Aruba is a very diverse island with lots to do, but unfortunately most of the action of tourists is found on its coastline. 20% of the island is protected through the set up of a National Park: Arikok NP. As many tour operators are happy to take you there (at the price of at least 100 dollars each) and you are easily scared into thinking you can only enter the park in a 4×4 (rented for 125 dollars per day), we are happy to tell you you can do it on a budget… Provided you do rent a car, but a tiny one like our Kia Picanto suffices, and we expect you to rent a car for at least part of your stay to explore the island.
The NP fee – Unavoidable but very reasonable
Obviously there is a fee to be paid to enter the National Park. In theory you can avoid it when hiking in from the north, but you will find it quickly limits your possibilities. Beyond this, the payment of the fee goes towards a good cause: the preservation of the NP, so it is money well spent. Kids up to 17 years old are FREE even, so going there with a big family in tow is very manageable. For current rates for adults, check here. You buy your tickets at the Arikok NP Visitor center at San Fuego entry, and receive a bracelet for the day that you will have to show at several sites, but most importantly to get through the park gates.
The highlights & Itinerary
Arikok NP sports some highlights and we found some hidden gems, the below list are separate parts of the NP which you can visit in this order, or in any order you like depending on the direction you come through.
- Cunucu Arikok – A 1,5 km circular hike through different vegetation. The visitor center provides a booklet with information and the route, explaining about the flora & fauna. There are also some rock paintings of the early native inhabitants of the island, and halfway a traditional farm dwelling has been rebuilt. From the visitor centre, you can drive up to the Sero Arikok road and park in the first sharp bend, adding 1km to the entire walk. If you do have a 4×4, you can drive to the start of the hike.
- Sero Arikok – Up for a challenge? When you come out of the Cunucu walk, turn a sharp left, and go all the way up to the Sero Arikok… It is a tough climb, but the only way to get there if you do not have a 4×4.
- Boca Prins – A great place for a break, a snack, and to be in awe of the force of the ocean. Swimming is not allowed for good reason, but some good old ‘chicken’ can always be played on the shoreline… Expect to get wet!
- Fontein Cave – A small cave (you can drive all the way up to its entrance) to get your appetite going, but nothing hugely exciting in it.
- Fish pond – Now THIS is the reason you drive up to the Fontein Cave! When you exit the cave, keep right and follow the path you see there. Ignore the ‘private property’-sign (the park guard said it was ok) and you will walk straight into a big walled pond (search for tortoises). The real treat however is the little canal to the pond, which has fish in them that will snack from the dead skin on your feet. For free!! Yup, it is a fish spa like those in the malls of Singapore and Tokyo, but this time you do not pay one cent for it… It is super relaxing, IF you are not ticklish of course.
- Quadirikiri Cave – Now this cave is a great attraction to go to, the cave has 2 main ‘rooms’ which have daylight coming in, and to get to them you have to go through some very dark but spacious caves. Of course you get welcomed by bats flying around, which is very cool (they are tiny, don’t worry) and the colors of the cave are a real treat.
So what about Conchi – The natural pool?
Great news!! Yes, you can visit the natural pool even without a 4×4, the only thing it requires is an easy 2km walk (one way) along the beautifully rugged coast. Extra bonus: the walk takes you along different coves, sand dunes, rocky tidal pools and thus gives you a great feel for the northern coastline of Aruba. So either you do this at the start of your day (after you picked up your entry wristband, or you do it at the end of your day. Either way you will avoid the day tour crowds and have the pool to yourself.
What you have to do is drive all the way out to the Daimari Ranch, along the Sabanilla Abao road. With a regular car you will make it up the hill before the ranch (don’t try to go down to the ranch, not even with a 4×4 we think). If you are uncomfortable driving in, remember that every bit you can drive in saves you walking distance… maybe that is a motivator to keep going? Once parked up the hill, walk down and follow the coastline to the right. You will see the NP sign clearly when you go there. Don’t think you can go this way and avoid to pay the entrance fee! You can of course, but there are park rangers that will not allow you to go into the pool and scoot you out of the area. What a waste of your sweaty hike that would be!
Some bonus tips to add to your NP experience
If you are making it one very long day, consider to add the following:
- Casibari & Ayo rock formations – They are both on the way to the NP from Oranjestad, and are both in nicely maintained ‘parks’ where you can walk around and climb on the rocks. We were surprised by a couple of owls that stayed really close and lots of other small critters/creatures, so it is worth the break.
- Zeerovers for dinner – When you leave the NP at the south of the park (Vader Piet exit), making your way back you pass the place with hands down the freshest fried fish & chips on the island. It is nothing fancy, and you stand in line to get your order in, but we went twice because it was such excellent value and delicious food after a day of action.
The verdict: It can be done!
So instead of expensive car rental or tours, we pretty much ticked off the entire NP and its highlights with only the fee paid (currently 11 dollars per adult), a small car rented (our rental was 245 dollars for 14 days, so 17,50) and the snacks/lunch/drinks we packed ourselves… Throw in the 40 dollars or so for dinner at Zeerovers and you have yourself a fantastic day of Aruba’s Arikok National Park for less than the price of 1 person on a daytour!
For more on Aruba and its highlights, check our other pages and blogs. Other tips on travel you can find in our blog pages as well.