But whatever these differences are, Barbados and Aruba have stood the test of time and have endured the shifting of the travel culture in great shape. Your job is to know what is it that you want from your Caribbean experience and decide on them.
An island that helped define the proverbial holiday under the sun, and toes on the sand, Barbados is a Caribbean royalty. Packed with all the classic making of a fabled Caribbean experience such as turquoise-blue waters, uber gorgeous beaches, local fun festivities, and many more, the lone easternmost island has it all.
Often rivaling its sister islands in the region, Barbados’ enduring charm has lured travelers from everywhere over the years because of its obvious gifts, but none more special than its people. The Badian people are festive, proud, warm, and fun-loving, and they’re probably the best reason why you have to keep coming back. A place where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic, Barbados is also where all your sunny holiday fantasies converge.
What Makes Barbados Unique?
Despite being a lone island out on the easternmost reaches of the Caribbean, Barbados is completely circled by 80+ gorgeous beaches that have somehow defined the Barbados experience. Popular to most, the island’s best draws are its beaches, and for good reasons. Each of these gems has exquisite white sands, brushed by the fabled turquoise-blue of the Caribbean waters. However, each of these beaches has different characteristics of its own.
Some of the most notable beaches on the island are:
Rockley Beach, aka Accra
The beach in Rockley, popularly known as Accra Beach, is practically picture-perfect. It’s a little crescent of sugary white sand surrounded by casuarina and sea grape bushes, with warm shallow waters in the clearest of blues that are excellent for swimmers of all abilities.
This slice of heaven is a surfer’s favorite, thanks to the regular massive waves that hit the shores, the sports have made this beach its holy grail on the island. It’s also fine to go here even if you aren’t a surfing pro, it’s a fun way to spend a day watching them perform their feats. This beach is well worth a visit even if you aren’t a surfer. The amazing granite formations near offshore provide fantastic photos.
Crane Beach is probably one of the most famous beaches on the island because of its setting and scenery. Imagine blue skies, windy days, towering cliffs with an elegant hotel perched on top, and just below a crescent-shaped beach full of white beach chairs. This beach is particularly famous for boogie boarding and surfing if the waves are at their largest, and for more chiller times, a lover’s beach.
The Birthplace of Rum
With 350 years’ worth of brewing and producing, rum is Barbados’ national drink. Barbados is known as the home of rum, and the Mount Gay distillery, which was founded in 1703, is said to produce the world’s oldest rum. Your Barbados experience won’t be complete until you’ve sampled all the best and oldest flavors of their rum.
Make sure to book a rum tour with the distillery to have a glimpse of the history of producing the island’s famous rum, and an understanding of how this particular drink is synonymous with the island’s cultural essence. Tours can also take you to places other than Mount Gay, such as Fourth Square Rum Factory, and West Indies Distillery.
More Than Just the Beaches
Barbados may have all its 80+ beautiful beaches as its entry to the Caribbean’s best, however, beaches aren’t the only natural wonders the island has to offer. The lone island is rich not just in scenery, but also in natural formations, and biodiversity. Far from the beaches, the interiors are decorated with vibrant botanic gardens, including the Flower Forest, Andromeda, Hunte’s Garden, and a slew of nature reserves as well like the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, where you may see green monkeys and love birds.
Apart from the delights on the surface, the island’s beauty also goes skin deep. Descend underground and you’ll see wonders you can rarely encounter in many of the Caribbean’s beautiful islands. Harrisons Cave is located in the middle of Barbados. The fang-like stalactites, subterranean waterfall, and natural plunge pools may all be seen on a tram trip.
The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean
If you’re a foodie who loves to travel or the other way around, you’ll find that Barbados isn’t just all about resorts and natural charms. Barbados has claimed the title of the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean because of its proud rich, diverse gastronomy which appeals to many different people from all over the world.
The island sports a raw combination of African, Caribbean, West Indian, and European cuisine, the essence of Bajan cuisine. Here are some things you should try when visiting:
Cou-Cou, and Flying Fish
Flying fish with cou-cou is the national dish of the Land of the Flying Fish, you can say it is very aptly named. Flying Fish is a wonderful and adaptable fish that may be fried, steamed, or pickled and always tastes great. The texture of cou-cou, which is produced using maize meal, is comparable to polenta.
Try macaroni pie if you’re looking for traditional Barbadian cuisine. This is a Barbadian version of macaroni and cheese, and it is one of the island’s most famous foods. Many local eateries and street sellers have it on their menus. Would you like to try something new? Try pudding and souse, a spicy-sweet potato, and hot pepper pickled pork dish.
Fish cakes are one of the most popular street meals, and they can be eaten on their own or with a bun, known as a ‘bread and two.’ Hot Legendary Fishcakes in Oistins is well-known for serving some of the best fishcakes in the area, or you may find them served with ham, cheese, or fish cuts in most rum shops!
