Unlike the island countries of Jamaica and Puerto Rico, Aruba and St.Thomas offer a more laid-back and intimate vacation experience. You wouldn’t have to worry about throngs of people or long lines. Instead, you can take it slow and enjoy each and every minute of your Caribbean getaway.
Aruba is an island located along the southern region of the Caribbean. It belongs to the group referred to as the ABC islands, as its neighboring countries are Bonaire and Curacao. St. Thomas is a small volcanic island in the Lesser Antilles. It is primarily known for its unique and magnificent landscapes.
If you happen to visit the Caribbean, Aruba and St. Thomas would be the perfect alternative to the mainstream tourist spots in the region.
Aruba is famous for its perfect summer weather any time of the year. Along with its numerous beaches and scenic sights, Aruba can be an amazing vacation spot in the Caribbean without crowds. Despite its relatively remote location, Aruba can become the perfect summer getaway destination.
The island of Aruba is relatively small. Compared to other Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola, Aruba is a small island that can be explored in a matter of days. It belongs to the Caribbean’s ABC islands, with Curacao and Bonaire close by.
Aside from being small, Aruba is a fairly low-lying island, there are no grandiose mountains and high hills that dominate the island’s landscape. However, its greatest draw is not actually on land, but under its turquoise waters.
What Makes Aruba Unique?
The Best Shipwreck Sites in the Caribbean
Compared to other Caribbean islands, Aruba has the most shipwreck dive sites. While the average shipwreck for a Caribbean island is two, Aruba has more than ten surrounding the island.
These shipwrecks date as far back as the Second World War, as passing vessels get torpedoed or stormed. However, some are deliberately sunk and placed near Aruba to encourage and revive its coral and underwater ecosystem.
Aruba is considered a shipwreck diving hotspot for divers with different levels of skill and experience. Some wrecks lie in relatively shallow and calm waters while others sunk deep and in more treacherous parts.
MS Antilla Shipwreck
MS Antilla was a German freighter that was anchored in Aruba during the onslaught of the Second World War. To avoid capture from enemy forces, the captain of MS Antilla deliberately set the ship on fire to sink. Now, the wreck of MS Antilla is the largest shipwreck in Aruba and the rest of the Caribbean.
Located off the northeastern coast of the island, the 400 feet-long (122 meters) ship remains intact. It lies roughly 60 feet (180 meters) deep, but the water in this particular area is typically calm and steady.
Experienced divers can explore the interior sections of the ship that is well covered with corals and sponges. The gentle water allows even beginner divers to visit the wreck.
Jane Sea Shipwreck
The Jane Sea wreck was a cement freighter that used to transport products to South America. However, a popular local story said that the ship was once caught with tons of cocaine amid its cement deliveries. Because of the controversy, the ship was left abandoned for years and later sunk purposely to serve as an artificial reef.
Marine life thrives at the Jane Sea wreck. Great Barracudas and silversides are typically found by the stern section of the ship. Other creatures spotted by the Jane Sea include green turtles, hawksbill turtles, coral crabs, spotted eagle rays, and moray eels.
Despite sitting at roughly 90 feet (27 meters) underwater, the Jane Sea is considered an advanced dive spot because of the strong current in the area.
There is no doubt that every tropical island in the Caribbean has beautiful beaches. Wherever you are in the Caribbean, it is easy to find a white sandy beach lined with palm trees. However, Aruba is home to unique beaches that would be hard to find anywhere else.
Boca Prins Beach
Instead of lush trees and vegetation, the Boca Prins beach features a vast stretch of desert, massive dunes, and limestone cliffs. Although the beach is not suitable for swimming, the desert biome next to the Boca Prins beach is a unique destination for tourists to explore.
Wouldn’t you want to take pictures along with the bright pink flamingoes? The Flamingo beach features a scenic beach lined with palm trees and numerous flamingo birds.
The beach is located on the private island of the Renaissance Hotel. Visitors who want to stay at Flamingo beach need to book a hotel room or catch an elusive day pass to get to the island.
