aruba or antigua

Antigua Or Aruba: Tropical Vibe vs Entertainment Heaven?

Trying to decide between Antigua or Aruba for a one-week break? You’re not alone! These two Caribbean islands have been holiday rivals for ages. Let’s see which of Antigua or Aruba is a better choice and how the two compare.

Antigua is part of a two-island country, relatively close to Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. It’s known for its great sandy beaches, coral reefs, and tropical feel. It has a British colonial past and many luxury hotels and resorts along its coastline. It’s also a famous sailing destination.

Aruba is a very small Dutch island near the coast of Venezuela. Unlike Antigua, it’s quite arid and desert-like, dry and sunny with cool breezes, but also has many nice beaches. Aruba is much more developed and Westernized than Antigua, with a lot more tourism infrastructure.

Antigua or Aruba: what travelers say

antigua turquoise water
Antigua (2)
  • Aruba doesn’t have that much of a Caribbean feel. It’s Dutch but feels very Americanized. The island has good public transportation, significant traffic, lots of dining options, countless fast food places, thousands of jewelry shops, casinos, activities and entertainment.
  • Antigua is not as easily accessible as Aruba but has a true Caribbean feel (British West Indian) and is much more laid back. It has few American hotel chains. St John’s, Antigua’s capital, is a charming little town
  • Aruba has nice beaches tough they are mostly lined with high-rise buildings. Travelers generally agree the beaches in Antigua far surpass those in Aruba in terms of beauty.
  • Antigua has mainly outdoor dining vs mostly indoors for Aruba.
  • Antigua has more visually appealing tropical scenery e.g. the amazing views of the neighboring Monserat island and the pristine beaches and water. Aruba, on the other hand, is often described as cleaner and more sophisticated, with less visible poverty outside resorts.
  • Antigua is more like a typical tropical island while Aruba is more arid and desertic. However, Aruba has great weather (it sits away from the Hurricane belt) and very nice beaches.
  • Travelers typically choose Aruba for its restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. Tourists can walk safely alone around the strip without any safety issues. Some travelers feel that’s not the case in Antigua (outside resorts) due to the extreme poverty.
  • Some travelers feel Aruba is unauthentic and too commercialized compared to Antigua, and the locals not as friendly.
  • Many travelers feel Antigua is a great option for staying in an all-inclusive luxury resort for relaxing or honeymooning. On the other hand, travelers often choose Aruba for going out to many places at night, socializing along the strip, and hanging out on the popular beaches.
  • While Aruba has lots of American-style high-rises and casinos, travelers appreciate the food and service they find on the island. Antigua has low-rise buildings and Caribbean charm, with everything generally being slower and laid back.

Antigua or Aruba: access & transportation

Antigua transportation
Moving around (3)

Moving around in Aruba is easy, you can hop on a public bus or a taxi to get around the island, or rent a car and drive to different parts of the island easily and without safety concerns. You can travel everywhere all over the island.

In contrast, travelers often don’t feel as comfortable driving around or taking public transportation in Antigua, as the roads are not as good and road signs are not so clear. Many travelers are reluctant to rent a car in Antigua.

For these reasons, visitors to Antigua often prefer a self-contained all-inclusive resort and just go on a few organized excursions from there. Aruba is easier to be on your own, and there are also many restaurants and activities available everywhere. As a result, many travelers choose not to go all-inclusive.

Antigua or Aruba: vibe & people

Aruba vibe and people
Aruba (4)

As mentioned, Aruba wins for its vibrant nightlife, a great number of grand hotels (close to each other), long beach stretch replete with shows and entertainment, casinos (gambling is a big attraction), non-stop restaurants and bars outside the resorts, ample shopping (including jewelry).

Aruba is much more commercial, with high rise resorts, casinos and endless places to eat and drink.  In Palm Beach in Aruba, you can walk from one hotel to another. While the beaches are quite nice, some of them can get very busy, especially during the cruise ship season. 

There are two main tourist areas – a high rise area and the low rise Tamarijn area where most British travelers tend to stay.

if you are looking for beautiful landscapes, Aruba is not going to fit the bill. It is very dry and desert-like with hardly any rain, therefore, you won’t get the plush greenery you’ll get in other Caribbean locations.

Aruba has a Latin, Dutch, and American feel, with a mix of European, South American (it’s located very close to Venezuela), and Asian people. Visitors include many older people as well as younger couples on their honeymoon.

