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.
Choosing whether to visit Antigua or Aruba for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday or honeymoon destination can therefore be difficult. Having visited both, we compare them below, and show you what each has to offer.
Antigua vs Aruba: Stunning natural scenery
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 – and other islands like St Lucia – where walking between beaches is often not possible due to the geography 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 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. As for safety, both islands are considered safe destinations, however tourists have reported crime issues in Antigua at more frequent rates than Aruba.
We look at each island, and what’s on offer in both, in more detail below.
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 it 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 would 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.
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.
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.
What makes Aruba really stand out in the Caribbean is the colorful sealife you can see when snorkeling and diving here. Head to Baby Beach in the very south of the island, and expect to be mesmerized. This is probably one of the best snorkeling spots in the world 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, 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!
Antigua vs Aruba: Explore the sights and experience the tropics
Antigua has a Caribbean feel to it and is far less touristy than Aruba, which has a distinctive American vibe.
Aruba also has a lively nightlife, good shopping scene, and a number of American chain restaurants.
Along with the natural scenery on offer, both Antigua and Aruba have a wealth of attractions and cultural experiences worth checking out:
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!
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.
Antigua vs Aruba: A taste of the Caribbean
Both islands will provide a treat for your taste-buds, with cuisine focused around seafood.
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 desert here is Ducana, which is a dumpling made from sweet potato and coconut, then cooked in banana leaves.
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 the taste buds.
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 should you choose?
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. However the most popular beaches can get busy.
Recommended for your trip to Antigua or Aruba
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