Calypso music, coconut trees, and a Pina Colada on the beach: these are the images our minds generate when we hear a mere mention of the Caribbean. And whilst these are all quintessentially Caribbean, the region has so much more to offer those planning their dream vacation in the region.
But with thousands of islands in the Caribbean Sea, which one should you visit?
To help you with your plans, we are going to have a close look at two of the most popular and beautiful Caribbean destinations: Aruba and Punta Cana. Which one will be the perfect fit for you and your dream vacation plans?
While both destinations are known for their idyllic white-sand beaches and warm, turquoise waters, there’s more to consider before deciding which is the best fit for you.
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Easier To Get To
- Which Has The Best Hotels
- Which Has The Best Vibe
- Which Is Better For Beaches
- Which Is Best For Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
- Which Has The Best Nightlife
- Which Is Best For A Family Trip
- Which Is Cheaper
- What Time Of Year Is Best
- Our Final Thoughts
A Quick Overview Of Aruba vs Punta Cana
Aruba is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is a tiny island of 180 square kilometers (about twice the area of Manhattan).
It’s the westernmost of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) and lies 30 kilometers north of the Venezuelan coastline. With a population of just over 100,000, Aruba is a quieter destination, perfect for those looking to recharge their batteries from the comfort of a hammock or a sun lounger.
The Dominican Republic is an independent country encompassing more than half of the island of Hispaniola, with Hispaniola being the second largest Caribbean island, behind Cuba.
With a little under 50,000 square kilometers (about twice the area of New Jersey) of land, it’s much bigger than Aruba and is a little livelier too—perfect for those who like to chill at the beach in the day and maybe let loose a little in the evenings.
To help you choose, we’re going to have a more in-depth look into the similarities and differences between these two captivating Caribbean locations.
We’ll look at which has the better beaches, nightlife, vibe, which is cheaper and even more. All so you can make the right choice!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
While both destinations are well-served by international flights, your point of origin will ultimately determine which will be easier for you to get to.
If you are based in the eastern states of the US, then you should have no problem finding a direct flight to either Aruba or Punta Cana from your nearest major airport. From Europe, you will find it easier to get a direct flight to Punta Cana.
Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) is the Dominican Republic’s busiest airport and receives many direct flights each day. From the eastern US, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding a direct flight. If you are based on the west coast of the US, then you may need two flights to reach Punta Cana, with connecting flights available via Miami and Cancun, amongst others.
For European travelers, there are also several direct flights between many of the major western European capital cities, such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Madrid. So, you may need a short-haul flight to first reach one of these major airports too.
The second busiest airport in the Dominican Republic is Las Américas International Airport (SDQ), which serves the capital city of Santo Domingo. This airport is also well-served by flights from the eastern US states and also welcomes a few direct flights from western Europe. You may be able to find a flight more suited to your intended travel dates to this airport, but then there will be a two-hour road transfer across to Punta Cana itself.
Aruba is more simple, in that there is only one airport to check flights to: Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA). The airport is located in Oranjestad, the capital city of Aruba. Aruba is also pretty easy to reach from the United States’ eastern seaboard, with visitors traveling from the western US typically needing two flights.
If you are based in Europe and looking to venture to Aruba, the only direct flights depart from Amsterdam. You can either get a short-haul connection to Amsterdam, then board the ten-hour direct flight from Schiphol Airport (AMS); or you can fly via one of the major cities in the eastern US, such as New York or Miami.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
You don’t need to worry about finding an excellent white-sand beach with clear, warm waters and swaying palm trees: you’re off to the Caribbean!
Both of these destinations have plenty of excellent beaches to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a tranquil spot to read a book or looking for a beach with watersport activities, both Aruba and Punta Cana can deliver.
But let’s have a quick look at some of the idyllic beach options in both locations, as knowing the best options could help you make your decision.
Perhaps the best known of the beaches in Aruba is Palm Beach. Located on the west side of the island, this beach has it all. The beach is three kilometers of pure white sand and is a great place for swimming. The water is calm and clear and Palm Beach is typically great for families and couples, with plenty of watersports options so it’s great for those who are not so good at sitting still on holiday. There are plenty of bars and restaurants here too.
To the north of Palm Beach, on the island’s north-west corner, is another excellent beach, Arashi Beach. This beach is a great place for some snorkeling in the gin-clear waters. There’s plenty of parking available here too, and beach huts offer refreshing food and drink options too.
For something a little more rugged and adventurous, head to Andicuri Beach, in the middle of Aruba’s north coast. This beach is more secluded than the western beaches and is a great place for bodyboarding, as the surf can get a little higher here. This beach is best for people who are comfortable swimming in the ocean too, as there can be currents at times.