Unlike Aruba, the beaches of Antigua are far from the shops and social areas. Many travelers feel the beaches of Antigua are among the most gorgeous in the Caribbean. Antigua is a nice place to get away and relax, slow down, and enjoy the sun.

Antigua beaches
Antigua beaches (5)

Antigua has the edge for breathtaking scenery and excursions, intimate and laid-back Caribbean atmosphere and people, and British colonial charm. You won’t find many US chain restaurants on the island. Antigua’s beach are relatively isolated and are peaceful and quiet, unlike Aruba’s beaches which are much more crowded and sometimes feel like the U.S.

Antigua’s South and West coast overlooks the island of Montserrat and its volcano with really stunning views. The inland parts of the island have lush vegetation, and the coast has some beautiful sights such as Shirley Heights and Nelson’s Dockyard.

Antigua’s neighboring island of Barbuda makes a great day trip with its seemingly endless main beach.

On the negative side, in Antigua some travelers complain about being overwhelmed by islanders trying to sell them tours, taxi rides, and merchandise. Locals outside of resorts are not always friendly.

Travelers feel St John’s is not the cleanest town in the West Indies. The downtown area has visible poverty and does not feel very safe to travelers, especially at night. The area does have some safety issues – Aruba is better rated by the US State Department.

In contrast, Aruba’s capital Oranjestaad is attractive and looks very Dutch with Orange-colored buildings.

Antigua or Aruba: nature & outdoors

Palm Beach, Aruba
Palm Beach, Aruba (6)

Aruba does not have the typical landscapes you would expect from a Caribbean island as it’s very dry and barren, with hardly any rain. As a result, it doesn’t have the lush greenery other islands have. Nevertheless, the sea and beaches are fabulous with incredible views over the ocean.

Since Aruba is very flat and desert-like, you can stand on the chapel’s grounds and see the ocean on both sides. The island has some interesting attractions including caves, old gold mines, and impressive sand dunes.

Choosing Aruba over Antigua during hurricane season can be a smart choice since, contrary to Antigua, Aruba is not on the hurricane belt.

 In Aruba, the main beach areas, Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, are in reality one long beach, lined with resorts, restaurants, bars, and water sports centers. In Eagle Beach, travelers sometimes complain about crowds and not-so-clear water.

Aruba, however, has many more, quieter beaches such as Baby Beach or White Sand Beach.

White Sand Beach, Aruba
White Sand Beach, Aruba (7)

Antigua is said to have 365 beaches, many with beautiful white sand and clear turquoise water. Many of Antigua’s beaches are coves, most of the time with only one resort (or none).

The best beaches in Antigua include Long Beach, Half Moon Bay (secluded), and Rendez-Vous Beach. The latter is near Falmouth harbor and only accessible through a dirt trail or by boat taxi from either English Habor or Falmouth Harbor.

Dickenson Bay is a very popular beach among visitors due to its white sand and calm waters. It has a long stretch of sand with the largest offering of resorts and hotels in Antigua and a few restaurants – the closest to what is found in Aruba.

Inland Antigua are some lush landscapes, rolling hills, and a small rainforest. Shirley Heights is a popular lookout with panoramic views and trails leading up to it.

Antigua or Aruba: food & nightlife

Aruba nightlife
Aruba nightlife (8)

As mentioned, in Aruba the Palm Beach area houses many high-rise hotels and restaurants, pubs, and shops which together offer a vibrant activity day and night, unlike any other islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

It’s worth noting, however, that eating and drinking outside of resorts in Aruba is generally quite pricey. Having a couple of beers, some chicken wings, and a burger at Hooters may set you back as much as $80!

Antigua does not have the kind of nightlife Aruba has to offer, however you can still find a few lively places on the island, namely around English Harbour e.g. the Abracadabra pub and other similar hangouts.

The Westside of Antigua often has steel drum bands playing at sunset. Shirley Heights often has bands playing and sometimes barbecues toward the end of the day.

While Antigua does not have American chain food stores like in Aruba, it has a few fine dining restaurants such as Chez Pascal near Galley Bay resort. Other fine dining places include Harmony Hall, Le Bistro, Le Cap Horn, Coconut Grove, Albertos, Pavillion, Juliens, Sheer.

Casual places include Havana Bar, OJs, Trappas, MAd Mongoose, Catherines Cafe, Commissioners Grill, Home, The Beach, Sticky Wicket, or Julian’s.

