Last updated on January 23, 2023 by Wandering our World
A Caribbean vacation may be just what you need when looking for a tropical escape. But with so many destinations, it can be difficult to decide which to visit – especially if you’ve narrowed your options down to Aruba and the Cayman Islands.
Both provide everything that makes a tropical holiday remarkable: sugary sandy beaches, outdoor adventures, delectable cuisines, luxurious resorts, warm atmospheres, and much more. But even though these destinations seem indistinguishable, they are actually poles apart.
Putting it in the simplest way possible, Aruba is more lively. It is ideal for visitors looking for desert adventures, vibrant nightlife, and picturesque beaches. On the other hand, the Cayman Islands are more laid-back, and arguably more beautiful. They’re best for travelers looking for a relaxed atmosphere and magnificent snorkeling and diving sites.
However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how these beautiful islands differ.
In this article, we’ll finally help you choose between Aruba and the Cayman Islands. We’ll set them side by side, looking at how they differ regarding beaches, landscape, nightlife, main attractions, expenses and much more. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- How To Get There & Getting Around
- Which Has The Better Landscape?
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- Which Has Better Nightlife?
- Which Has The Best Tourist Attractions & Activities?
- Which Is More Expensive?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- When’s The Best Time To Visit?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview & Comparison
Aruba is a Dutch Island nestled about nineteen miles from the Venezuelan coast. It is ranked among the top Caribbean destinations with the highest number of repeat visitors. And it’s easy to see why tourists flock here again and again.
The island experiences a warm, sunny, and dry climate with very little precipitation year-round, making it an ideal vacation spot. It also conveniently lies outside the customary path of Caribbean hurricanes, so it’s safe to visit any time of the year.
Plus Aruba’s numerous beautiful, white sandy beaches, rugged coastline, and desert environment are big attractions.
Covering only 69.5 square miles, Aruba is smaller than the Cayman Islands yet more densely populated. But its tiny size makes it easier to get around.
In contrast, the Cayman Islands are larger at 102 square miles and consist of a group of islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman.
Situated 90 miles south of Cuba and 450 miles southwest of Miami, the Cayman Islands are a popular diver’s destination thanks to the stunning coral reefs and clear waters there. The climate is generally warm throughout the year, ideal for a vacation.
Grand Cayman is the largest island and most populated. It is the main center for tourists since it has the majority of tourist facilities. It’s also where the country’s capital, George Town, is located. The other two are less developed, traveled, and perfect for adventurers and divers due to the many dive sites.
Regarding safety and family-friendliness, it’s a win-win situation. Both countries report very low crime rates compared to the rest of the Caribbean nations. Additionally, they have a wide array of kid-friendly activities, making them vacation hotspots for families.
How To Get There & Getting Around
Most tourists visit both islands as part of a cruise, despite their direct access via air. Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba, and Grand Cayman are the main ports of call for ships.
However, both destinations have international airports. Aruba has Queen Beatrix International Airport, while the Cayman Islands have two: Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman and Gerrard Smith International Airport in Cayman Brac.
Many major international airlines fly directly to these destinations from the US, the UK, Latin America, and Canada. These airlines include American Airways, Delta, JetBlue, British Airways, and Air Canada. And while Aruba lacks a national carrier, Cayman Airways is the airline for the Cayman Islands.
Getting around these tropical destinations is also quite easy.
The bus system, Arubus, is the cheapest and best mode of transport in Aruba. While renting an Aruban cab is another stress-free mode of getting around, it can be expensive so the bus is a better option when on a budget.
You can also consider getting an all-terrain vehicle if you intend to go on an off-road adventure in Aruba.
On the other hand, hiring a car is the best way to travel around the Cayman Islands. You’ll need to get a temporary driving license and pay a compulsory Vehicle Environmental Recovery Fee, which you can do at the rental agency.
While you can also use a taxi, they mainly assemble around airports, hotels, and ship terminals. Rental bikes are also popular and most convenient in Little Cayman, which lacks a transport system.
Which Has The Better Landscape?
Both the Cayman Islands and Aruba are generally flat with no rivers. The former is, however, flatter, with the highest elevation being the Bluff in Cayman Brac, which is 43 meters high. Aruba’s highest point is Mt. Jumanota, standing at 189 meters.
And even though hiking may not be the first interest in the Caribbean, both islands feature various elevations that are great for a trek. But if you are an avid hiker, we suggest Aruba. It offers more adventurous hiking trails than the Cayman Islands.
Both islands also consist of low-lying limestone deposits, fringed with coral reefs. Yet despite having similar geography, the coral reefs at the Cayman Islands are a major attraction for divers and snorkelers worldwide – more so than the ones in Aruba.
