Last updated on March 8, 2023 by Wandering our World
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 may surprise you with how different they actually are…
For example, if beaches are your main priority and you’re looking to really relax and unwind, then Turks and Caicos is probably a better holiday destination than Aruba. The islands are very laid back, quiet, and the beaches are unparalleled in the Caribbean.
Smaller Aruba has some great beaches too, but this island also has a fun nightlife and shopping scene and is a great destination for tourists looking to do a little more than just sunbathe and swim.
Of course that’s just the beginning when it comes to how Aruba and Turks & Caicos differ…
That’s why after visiting both, we compare them below and show you exactly what each has to offer.
We look at which has the better beaches, nightlife, what activities you can do in each, how the vibe compares, and more. All so you can make the right vacation decision!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- Which Has The Better Beaches & Snorkeling?
- Which Has The Better Culture?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has The Better Nightlife?
- How Does The Cuisine Compare?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Aruba vs Turks & Caicos: A Quick Overview & Comparison
For tourists looking to sunbathe and swim, the Turks and Caicos archipelago with its 40 beautiful islands and cays seems like 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 and argubaly better than in Aruba.
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. It is the perfect beach vacation spot.
However the public transport in Turks and Caicos isn’t great, cabs are expensive, and the country in general is a more expensive destination than Aruba.
In comparison, the infrastructure and public bus system in Aruba is very good. That means you can go from beach to beach, town to town, in Aruba a lot easier and cheaper than in Turks and Caicos. Which is a big plus point.
In terms of vibe, Aruba has quite an American vibe to it and is more geared towards tourists than Turks & Caicos. in contrast, the Turks and Caicos feels more laid back and still has a very Caribbean vibe to it.
And when it comes to nightlife, Aruba wins hands down. This 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.
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!
Which Has The Better Beaches & Snorkeling?
Aruba: The Beaches & Snorkeling
Turks and Caicos arguably has the better beaches, but Aruba has its fair share of stunning coastal spots too.
For a fantastic swimming beach, and a long stretch of white sand, head to Eagle Beach in the island’s north. It’s the picture perfect image of a Caribbean coastline. Palm Beach is another very popular spot and fantastic beach with lots of water sport activities.
Another wonderful spot for beaches and wildlife is De Palm Island, a small private island off the coast of Aruba. It’s home to a friendly flock of flamingos!
However what makes Aruba really stand out in the Caribbean is the colorful sealife you can see when snorkeling and diving there. And luckily many of the reefs are not only situated in shallow water, but are easily accessible from the shore so you don’t need any expensive boat trips to snorkel.
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. It’s possible to even see the 400-foot SS Antilla – now a haven for sealife – from the surface. That’s despite the shipwreck being on the seabed!
In fact diving and snorkeling around shipwrecks is one of Aruba’s main attraction. The SS Antilla is actually the Caribbean’s third largest shipwreck, but there’s plenty more incredible wrecks in Aruba to discover too, like the Pedernales.
That wreck is a WWII oil tanker that was submerged in only 33ft of water and is now a wonderful site, especially for novice divers and snorkelers.
Turks and Caicos: The Beaches & Snorkeling
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. So you may even find a beach to have all to yourself. That’s almost impossible in the busy, popular cruise-ship destination of Aruba.
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.
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 directly 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.
Which Has The Better Culture & Cultural Experiences?
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: 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 is its lively city life!
All major hotel resorts have casinos that are popular when the sun goes down, and Oranjestad has a fun nightlife and shopping scene too. More on that later!
Turks and Caicos: The Culture
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 the nation’s history, a trip to Cheshire Hall in Providenciales is a must.
The ruins represent what’s left of 5000 acres of slave plantation, and it remains one of the country’s most 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, and that’s well worth experiencing.
In fact it’s the opportunity to take part in fish frys (as we mention in the nightlife section further down) or watch ripsaw bands live that makes Turks and Caicos a more culturally rich nation than Aruba for tourists. Simply put, it’s far easier to get a taste of a new culture here than in tourist-driven Aruba.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: If you are looking to travel on a budget, there are 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 can be a beach day when staying here. See photos and rates!
Turks and Caicos
Budget: The classy studios at Villa del Mar, which is located just a stone’s throw away from the beach in Grace Bay are worth the price you pay alone.
But couple that with the outdoor pool, hot tub, and the fact you’re close to whole bunch of restaurants and you can see why we think this is a fantastic choice on the islands. See photos and rates!
Luxury: You can’t get more luxurious than The Palms Turks and Caicos which sits right on the beach at Grace Bay.
The beach, facilities and world class service are fantastic, but the real star of the show is the huge outside infinity pool with sea views. See photos and rates!
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Aruba: The Nightlife
Simply put, Aruba is the best place to be if your idea of a vacation is to party till sunrise.
The island has a plethora of entertainment spots and activities catering to many tastes. From clubs and beach bars to bowling alleys, cinemas, cocktail lounges and karaoke spots. There’s no chance of getting bored when the sun sets in Aruba.
One popular place you must visit in Aruba is the 5 O’clock Somewhere Bar at Renaissance Marketplace. Live entertainment and special drinks and snacks are the order of the day there. And if you’re feeling lucky, there are a good number of action-packed casinos nearby you can pop into.
Various hotels, resorts and restaurants also provide special performances for tourists like magic shows, dance shows and circus events that you can enjoy on an evening.
And if you’re a nightlife lover, why not bar hop? There are multiple unique nightlife tours in Aruba that will take you on a memorable bar-hopping adventure.
Turks & Caicos: The Nightlife
In general nightlife in Turks and Caicos is far less lively than Aruba, but you can still find a party if needed.
For example in Provo, various large resorts like the adults-only Club Med Turkoise provide a lively party atmosphere for their guests, featuring special performances and nightclubs.
Local bars around the islands also hold special events, from live bands, karaoke and disco, to game nights and throwback parties. Danny Buoy’s Pub & Restaurant is one lively place you shouldn’t miss when in Grace Bay.
And if you really want to escape the hotels and resorts, there are numerous great beachfront locations to enjoy your night at. Sharkbite, Bob’s Bar, and Bugaloo’s Restaurant will not only offer you a fun outdoor atmosphere but also mouth-watering food and drinks.
Another popular activity is watching the sunset on the water by taking a boat cruise. On that note, taking a Glow Worm Cruise should top your list of night-time activities. This spectacular phenomenon happens only a few days a month when bioluminescent worms put on a captivating display in the ocean!
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 for a chilled out evening.
A Taste Of The Caribbean: How Does The Cuisine Compare?
Both island nations will provide a treat for your taste buds, with cuisine focused around seafood.
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!
Although as an island with a big tourist sector, 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 in Aruba 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: The Food
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 Is The Better Choice?
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 scene. That makes it the best destination for tourists looking to do a little more than just sunbathe and swim.