony Apartments (see photos and rates!).
Luxury: With its on-site casino, water activities, spa and outdoor pools, the five-star beachfront Ritz-Carlton, Aruba is always going to be a fantastic stay. Even more so due to its location right on Palm-Eagle Beach, so every day will can be a beach day when staying here. See photos and rates!
A Taste Of The Caribbean: How Does The Cuisine Compare?
Both islands will provide a treat for your taste-buds, with cuisine focused around seafood.
Antigua: The Food
The national dish of Antigua is the first thing you should try. Called fungie (pronounced foon-jee), this is a typical breakfast dish made out of cornmeal. It’s similar to mashed potato.
For something a bit more filling, then Antigua is famous for its pork chops with banana and bacon. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s delicious.
The official fruit of Antigua is also well worth trying – the black pineapple! It’s regarded as one of the sweetest tasting pineapples in the world, and is often had for breakfast.
A popular dessert here is Ducana, which is a dumpling made from sweet potato and coconut, then cooked in banana leaves. Or skip dessert and have a refreshing coconut direct from the straw!
Aruba: The Food
Aruban cuisine is a mix of Caribbean, Dutch, and Latin American influences, which as you can probably guess makes it a pretty good place to visit as a foodie!
Keshi Yena is regarded as the national dish of Aruba. This large ball of cheese is stuffed with chicken (but sometimes other types of meat too), and is a real comfort food.
Trying out the seafood is, of course, an absolute must. Common freshly caught fish here includes mahi-mahi, grouper and lionfish.
Our recommendation is to try out the prawn starters that appear on menus up and down the island. Freshly caught and often cooked with coconut water, they’re a real treat.
For desert, you must try Pan Bollo. This traditional Aruban delicacy is bread pudding often served with rum (what else!) and ice cream. It’s delicious.
Antigua vs Aruba: Which Is The Better Choice?
Antigua and Aruba are great vacation options, and if you have the time and money, each is worth visiting.
Yet while both islands have picture-perfect Caribbean beaches, Antigua arguably has the better ones. With lush rainforest and mountains, it also has better scenery than flatter more arid Aruba.
However Aruba is a lot easier to get around – which is a plus point. The island has well-developed infrastructure, is upscale, and has good shopping and nightlife. But the most popular beaches can get busy.