One of Punta Cana’s most popular beaches is Playa Bavaro. There’s plenty going on here, and this bustling beach is a hive of activity. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops at the edge of the sand. You can enjoy the soft, white sand or go for a swim or a snorkel in the clear, blue water.
There are also water sport options there, such as sea kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, to keep you entertained. There’s an energetic beach vibe and lots of opportunities for cocktails at beach bars, which is typical of beaches in Punta Cana compared to Aruba.
In the shade of some of Punta Cana’s luxury hotels, you can find Cap Cana Republicana Dominicana Beach. This beach is a little more tranquil than Playa Bavaro and is an excellent beach for swimming, snorkeling, or playing with the kids in the super-soft sand. There’s a golf course nearby too.
If you’re looking to sip a fresh Pina Colada on the beach (who isn’t!) then head to Cortecito Beach. This beach is thronged with local bars and restaurants offering deliciously fresh sea food and suitably-tropical cocktails. It’s a great place to meet locals and fellow tourists alike, and the cool music vibes hanging in the air make it a chilled-out place to hang out during the afternoon.
Which Has The Best Vibe?
If you’re in search of that cool Caribbean-Calypso vibe, then you are in luck. Both Aruba and Punta Cana can deliver easily on that front. You will have no problems finding a spot to relax with a cold beer on a white-sand beach. But deciding which destination is best for you depends on what type of vacation you are looking for.
Aruba is a little more exclusive and has a quieter vibe overall. It’s the perfect destination for a relaxed holiday in the sun. With plenty of beaches to discover and lots of secluded, peaceful hotels, it’s a great destination for couples and families.
But if you are in need of a holiday with a bit of adventure and post-sunset fun, then maybe Punta Cana will be the better option for you.
Punta Cana has a lively nightlife scene. And while it has quiet spots and is also great for families, if you’re looking to party hard whilst on vacation, Punta Cana will give you more opportunity to let loose in the evenings than Aruba.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
In either location, finding a hotel right on the beach should present no problems. Both Aruba and Punta Cana offer a wide range of accommodation options to suit your needs. Whether you are looking for five-star luxury, family-friendly resorts, or budget backpacker accommodation, there are options for you to check out.
For a luxury option in Aruba, check out the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort. This adults-only resort is located on Eagle Beach, in the west of Aruba. Eagle Beach is located between two other excellent beaches, Flamingo Beach and Palm Beach, and the resort itself has excellent facilities.
In Punta Cana, one of the top choices is Eden Roc at Cap Cana. This luxurious option has a private beach club, and there are three restaurants within the hotel complex. With a choice of beach-front villas and boutique suites, this resort is perfect for relaxing and pampering yourself.
There are plenty of mid-range options in both locations too, especially if you don’t mind not being ‘right on the beach.’ The hotels a little farther from the shoreline can be cheaper, but also a little quieter in some instances which is an added bonus.
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. Check out the Aruba Harmony Apartments, but book ahead as there are limited backpacker options.
In Punta Cana, it’s best to stay in the Corales and El Cortecito areas for budget accommodation. These areas are well-served by public transport and have good beach access. Check out the Art Villa Dominicana Hotel, which is less than a kilometer away from the beach, yet very affordable.
Which Is Best For Scuba Diving & Snorkeling?
The calm Caribbean waters surrounding both Aruba and Punta Cana are teeming with tropical fish and sea life, and are great locations for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Divers are drawn to Aruba to dive its wrecks as well as its reefs. For wreck diving lovers, The Antilla Wreck is a must-dive. It is the third biggest shipwreck in the Caribbean, and the German freighter was deliberately scuttled by its own captain to stop the Dutch troops from taking it over. It’s now an excellent and historical dive site. If you prefer a gentle reef dive, book a dive at Arashi and keep your eyes open for passing turtles.
In fact if watching fish from the surface by snorkeling – rather than scuba diving – is more up your alley, then Aruba may be best. That’s because Aruba is widely regarded as having the best snorkeling in the Caribbean.
A great beach to snorkel is Boca Catalina, with its gentle waters. There are plenty of colorful reef fish in the shallows, and if you venture a little farther out, you may be rewarded with a turtle sighting. For families, head to Baby Beach, where the shallow, protected waters make it ideal for a relaxing snorkel—just don’t forget the sunscreen!
Recommended: Your Guide To Snorkeling In Aruba
The coastline of Punta Cana is fringed by the country’s longest reef and is dotted with dive sites. There are chances to see turtles and sharks here, and there is also a wreck or two to explore as well. Keep your eyes peeled for nurse sharks hiding in the reef during the day.
For something a bit different, book a dive at the Astron Shipwreck & Underwater Museum. This wreck went down in the late 1970s and broke into two pieces, with the bow above the water and the stern below the waves.