In fact, the Cayman Islands have a reputation for being a snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise. It has far more and much better diving sites to explore than any other Caribbean island, and with 365 diving sites, you can explore a new spot every day for a full year!
From snorkeling and scuba diving in submerged shipwrecks, caves, tunnels, walls, and mountain ranges, you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Aruba’s landscape is very diverse. A rugged coastline, a handful of beaches, and desert vegetation characterize the northeast region.
The southwest region, on the other hand, features the island’s renowned gorgeous white sand beaches. The waters there are stunningly turquoise-blue, calm with warm temperatures, and ideal for swimming.
Which Has Better Beaches?
While both islands have beautiful beaches, and it is often referred to as a beach paradise because of its peaceful and calmer water.
However the downside is that Aruba’s beaches can get quite busy. In contrast, the slightly bigger and less populated Caymans can have quieter beaches, and therefore chances to get that ‘deserted island’ feel.
Aruba: The Beaches
Situated in Oranjestad, Eagle Beach is the widest and most popular tourist beach on the island. It offers stunning deep blue waters, which are comparably calm and safe for swimming even in windy weather. Its powdery white sand is lined with palms, fofoti trees, and grass-thatched cottages.
Numerous apartments and restaurants border it, making it very convenient. Moreover, it’s a tradition for local families to camp here every Easter.
Palm Beach is another famous beach lying north of Eagle Beach which is at the center of the action in Aruba. Numerous high-rise hotels, bars, restaurants, and souvenir stands surround it. It’s also the perfect place to fly board, water ski, paraglide or take a banana boat ride!
And if you are looking to snorkel, Arashi Beach is perfect. It features calm and clear waters and soft rocks, and coral reefs. This beach, however, lacks amenities. Therefore, remember to carry an umbrella and lunch if you wish to stay for long.
If you want a more secluded beach with fewer tourists, go to Andicuri Beach. Located on the north coast, the beach offers more adventure due to its rugged coastline and water currents. It is popular with surfers and boogie boarders.
And if you wish to swim with pink flamingos, Flamingo Beach on Renaissance Island offers you that experience.
Cayman Islands: The Beaches
Seven Mile Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Its a 7-mile stretch that offers deep-blue waters, pure white sand, and palm trees.
It is ideal for long walks, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and much more. Plus it’s also very convenient as most amenities are found right on the beach.
Rum Point is another excellent spot that offers that classic tropical feel. It features sugary white sand, near-surface water, and hammocks underneath palms – the perfect definition of a serene paradise. You can also try out the fresh seafood at the nearby famous Rum Point Club; you won’t regret it!
And if you are looking for a kayaking adventure, paddle your way to Owen Island on Little Cayman. This is a beautiful spot to swim, explore and relax. And if you go during the summer, the entire island might be all yours for the day!
Lastly, Cemetery Beach offers spectacular sunset views besides its tranquil atmosphere. It is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the dying stages of a day.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Aruba: The Nightlife
Aruba is famous for having a more vibrant nightlife than the Cayman Islands. In fact, it is among the main attractions for visitors.
With a myriad of entertainment spots and activities, the island’s nightlife provides for many tastes. The fun doesn’t seem to stop in Aruba, especially when the sun goes down!
There are plenty of entertainment options to enjoy wherever you stay in Aruba, be that downtown or in the Palm Beach area. From beach bars, cinemas, karaoke, and cocktail lounges to dance clubs, bowling alleys, and much more, there’s no chance of being bored.
The rustic 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar at the Renaissance Marketplace is one famous spot you shouldn’t miss. Here, you’ll enjoy drink specials, bites, and live entertainment from a DJ or band. You can pop in during their happy hour from Saturday through Thursday.
And if you are a party animal, partying on wheels with a nightlife tour is for you. These tours take you on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. From random bar hopping and celebrating happy hours to exploring the island’s wide range of cuisines. You are in for a great ride!
Still, on Aruba’s nightlife, the island’s action-packed casinos are famous in the region. These facilities exist in all major resorts and offer all your favorite games, including blackjack, poker, roulette, and Caribbean Stud Poker, which originates in Aruba.
You should also expect additional features such as theme-night events, tournaments, special offers, and prizes besides conventional casino games.
And besides trying your luck at a casino, you can enjoy an evening watching special performances brought to you by various hotels, restaurants, and resorts. These performances include circuses, dance shows, magic shows, and carnivals, among other entertainment.
Cayman Islands: The Nightlife
In contrast, the nightlife of the Cayman Islands is much quieter, with not as many things to do in the evening as Aruba. Yet, you can still find an activity that will suit you. Whether you want to indulge in a cocktail, watch a great show or dance the night away, you’ll find several options.