In Aruba, in addition to the ebullient nightlife, the capital Oranjestad offers popular shopping with many outdoor markets, boutiques, and malls.

Antigua or Aruba: lodging

Aruba

Riu resort in Aruba
Riu resort in Aruba (9)

In Aruba, most resorts are located in the Palm Beach and Eagle Beach areas. In Antigua, on the other hand, the resorts are scattered all over the island, making it feel bigger and more spread out.

In Aruba, there are dozens of restaurants, waterside casinos, pubs, and nightclubs everywhere. Many of the larger resorts are located north of Oranjestaad. Many travelers suggest not to opt for an all-inclusive resort due to the wide choice of dining, shopping, and drinking options, so you may prefer to have freedom of choice vs being locked-in with an all-inclusive hotel.

Travelers often praise the Hilton (Booking), a luxury resort with decent prices. It’s located in the center of Palm Beach within walking distance of the many restaurants, breakfast places, and bars nearby, including a few beach restaurants for having lunch in your swimwear. A car is generally not needed as there are inexpensive local buses to get to other areas. Most travelers enjoy their stay at the resort and are happy to return to it.

The Bucuti and the Ritz-Carlton are two other frequently recommended resorts. The Ritz is considered the most luxurious resort on Palm Beach, described as romantic with great restaurants and good nightlife.

The Bucuti, on the other hand, located on an ample beach stretch in Eagle Beach, is more boutique but very highly rated in Aruba, often described as quiet and laid back. The two resorts offer very different beaches and experiences.

Bucuti Beach Resort Aruba (10)

Some travelers consider the Hyatt (Booking) as the next most luxurious resort after the Ritz – some prefer the latter for its convenience and great beach.

Other places frequently mentioned by travelers in Aruba include Amsterdam Manor, also a boutique hotel on Eagle Beach which also offers one-bedroom suites with full kitchens, and Casa del Mar – travelers commonly go back many times.

Antigua

Antigua resort
Antigua resort (11)

In Antigua, travelers often recommend staying near English Harbour or Johnson’s Point. Rex blue Heron Resort (Tripadvisor) is a well-rated all-inclusive with reasonable prices, a great beach, and good food.

Hotel Catamaran in Falmouth Harbour (Booking) is commonly mentioned. It’s a small, family-run, 14-room hotel with very friendly staff. There are a few restaurants for eating out in the area, and you can easily catch local buses to other parts of the island (or taxis at night). There are even more restaurants and entertainment venues (but also more crowds) at nearby Shirley Heights.

Sandals is another popular resort among travelers, who enjoy the settings, grounds, food and service, and the beautiful beach, Dickenson’s Bay. with its stunning sea colors.

Tranquility Bay and Jolly Beach Resort both share a beautiful blue-water, white-sand beach with great sunsets and many places to go out for lunch or dinner – including Java Jojo’s (Italian), Al Porto, Peter’s Steakhouse, Dogwatch Tavern (inside the marina).

There are other good restaurants such as Sugar Club and Carmichael’s, both in the Sugar Ridge Resort a short drive away. Dennis, a great barbecue place, and Sheer Rocks, a fine dining restaurant in Cocobay Resort, offer great cliffside views.

On the beautiful South Coast, Carlisle Bay Resort (Booking) is highly praised, namely for its two great (but pricy) restaurants, as well as The Hermitage and Curtain Bluffs resorts. Grand Pineapple (Booking), on the East Coast, is also a popular choice among travelers.

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Photo credits:
(1) Featured: “Palapas on Palm Beach” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by dalecarlson
(2) “Antigua” (CC BY 2.0) by Stiller Beobachter
(3) “Antigua” (CC BY 2.0) by Loimere
(4) “Oranjestad / Aruba” (CC BY 2.0) by Roel van Deursen
(5) “Antigua November 2014” (CC BY 2.0) by Daniel Cruz Valle
(6) “Palm Beach, Aruba” (CC BY 2.0) by Erik Cleves Kristensen
(7) “White Sand Beach, Aruba” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by TravelingOtter
(8) “Oranjestad at night” (CC BY 2.0) by Phil Comeau
(9) “riu” (CC BY 2.0) by apasciuto
(10) “Beach at Bucuti Beach Resort” (CC BY 2.0) by Holger Zscheyge
(11) “Antigua” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Traveller-Reini