If you’re looking for white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and a laid-back vibe, then Aruba and Turks and Caicos have it all. However these islands are quite different.
Choosing whether to visit Aruba or Turks and Caicos 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 Turks and Caicos: Stunning natural scenery
For tourists looking to sunbathe and swim, the Turks and Caicos archipelago with its 40 beautiful islands and cays seem the natural choice. The beaches in this island nation are arguably some of the best in the Caribbean too, and with 242 miles of coastline – compared to Aruba’s 43 miles – there’s many to choose from. The swimming water in Turks and Caicos is unrivaled as well.
Therefore if you’re wanting a holiday which is focused on sunbathing and island hopping, then Turks and Caicos may suit you better than Aruba. However the bus system in Turks and Caicos isn’t great, cabs are expensive, and the country in general is more expensive than Aruba.
In comparison, the infrastructure and public bus system in Aruba is very good. That means you can get from beach to beach, town to town, in Aruba a lot easier than in Turks and Caicos.
Below we show you some of the scenery you should expect in each country. We then compare the culture and nightlife in both – spoiler alert: they are very different!
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!
Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos is all about beaches – which are some of the best, if not the best, in the Caribbean. With only eight inhabited islands – from forty – there are many secluded and remote beaches to discover too.
At Grace Bay expect unbelievable white sand set against sparkling clear turquoise water. The calm swimming water here is perfect for snorkeling, and the sunset is breathtaking. This is one of our top five beaches in the Caribbean.
Long Bay Beach is another spectacular setting. We recommend it not just for the gin-like water here, but because you can go pony trekking in the sea! Provo Ponies does trekking tours along the beach – and in the sea – with their gang of rescued ponies. It’s an unforgettable experience.
You may have guessed it by now, but activities in the Turks and Caicos are mainly centered around the coast. One of those is snorkeling, and luckily, with such clear calm swimming water, many of the best snorkeling spots are actually accessible from the beach.
A couple of our favorite snorkeling spots are Bight Reef and Smith Reef just off the shoreline at Providenciales – named ‘Provo’ by locals. Expect to see sting rays, sea turtles, eagle rays and colorful reef fish.
Aruba or Turks and Caicos: Explore the sights and experience the tropics
Along with the natural scenery on offer, both Aruba and Turks and Caicos have a wealth of attractions and cultural experiences worth checking out.
Aruba has quite an American vibe to it and is geared towards tourists. Whereas Turks and Caicos feels more laid back and Caribbean.
When it comes to nightlife, Aruba wins hands down. The island comes alive at night, with good bars, restaurants, and casinos to enjoy. The Turks and Caicos, however, is a lot more subdued when the sun goes down, and it can be a struggle to sometimes fill your evenings.
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.
Turks and Caicos
The culture of this Caribbean paradise is a mix of influences from the native Taíno people, Europeans, and African slaves. The result is a colorful set of beliefs and traditions that can be seen in the art and music that emanates from Turks and Caicos.
Many tourists don’t discover this side of Turks and Caicos, but for the visitor who wants to learn about this nation’s history, a trip to Cheshire Hall in Providenciales is a must. The ruins here represent what’s left of 5000 acres of slave plantation, and it remains one of the country’s important historical landmarks.
Hundreds of years ago, slaves in Turks and Caicos invented a form of music unique to the archipelago – ripsaw. The rhythm is created using a handsaw, and nowadays is accompanied by various other instruments. The Somewhere Cafe and Lounge in Providenciales often has a ripsaw band playing on a Sunday night.
In general nightlife is quiet in Turks and Caicos, however there is a small casino called Casablanca in Grace Bay. There is also a Fish Fry on Thursday evenings in Bight Park, where you can try locally caught seafood as well as listen to music.
Da Conch Shack – a stunning beachside restaurant in Provo – also has live music in the early evenings on some nights.
A taste of the Caribbean
Both island nations 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! Although you can also expect to find many fast food and chain restaurants here too.
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.
Turks and Caicos
Unsurprisingly, cuisine in the Turks and Caicos is heavily seafood based.
Conch is especially popular, with Conch salad, Conch fritters, and cracked Conch all on the menu throughout the archipelago.
Other seafood favorites include crab and rice, lionfish, and lobster and chips!
As for what to drink, like most Caribbean islands rum is the spirit of choice here. There’s only one Turks and Caicos rum, Bambarra Rum, so getting your hands on some is a must.
Aruba or Turks and Caicos: Which should you choose?
Both Turks and Caicos and Aruba make excellent holiday destinations, and both have gorgeous beaches and vibrant cultures.
However if beaches are your main priority, and you’re looking to relax and unwind, then Turks and Caicos is probably a better holiday destination than Aruba. The island is very laid back, quiet, and the beaches are unparalleled in the Caribbean.
Smaller Aruba has some great beaches too, but also has a fun nightlife and decent shopping, making it the best destination for tourists looking to do a little more than just sunbathe and swim.
Recommended for your trip to Aruba or Turks and Caicos
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