Rich and Diverse Culture
Aruba has a long history as a colony of different foreign nations. For a while, the Spanish used Aruba as a center of smuggling among several Caribbean islands. The island was also at the center when piracy thrived in the region.
When the Dutch took over, Aruba became a strategic outpost and housed several bases for the Netherlands. British forces also invaded the island but were immediately pushed out by the Dutch West India Company.
Aruba is highly influenced by Spanish, British, and Dutch cultures. Aside from their local language Papiamento, people in Aruba also know how to speak English, Dutch, and Spanish.
Netherlands’ influence is also reflected in the architecture of the capital city of Oranjestad. The brightly colored buildings at the city center have been considered a defining landmark of the city and Aruba.
The Caribbean Desert
Tourists traveling to the Caribbean wouldn’t expect a desert biome on a tropical island. That is why the massive dunes by the northeastern coast of Aruba are a popular tourist attraction on the island.
Boca Prins Bay is a small inlet located in the Arikok National Park. It is characterized by limestone cliffs stretching along the coast and a vast desert running along with it.
Although the bay is open to the public, tourists are discouraged from swimming since the water is considered too rough for a casual swim. Despite this, many tourists head over to Boca Prins to see the dunes and enjoy a variety of 4WD activities offered on-site.
St. Thomas belongs to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Lesser Antilles. Widely considered to be the most cosmopolitan island in the region, tourism in St. Thomas draws families, couples, and lone travelers.
Home to the most visited port in the Caribbean, St. Thomas greets its visitors at one of the most beautiful harbors in the region.
Referred to as the “Rock City”, St. Thomas is the perfect mix of beauty and luxury. It is characterized by rugged hills that stand in contrast to the duty-free shopping centers in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie.
At night, the city buzzes with life as local pubs, bars, and nightclubs provide entertainment to tourists.
What Makes St. Thomas Unique?
Luxurious Vacation Experience
Among the islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas is famous for its luxury. The capital city of Charlotte Amalie features duty-free shopping centers and world-class restaurants.
Even the atmosphere and environment of St. Thomas screams sophistication. Luxury hotels and all-inclusive resorts line its most popular beaches. Tourist attractions and activities in St. Thomas are also elevated to a whole new level.
Coral World Ocean Park
The Coral World Ocean Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in St. Thomas. Perfect for families, the indoor–outdoor aquarium features a variety of marine life. Visitors can spot different coral fishes, stingrays, starfishes, and even small sharks.
Situated along the northeastern coast of the island, the amusement park also includes a walk-through aviary.
One of its unique attractions is its offshore underwater observatory. This allows visitors to walk through a glass tube and see the ocean and marine life 15 feet (4.5 meters) underwater.
Tourists also have the chance to get up close and personal and swim along with dolphins, sea lions, and stingrays.
Other interactive activities include the Sea Trek Helmet Dive and a semi-submarine trip.
To get the best possible experience, several luxury hotels and villas line the coast of St. Thomas. The Ritz-Carlton is the only five-star rated hotel on the island. It has a beachfront location on Turquoise Bay and is suited for couples and families as well. The hotel itself offers a variety of activities and amenities. Guests can rent a 60-foot luxury catamaran or go island hopping.
The Frenchman’s Cove by Marriott is a collection of luxury villas available for rent. It offers two- or three-bedroom accommodations that come with full kitchens, living spaces, and dining spaces. This type of living setup is best suited for travelers staying for weeks or months. Those renting at the Cove have access to resort pools and a private beach.
History at Charlotte Amalie
The city of Charlotte Amalie serves as the capital of St. Thomas. Recognized as one of the most visited cruise ports in the region, the city developed into a tourist hub that caters to the luxurious taste of cruise ship goers. Visitors stepping down the island’s harbor are met with a line of boutiques and jewelry shops.
However, the capital city is more than its glamorous side. Charlotte Amalie also features several of the island’s most historic sites.
The 99 Steps is widely considered an iconic landmark in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie. Dating as far back as the 1700s, the towering steps are perched on the hills that rise above the city. Its ballast brick structure offers a rather old and historic ambiance to it.