Barbadian street cuisine favorites include breadfruit bowls. Breadfruit is a spiky, oval-shaped fruit with a flavor similar to fresh bread when cooked. In the Caribbean, and especially in Barbados, this fruit is extremely popular. The famed ‘make your own breadfruit bowl’ menu at Yelluh Meat in Bridgetown is one of the greatest venues to try breadfruit.
Other than its top-tier beaches, Barbados also offers a whole other amazing world underneath its waves and waters. The islands have over six shipwrecks speckled underwater that have become a thing on their own. Thanks to the curiosities these bring, divers from all over the world have visited these wonders along with a slew of marine life who have called the shipwrecks their home.
Around these scuba diving sites, you can swim around with turtles, and even sharks, and other marine animals such as thousands of stripey sergeant major fish and fluorescent damselfish, and other varieties of schools of fish. You can also head to Carlisle Marine Park near Bridgetown for a good scuba and snorkeling experience.
Surf Is Always up
Barbados’ seas are buffeted by trade winds practically all year, making for excellent surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing conditions. From November through June, the winds are regularly between 20 and 25 knots, making it the best time to visit for watersport lovers. With experienced surfers, the waves at the Soup Bowl, just off Bathsheba Beach, are among the best. Meanwhile, windsurfers and kitesurfers flock to the waters at Silver Rock Beach on the south coast.
Barbados never really had a problem of being overlooked and being underrated for obvious reasons and yet it will always have charms that will forever be synonymous with that fabled Caribbean experience. From gorgeous beaches, wealthy interiors, interesting culture, and the fun and warmth of the populace, Barbados, though super iconic in itself, will always be a good idea.
Perennial sunshine glimmering off of seductive sands complemented with reliable and refreshing trade winds accentuated by gnarly fofoti trees is just one set of the many attributes that make Aruba an outstanding frontrunner in the pleasure pilgrims’ ranking of paradisal places.
Get to know Aruba in all its glory and do something special beyond the billowing ‘blue.’ Whether you’re a treasure hunter raring to spark a new gold rush, a desert gallivanter seeking an adrenaline extreme, or an ardent golfer wanting to get that elusive hole-in-one, there seems to be nothing you cannot do!
What Makes Aruba Unique?
Aruba’s natural setting enables you to attain the absolute serenity required for a premium well-being program. Spas and yoga studios abound the land, thereby maximizing Aruba’s atmosphere to give the best in rest and relaxation.
You can even hire a local yoga instructor so you can plop your mat on any beach, without having to deal with static studio locations, that is if you want absolute freedom. But in any case, here are a few established spots where you can enjoy some downtime to meditate, reflect, and introspect:
Manchebo Yoga Aruba
You can take classes at various yoga branches in open-air studios overlooking the renowned Eagle beach. You can use their premium mats if you are curious and want to give yoga a go. If yoga is just too daunting for you, check out their Bali-inspired spa oasis with spectacular unobstructed views of the Caribbean while being pampered like royalty.
Vela Sports Aruba
Promoted as the pioneer of SUP yoga in Aruba, they provide an eccentric approach to workouts via stand-up paddleboards. Imagine the excitement of doing a yoga pose on the turquoise water while basking in the smile of the sun and taking in the majesty of the Caribbean Sea all the way to the endless horizon.
Nothing screams off the beaten path than Aruba’s very own desert terrain. Though it may seem inhospitable and tedious to traverse at first, you would be surprised to know that it is a principal part of the network of draws of the country. You could even go as far as saying that it is the backbone of it all.
Aruba’s desert connects much of the spectacular natural structures outside of the waterworld you may be accustomed to. You can get to them either on horseback or a wheeled vehicle of your choice. Here is a taste of these attractions:
You can always get a spooky sense — perhaps spine-tingling — when entering any cave, and the Fontein Caves are no exception. It has all the features you can get in an everyday ordinary cave, like stalactites and stalagmites, but it has a tremendous twist — the Arawak Indian’s petroglyphs.
Its carved rock faces depict the prehistoric life of said Indians, which up the value of Aruba severalfold. These petroglyphs embellish what could be called a great hall that has geologically formed openings acting like skylights that let in natural light that bounces around, giving the walls a soft glow that further enhances the mood.
The atmosphere can be quite unnerving and claustrophobic in some of the sections filled with stone columns called stalagnates. Walk the stone-bordered paths that some people find a great help but some feel it dispels the natural magic of the place, but the place is astonishing nonetheless.
It kind of looks like a haystack, if you ask the Dutch locals, but in reality, it’s more of a volcanic formation. Climb up its hundreds of steps all the way to the peak for a magnificent view of the island, and sometimes you get to see Venezuela too. If you are not too athletic, you can go halfway and rest on a gazebo while taking a few photos for posterity.