George Town is among the top locations where you can experience an authentic Cayman Islands nightlife expercience.
Numerous entertainment spots here offer a magnificent spectacle of the surrounding tropical landscape. My Bar at Sunset House, for instance, provides the perfect sunset view. You can also try out salsa at The Wharf, the games at the South West Collective, or go to Sharkeez and try their over 40 rum selections from around the Caribbean!
Seven Mile Beach is another top spot to have a fun night out as there’s plenty of bars, cocktail lounges, and nightclubs that exist there. O Bar Nightclub, Silver Palm Lounge, Bar Jack, and Calico Jack are a few that you must try.
Similarly, a good deal of entertainment spots are situated along West Bay Road. This strip is particularly good if you want a quieter place to relax in the evening. Macabuca is one famous tiki bar right on the beachfront that you should try out.
Which Has The Best Tourist Attractions & Activities?
While both have numerous tourist attractions, Aruba is the best choice if you’re looking for land attractions and off-road adventures as well as beach fun.
There are plenty of hiking spots, rocky deserts, ocean bluffs, and cacti to explore across the diverse landscape of Aruba.
On the other hand, if you can’t get enough of the water, the Cayman Islands are for you. There are more than enough sites for diving, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, sailing, and many other water activities.
Aruba: Main Attractions
If you are an outdoor lover, exploring Arikok National Park should be at the top of your list.
This desert park covers about a fifth of Aruba and features hiking trails, caves, odd rock formations, green cacti, sand dunes, and great viewpoints.
Some great sights you’ll encounter here include the Natural Pool, Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, Quadirikiri Cave, Boca Prins, Ayó, and the famous California Lighthouse and dunes.
You can also spot wildlife like iguanas, lizards, snakes, and parakeets. This park also has beautiful spots to stargaze alongside cacti while perched on top of your vehicle. It’s an awesome and romantuc experience for couples.
On that note, the terrain in this park is so rugged that you can’t reach some places using a 2WD vehicle. Hence, consider renting a 4WD car. Alternatively, you can amp up the adventure by traversing on horseback.
Scheduling a day exploring Oranjestad, the island’s capital, is a worth doing to. This charming city offers more than you can imagine, from Dutch colonial architecture and pastel-colored buildings to the plenty of shops, galleries, museums, restaurants, casinos, bars, and nightclubs lined along the tidy streets.
Pop into Aruba Historical Museum to learn about the entire history of the nation, then afterwards relax at the well-kept Wilhelmina Park while spotting iguanas at the edge of the water.
And if you love shopping, visit Renaissance Shopping Mall for designers like Chanel and Gucci.
For spectacular views of the city, consider hiking Hooiberg. And if you want a more easy sightseeing excursion of the city then hop onto the Aruba Streetcar, an open-air bus that takes you around the city’s main attractions. What’s more? It’s absolutely free!
There are a myriad of kid-friendly activities in Aruba too.
Head to the Ostrich Farm for your kids to interact with ostriches, peacocks, and lizards, or the Aruba Butterfly Farm to see the diverse butterfly species.
The Aruba Aloe Factory and Museum is another great spot to learn about this magical plant.
For water activities, Baby Beach has shallow waters for your little ones to swim, while De Palm Island offers them an amazing waterpark, snorkeling adventures, and boat rides.
Cayman Islands: Main Attractions
As mentioned earlier, the sister islands of the Caymans are a haven for divers. So if you love diving, exploring the Kittiwake Shipwreck is a must.
This former US Navy ship was sunk on purpose and features plenty of interior pathways that you can dive through. The Bloody Bay Wall is another jaw-dropping spot to dive. This colorful wall goes 1000 feet deep into the sea, featuring brightly-colored sponges, awe-inspiring corals, and diverse marine life.
Away from the water is the Mastic Trail, an awesome choice for nature lovers. You’ll enjoy some of the island’s most spectacular sceneries, including a mangrove swamp and woodland region that’s been around for roughly 2 million years.
While spending some time in Hell sounds like a bad idea for the religious, on Grand Cayman, it is a great one. This is a popular tourist attraction that’s the size of a football stadium and characterized by black limestone rock formations.
Unfortunately, you cannot walk on these ancient rocks as it’s akin to walking on thorns. But best of all you can get yourself something from the Hell gift shop or send your loved ones back home a postcard from Hell using the post office nearby.
Visiting the Bioluminescent Bay at night on a kayak is a must, especially for couples. You’ll marvel at how the sea lights up, thanks to its luminescent creatures. The sight is out of this world and a reason enough to visit this island. It is best to visit on a moonless night for the most spectacular view.