Blackbeard’s Castle National Park
Known as one of the most famous historical sites in St. Thomas, Blackbeard’s Castle sits atop a hill that offers panoramic views of the harbor. Dubbed as the “Williamsburg of the Caribbean” the national park features several 19th-century manor houses. The Villa Notman, Haagensen House, and Hotel 1829 are all listed as National Historic Sites by UNESCO.
Tourists usually take guided walking tours around the park. The Villa Notman is famous for its unique and well-maintained 19th-century architecture. It also has a fragrant garden on the side that features frangipani, plumeria, and bay leaf trees.
The Haagensen House was once the residence of a Danish banker. It features considerably the grandest interior design on the island. The house also features several life-sized statues of famous pirates. The collection includes the likes of Captain Morgan, Blackbeard, and Black Bart.
The Hotel 1829 houses the Rumopurium Museum which talks about the island’s history in rum making. It also features the grandiose Amber Waterfall fountain that was made using over 12,000 pieces of Amber jewel.
Elevated Caribbean Gastronomy
What other way to enjoy the beauty of the island of St. Thomas than indulging with some of the greatest dishes you can find in the Caribbean?
St. Thomas’s sense of luxury does not end with its shopping centers. It also transcends the numerous high-class dining and restaurants found in the cosmopolitan city. The island’s gastronomy features local Caribbean delicacies elevated with new flavors and techniques.
Widely considered as an institution in St. Thomas, the famous Glady’s Cafe has been serving amazing West Indian and Caribbean meals since the early 90s. Some of its most popular plates include curried goat and stewed oxtail. Don’t miss the chance to try their fresh conch fritters along with one of their four homemade hot sauce choices.
Banana Tree Grille
Situated on a hilltop with amazing views of St. Thomas’s harbor, the Banana Tree offers great food and sights. Their menu caters to those with sophisticated tastes.
Enjoy classics such as Angus beef and seafood specialties. Some of their best sellers include shrimp and filet mignon with béarnaise sauce and tangerine seared salmon.
Combination of Cultures
The U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean consists of three major islands – St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. Often described as the American Paradise in the Caribbean, these islands are characterized and influenced by different cultures.
St. Thomas features a combination of American and Caribbean cultures. But, the island’s population traces back to African and European descent.
Pop culture in St. Thomas is considered western. However, the music remains to be a lot more Caribbean. Locals tend to listen and enjoy reggae, Latin, blues, and jazz.
To make St. Thomas even more unique, there is a small French fishing village amidst Charlotte Amalie. People in the Rue de St. Barthelemy trace their ancestry to the French community that migrated to the island from St. Barths. The village even established the Frech Heritage Museum to celebrate their long history and culture.
Which Is Better – Aruba or St. Thomas?
Aruba is not as glamorous as other Caribbean islands. Compared to islands with postcard-worthy sights, Aruba is a rather average Caribbean destination. But despite this, many tourists still visit Aruba. Not because of its scenery but primarily due to its world-class shipwreck sites.
On the other hand, St. Thomas is known for its luxurious and rather extravagant tourist attractions. The island is home to one of the most visited ports in the Caribbean and caters to thousands of tourists. Aside from its scenic beaches, St. Thomas is a go-to for people looking for a bustling city perfect for shopping and partying.
Both Aruba and St. Thomas are naturally beautiful. They have amazing beaches which are the epitome of a Caribbean vacation. The choice lies in whether you want a more laid-back experience or a high-energy getaway. Either way, neither Aruba nor St. Thomas will disappoint.
Is Aruba Close to St. Thomas?
Aruba and St. Thomas are located in two different parts of the Caribbean region. St. Thomas lies on the far right end of the Caribbean. It belongs to the group of islands referred to as the Lesser Antilles.
On the other hand, Aruba is part of the ABC islands located in the southern part of the Caribbean. The total distance from Aruba and St. Thomas is roughly 3,535 km (2,196 miles).