The flora of Hooiberg Hill is abundant with cacti and the iconic divi-divi tree, whose trunk is contorted in the direction of the wind. Snap yourself a selfie with this wonder of the plant world as indisputable proof (kind of) that you conquered Aruba’s Hooiberg Hill.
Rich and Infused Cuisine
Multiculturalism is the key ingredient in Aruba’s prolific gastronomy. Whether you try the most sumptuous of servings or the simplest of street food, you can always pin down flavors or fragrances to their cultural foundation. Of course, that is not to say that Aruba doesn’t have its own originals that it can tout.
Perchance you want to celebrate some occasion in Aruba’s luxurious locations, don’t forget to serve some cake, or more specifically, the traditional Aruban cake called Bolo. It is most notably served on birthdays, weddings, holidays, and other significant events — so why not yours?
The great thing about it is that it is not a one-trick pony. On the contrary, it has a broad range of builds and interpretations fit for every shindig. Sample or give away in its traditional forms of chocolate torte, bread pudding, cashew cake, eggnog cake, prune cake, and black cake.
Although it may not be the best for the kiddies because of its alcoholic agent, it surely contains a certain combination of currants, raisins, dates, prunes, and figs to satiate your sweet tooth, which is then soused for several weeks in a deluxe blend of at least two locally sourced spirits (e.g. port wine, cognac, cherry cordial, rum) for that fierce finish.
If you are looking for something unconventional, maybe with some gaminess to it, dip your taste buds in some Aruban goat stew. Watch out though, the preparation can oftentimes make the bones splinter — something that people don’t like about goat meat. You can always try the beef version if you want to avoid that.
Nothing beats you sinking your teeth in tender meat falling off the bone, simmered in a hearty stew of tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, hot pepper, onions, nutmeg, and paprika. Some locals also add curry to thicken it up and take the spice up a notch.
Perchance you timed your vacay on a holiday, specifically Christmas, then don’t miss out on the Aruban version of eggnog known as ponche crema. Egg yolks, cream, choice spices, and of course, the omnipresent rum! The locals enthusiastically whip these ingredients together, cook, cap, and chill the beverage so you can indulge in this Christmas cocktail at a later time.
With such a diverse culture, you cannot avoid the Aruban take on the Caribbean Carnival. Several weeks’ worth of celebrations under the beat of calypso music electrifying the streets overrun with a variety of parades full of fanciful floats, marching bands, and costumed capers, to name a few.
Watch as these events unfold and are ultimately capped off after two months by the explosively glorious Grand Parade where anything and everything is turned up to eleven.
Is Aruba or Barbados Better?
In contrast to the rest of the Caribbean’s rowdy, raucous, fun, and inexpensive pleasures, Aruba is best reserved for those seeking refinement with a side of different evenings and unusual island terrains. One of the island’s underappreciated pleasures is its never-ending oddity, which includes everything from a mixed cuisine to an even more mingled people group, opposing natural qualities, and waters that rival the rest of the Caribbean. Aruba’s global acclaim is well-deserved.
Barbados is the place to go if you want a more natural vibe, lush and green, and to keep true to what a tropical getaway island is. However, the island is unlikely to be as commercialized as Aruba. Barbados is ideal for anyone looking for a laid-back but active vacation. Aruba, on the other hand, is better suited for those searching for a traditional Caribbean resort vacation. Aruba is one of the most visited islands in the Caribbean, and it’s commercial, eccentric, entertaining, and absolutely stunning.
Barbados vs. Aruba Beaches
Aruba and Barbados rank high on travel lists because of their raw beauty and appeal. The many beautiful beaches of these two probably beat a lot of the Caribbean’s top entries. While both have a ton of similarities when it comes to tropical draws, their subtle differences call for a challenge to which the well-traveled and well-researched can only answer.
Barbados feels more natural and has more beaches due to its larger size in comparison to Aruba. You can swim safely, thanks to medium-sized to calm waves on the island’s west and south sides. The latter is where most of the resorts are, which typically draws visitors, and are often packed with people. The west is where all the watersports are.
However, the east is usually the local’s turf. Rocky and rugged, the beaches here sport great big waves best reserved for surfers, especially from October to March. The waters are generally unsafe for swimming. But no matter whichever side you visit in Barbados, expect to have some of the most scenic views as the island is famous for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Aruba is what you call the epitome of a summer holiday island. Thanks to its stunning beaches perfectly paired with sunny days all year long with a significant absence of hurricanes, due to the island’s geography. It’s no question that the beaches around the island’s best and main draws. However, the island can feel very Americanized due to its commercial popularity.
You can do a spectrum of things on many of Aruba’s beaches, such as watersports, simple sunbathing, or even a long hike just to reach isolated beaches that are the island’s gems. Expect to see a great deal of beauty and a rather quirky landscape as the island is famous for the juxtaposition of its beaches against its desert interiors.