If you’re looking for white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and a laid-back vibe, then Aruba and Barbados are the answer! However these islands, despite their similar size, are quite different.
Choosing whether to visit Aruba or Barbados 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.
Aruba or Barbados: Stunning natural scenery
For tourists looking to sunbathe and swim, both Aruba and Barbados are great options. Barbados is bigger though, possessing 60 miles of coastline compared to smaller Aruba’s 43 miles.
Both have stunning beaches and great turquoise swimming waters, but Barbados is probably the better choice if beaches are your main criteria. Barbados has some of the best in the Caribbean, and it’s a very easy island to get around. In theory that means you can get from beach to beach, town to town, in Barbados very easily. Furthermore, Barbados makes our list of five cheapest Caribbean islands.
Aruba and Barbados both have those picture-perfect white sand beaches you see when admiring images of the Caribbean, however Barbados does have more. Aruba, however, is one of the best spots in the world for snorkeling, and it beats Barbados hands down in that department.
Other than beaches, the similarities tend to end between the two islands. Aruba is flatter and the landscape more arid than Barbados. However for nightlife and casinos, Aruba is the better choice. In fact casinos are illegal in Barbados.
Below we look in more detail at what both islands have to offer potential tourists, before showing how each is different culturally, and what to expect.
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. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
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!
Make your way to Oistins and Miami Beach for great swimming waters and one of the best sunsets in the Caribbean. You can find turquoise water and perfect beaches up and down Barbados. One of our favorites is Bottom Bay. It’s not a great swimming spot, but it’s secluded, romantic, and with swaying palm trees it has a real desert island feel to it.
Barbados’ teeming sea-life can also be viewed when out and about swimming and snorkeling. Bell Buoy reef, near Accra Beach is the perfect place to spot angel fish and parrot fish. While at Carlise Bay Marine Park you can dive among numerous ship wrecks that have been taken over by colorful fish, nurse sharks, and manta rays! Some of the best reefs to explore in Barbados can be found in this.
Aruba or Barbados: Explore the sights and experience the tropics
Along with the natural scenery on offer, both Aruba and Barbados have a wealth of attractions and cultural experiences worth checking out.
While both have a Caribbean feel to them, Aruba definitely feels quite Americanized. Barbados, on the other hand, has a more British feel to it – although there is a very distinctive Caribbean vibe on the island too.
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 it’s nightlife! All major hotel resorts have casinos that are popular when the sun goes down, and Oranjestad has a fun nightlife and shopping scene.
With a mix of West African and British influences, Barbados is a fascinating country with a rich blend of Caribbean traditions and a culture that emerged out of plantation slavery economy. The British influence in particular is very strong.
Historic Bridgetown is where you should head if you want to learn about the colonial past in Barbados. A walking tour will introduce you to the country’s tumultuous past, and the colonial relics and architecture that still stand today. You can also tour St Nicholas Abbey, a Jacobean plantation house.
As with many countries that were colonized by the British, cricket quickly became the national sport and a way to beat the occupiers on the playing field! Take a trip to Kensington Oval Barbados to watch a game.
Barbados also has one of the oldest horse race tracks in the world, the Garrison Savannah. Situated just outside of Bridgetown, locals and tourists mix on race day as excitement builds. In fact a visit here is on our list of the best things to do in Barbados!
A taste of the Caribbean
Both islands will provide a treat for your taste-buds, with cuisine focused around seafood.
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.
Unsurprisingly, fish features heavily in Barbadian cuisine too, and fried flying fish is one of the national dishes of Barbados! However with such a mix of cultures here, food is influenced by West African, British, and even Indian tastes.
Here popular dishes include chicken curry, barbecued pig tails and even Macaroni pies!
Just like many Caribbean islands, rum is the drink of choice in Barbados. Luckily for visitors, they make great rum too! Get yourself along to Mount Gay Rum Distillery for a tour and some free tasters.
Aruba or Barbados: Which island should you choose?
Both islands are worth visiting if you have the time and money, however if you’re looking for spectacular beaches then Barbados may be the better choice. Beaches are where Barbados really shines, and with double the length of coastline as Aruba, they’re not in short supply either.
However if you’re looking for a holiday which encompasses lazy days on the beach, but fun evenings trying out new bars or having a go on the slot machines, then Aruba offers both. Not only this, the snorkeling opportunities on the island are better than Barbados.
Recommended for your trip to Aruba or Barbados
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