In Punta Cana, the snorkeling from Bavaro Beach is very good, but the reef at Cabeza de Toro is said to offer the chance to see a wider variety of fish. All the usual, colorful reef fish can be seen snorkeling here: angelfish, sergeant majors, and butterflyfish are all abundant.
Which Has The Best Nightlife?
We’ve already touched on the notion that Punta Cana is the more hedonistic of the two destinations, but there’s more to life after dark than just hitting a mega club – although if that’s what you want to do, then Punta Cana will likely be the better choice for you.
But if your idea of perfect nightlife on vacation is a sunset cocktail, a delicious meal, and some live music with a few drinks, then Aruba can deliver just as well as Punta Cana.
Punta Cana is the place to head to if you are hell-bent on partying until dawn during your vacation though. The main town has a plethora of bars and mega clubs where you can party until the early morning hours. There are also plenty of beach bars and cool hangouts, and some excellent restaurants too.
The nightlife in Aruba is a little more understated, but you can still find a party if you want to.
Aruba also has some different ways to spend your evenings. If you’re feeling lucky, you can head to the casino, and if you want to spend the evening laughing, head to the comedy club. And maybe if you win big, or the comedy club has put you in the mood to party, then you can jump on the party bus to barhop your way through the island’s coolest bars.
Which Is Best For A Family Trip?
Both Aruba and Punta Cana have plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained on your vacation. However Punta Cana is bigger, busier, and offers a few more family options. But Aruba, being quieter, is also a great family destination, and you won’t struggle to find fun activities to fill your days there.
Punta Cana boasts a couple of adventure parks which will guarantee vacation smiles from the kids. Hoyo Azul Scape Park, in the Cap Cana area is one, and Bavaro Adventure Park is the other. Hoyo Azul Scape Park is perfect for thrill seekers looking for ziplines and underwater caves to explore. Bavaro Adventure Park is a freshwater lagoon inside an open cenote which also offers ziplining, in addition to buggies and horseback riding.
If you have animal-loving children, there are a some options in Aruba to keep the kids entertained for a few hours such as The Butterfly Park, Donkey Sanctuary, and Philip’s Animal Garden. Monkeyland Adventure and La Hacienda Park in Punta Cana can keep similarly-minded animal loving families entertained in Punta Cana.
With both destinations offering year-round good weather, family-friendly beaches and resorts, and watersport activities you are sure to have a fun-filled family vacation in either location.
Which Is Cheaper?
Overall, the cost of a vacation in Aruba will probably be a little higher than a similar vacation in Punta Cana.
Punta Cana is a bustling resort town catering for vacationers looking to party, and there are more hotels here. More hotels mean more competition, which often translates as lower, more competitive prices. In contrast, Aruba is a little more exclusive and chic, and this is reflected by the higher average hotel prices.
In terms of dining out, with a plethora of options in both locations, you can eat well and shop around for options that suit your budget. You will not go hungry in either location, and maybe your bathroom scales will attest to this when you return home.
There are also plenty of shopping outlets in Aruba and Punta Cana, but with Aruba being a duty-free destination, you may find certain items to be a little cheaper there.
All-in-all, it is possible to plan vacations to suit a range of budgetary concerns in either Aruba or Punta Cana, but there will be a few more options for lower budgets in Punta Cana.
What Time Of Year Is Best?
With both locations being in the Caribbean and separated by a paltry 650 kilometers of ocean, their two climates are very similar.
For both destinations, the best weather is generally considered to be between May and September. Average daily temperatures at this time of year will be around 30 degrees Celsius, and at night the average is closer to 25 degrees. So, it’s safe to say you shouldn’t have any issues with being cold during your vacation. The coolest months, January through March, boast average daily temperatures of 26 degrees.
In terms of rainfall, Punta Cana experiences its rainy season between August and October. Rain showers are common at this time of year, but they tend not to last too long. A cooling afternoon shower in a hot country can be quite welcome anyway.
However Aruba receives, on average, about half the amount of rain as Punta Cana so rainy season is even less of a concern.
It is worth noting, however, that as Caribbean countries, both can be subject to hurricanes from time to time. Hurricane season is generally noted as being from the beginning of June through the end of November. If you do visit at this time, it’s highly advisable to take out travel insurance, just in case.
Aruba vs Punta Cana: Our Final Thoughts
If you are planning your dream Caribbean vacation, both of these idyllic locales can deliver. White-sand beaches, tiki bars serving craft cocktails, warm-water snorkeling, and year-round sunshine await you in whichever destination you choose.
But if you want a party scene after dark, maybe Punta Cana is the choice for you. Whereas if you want a more relaxing, tranquil island vibe, then pack your bags for Aruba.
However both of these welcoming, tropical destinations have been delivering the perfect vacation to visitors for a number of years, and both are waiting to give you the perfect Caribbean experience, whichever you ultimately choose.