And if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of George Town, the East End is the ideal place to explore, recharge and experience the abundant culture of the islands. It offers a more rural feel, with local cuisine and a relaxed life pace.
Similar to Aruba, the Cayman Islands has a lot of kid-friendly activities.
The Cayman Turtle Centre is a popular spot for families. Besides learning about these gracious creatures, you can snorkel with them and shop for souvenirs.
You can also visit the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park to enjoy the region’s natural beauty. There, you’ll get to learn the culture and history of the area besides spotting the rare blue iguanas. And if you are looking for shallow waters safe for your kids to swim, head to Starfish Point.
Which Is More Expensive?
Budget is among the most important factors to consider when choosing a destination, but when it comes to a trip to Aruba or the Cayman Islands you can expect to spend similar amounts.
Unfortunately a vacation to both islands can cost quite a lot more than in other Caribbean nations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit on a budget.
One way to eke out a holiday on a tight budget is visiting during the “shoulder season.” This is the time just before or after the peak season when you’ll still enjoy a vacation, but maybe the weather won’t be as great (but also not as bad as during the off-season).
Hotel and flight rates drop during this season to attract customers. For Aruba, high prices can often be avoided from mid-April through August, while for the Cayman Islands, it is between March and June.
Also, consider preparing meals yourself, as fine dining can take a lot of your cash. Both destinations have markets where you can purchase fresh food on the cheap. Alternatively, you can opt for street or fast food.
Another money-saving strategy is reserving flights in advance. Most airlines allow customers to book up to a year in advance. So taking advantage of this policy will save you some money. Also, embrace public transport during your trip, as taxi rides or car rental can be pricey.
Last but not least, there are many attractions on both islands that you can visit for free. Consider getting the most out of them.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: 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 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 will can be a beach day when staying here. See photos and rates!
The Cayman Islands
Budget: It’s hard to find a hotel near the beach on a Cayman Islands ‘budget’ price point, but the Hampton By Hilton is just that.
You’ll be just a 2-minute walk from Seven Mile Beach, have access to a lovely pool, as well as fantastic facilities. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The word ‘luxury’ and the Cayman Islands go hand in hand, and what better way to experience the best the islands have to offer than staying at the five-star Ritz-Carlton.
With tennis courts, swimming pools, direct beach access and some exceptional sea views, it’ll be hard to drag yourself away from this resort. But as the hotel is situated not only on Grand Cayman, but also on Seven Mile Beach, you’ll be right in the heart of the action. See photos and rates!
When’s The Best Time To Visit?
Knowing when to visit is another major factor to consider when planning a trip. And understanding the weather patterns of both island nations is a great way to decide when and where to travel.
As mentioned earlier, Aruba is generally dry and hot throughout the year. And since the amount of rainfall it receives is significantly lower than that of the Cayman Islands, there’s a higher chance of sunny weather during your stay there.
Plus, as this tiny island sits outside the hurricane belt, unlike the Caymans Islands, it is the better choice if you are looking to travel during the fall months.
And even though the Cayman Islands haven’t experienced a hurricane for almost two decades at the time of writing, there is a greater risk of one there than in Aruba.
You can, of course, take a chance and travel during the hurricane months (between September and November) and get up to a 50% discount on flights and accommodation.
But as mentioned earlier, the shoulder season is perhaps the best time to visit on a budget. However, you’ll have to put up with Aruba’s sweltering heat, as temperatures are slightly higher around this time. The good news is that this is also when Aruba experiences high winds, which can help reduce the heat.
On the other hand, you’ll have to endure the light showers that are experienced in the Cayman Islands during the shoulder season, as this is the onset of the wet season in the region.
But if money is not an issue, consider traveling during the peak seasons. This is when the weather is perfect, and you can engage in numerous activities.
For Aruba, that period is between January and March, while for the Cayman Islands, it’s during the second half of December and between March and June.
Aruba vs Cayman Islands: Which Is The Better Choice?
Both islands are excellent destinations. Each has its individual charm and picking one can be quite challenging. So it all comes down to individual preferences.
Aruba will be best for you if you want an experience that has both land and water activities. The Cayman Islands, on the other hand, will likely suit you more if you want to have plenty of underwater adventures.
And if you choose based on the beaches, safety, and family/child-friendliness, you won’t regret going with either. However, Aruba probably has the upper hand regarding beaches.
The Cayman Islands is the perfect vacation spot if you are looking to relax in a laid-back atmosphere far from a party environment. But if you love vibrant nightlife, Aruba offers you exactly that.