Most people flock to Aruba for the exquisitely gorgeous beaches and to soak up the sun. As you might be able to tell from my bio photo - I am fair skinned and blue-eyed. Which means that I don't so much tan as much as I get covered in freckles and may appear to be tan from a distance. So sitting on the beach for hours would not only fry my skin but drive me stir crazy as well. If you’re like me and are interested in seeing (and photographing) animals check out my list of where to see wildlife in Aruba.
Aruba has become one of the hottest destinations in the Caribbean (no pun intended). Consistently sunny with a cooling breeze, there is a lot to like about Aruba. On my first trip to Aruba I was a bit shocked at how dry and desert-like it was. I had done my research in advance and knew that it was not a lush rainforest like you might expect on most Caribbean Islands, but this place is seriously dry and rocky!
When I travel I always look up the local wildlife to see what there is to see, where to see it, and if there are any indigenous/endemic wildlife that I shouldn’t miss. I was worried that the dry conditions would limit the amount and diversity of wildlife, but if you know where to look there is a surprising variety of wildlife in Aruba. Granted you won’t see elks, penguins, or any especially rare critters, but over the course of five trips I have found some amazing and sometimes surprising locations to see a variety of wildlife. Some of these locations include captive animals and many require a rental car, but hopefully this will point you in the right direction!
Butterflies: Butterfly farm
On the south end of the hotel zone, this little oasis is well, an oasis filled with colorful flutterbys! The entrance fee includes a guided tour that explains each butterfly life stage. The bonus is that your ticket is good for the duration of your stay in Aruba, so you can come back as many times as you’d like. As a photographer I also like that tripods are allowed. However, given that these are butterflies they don’t stay in one place very long so a tripod isn’t needed. The Butterfly farm website also gives photography tips.
Burrowing owls: Arikok National Park
These birds are just so darling that you just want to pick them up and put them in your pocket (please don’t for obvious reasons). Seriously, these are adorable birds and one of the best, most consistent, places to see them is right by the visitors center in Arikok National Park. You don’t even have to hike in the heat. Ask at the visitor center and they’ll be happy to tell you where the birds are most likely hanging out. Please be considerate of the owls and stay a good distance away, if they are too aware of your presence you are disturbing them.
Wild goats: Arikok National Park
Goats can be found wandering around any part of Aruba, but the most likely place to spot them is on the south-eastern edge of Arikok National Park. Be warned that this is the gravel road portion of the park and therefore most rental cars are not allowed to travel in this area. I’m not saying that I drove that stretch in a regular, four door rental car…. but if I had I probably would have found that as long as you go slowly over the drainage ditches you should be fine.
Bats: Arikok National Park
There is a short hike near the visitor’s center that leads to the caves where bats hang out. If you want to go straight to the bat cave take the trail counterclockwise. It’s a circular trail so you’ll find the caves either way. I would recommend going early, before the sun really heats it up and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
Donkeys: The donkey sanctuary
This is on my list for my next trip to Aruba. Donkeys, or Buricos as they are also called, were brought to Aruba by Spanish settlers as pack animals. At one point their numbers were over 1,000 but as they were needed less and less for carrying people or goods their value decreased and many were released into the wild. Between disease and human interaction their numbers had dwindled dramatically before the government stepped in and created laws to protect them. The Donkey Sanctuary helps donkeys that have been injured or abused. According to their website, there is no fee to come see the donkeys at the sanctuary and you can even bring your own carrots and apples to feed them. You can pet them and lend a hand with some of the daily chores. So you can get up close to the donkeys and help the, out as well, win win. I’m just afraid that I’ll want to take them all home! There are still some wild donkeys on Aruba, especially in Arikok National Park where I saw this guy, but if you want to make sure to see them the Donkey Sanctuary is your best bet. Open daily from 9 – 4 (except New Year’s Day)
Fish and sea turtles: snorkeling/diving almost anywhere along the western coast
Tip: you don’t need to take an expensive snorkeling tour to see the fish and possible sea turtles. Rent or bring your own snorkel gear and walk right out from the beach at Arashi Beach and Boca Catalina . But why miss out on that rum punch? Snorkel tours are a lot of fun and you can snorkel around the remains of a sunken ship, the Antilla, which is super cool. A second tip – make sure that any waterproof housing for your camera is actually waterproof! Yes, I’m speaking from experience. From now on I’ll stick a dedicated underwater camera like the Olympus Tough or an Ikelite housing. They are expensive upfront but in the long run it might be cheaper than buying a new camera and lens.
Heron: northwest coast near the California Lighthouse
Drive north towards the California Lighthouse and turn left at any of the dirt roads, they all combine into one road that hugs the coastline. To be honest, you’ll see these birds all along the inner water ways but by finding them on along the coast here you’ll get the amazing backdrop of the Caribbean sea. And they just might be perched on a cool branch like this guy (girl?) was.
Pelicans: Druif beach and the northwest coast
This is another large bird that can be seen almost everywhere on the island. But one of the most picturesque spots to see them is on the remnants of an old pier on the south edge of Druif beach. This spot is great early in the morning when the birds will be lit by the rising sun, but at sunset you could get some amazing silhouetted photos of the birds against the Caribbean sunset. I also like to watch the birds squabble with gulls along the stones close to shore along the northwest coast, again near the California Lighthouse.
Flamingos: Renaissance Private Beach, also known as Flamingo beach
Flamingo beach on the Renaissance Aruba private island is a magical place to spend a day. Located just south of Oranjestad, Aruba, access is by private boat from the Renaissance Hotel and Casino. Guests of the Renaissance can take the free shuttle boat from 7am – 7pm. But you’re not out of luck if you’re staying at a different hotel – you can purchase a day pass from the hotel. Once the boat docks you have two choices – to the left is the family beach but the flamingos are on the adult side, to the right. A small flamboyance (seriously, that’s what you call a flock of flamingos, don’t you love it?) lives on the beach here. They are used to tourists and you can even feed them food purchased from a food dispenser (fee, bring change). It’s worth the trip to see these gorgeous birds up close (see my Flamingo photography tips here).
Lizards – north-west coast near the California Lighthouse
If you’re coming to this area to check out the other wildlife you may as well look at the lizards as well. The reason why I suggest looking for them along the north-west coast is because they are everywhere along the road there, and in brilliant colors. I liked seeing them eat the cactus flowers and slink along the cactus.
Huge iguanas and lizards – Renaissance Private Beach
Remember how I told you to go to the beach on the right to see the flamingos? Well the iguanas and lizards are just to the left of the dock, before you get to the towel hut. The staff feed them at regular intervals so you’re guaranteed to see some big ones.
Note on Bubali Bird Sanctuary
This is listed as one of the best sites to see a variety of birds on almost every website about birding in Aruba. But unless it has been maintained in recent months it has become so overgrown that the birding is pretty limited and probably best left for serious birders. I was disappointed by the lack of open water on my past visits, but it is a good spot to see green herons, Caribbean Coots, and all kinds of ducks. So if you’re a serious birder making lists this is a good place to check out, otherwise other locations are more scenic.
Tip- go early! The best time to see the wildlife when it is most likely to be active and before the sun is beating down on you. Not only will you be cooler, but the lighting will be better for any photos that you want to take.
If this guide has been helpful please share it! And let me know what is the coolest wildlife or best place you’ve seen wildlife in Aruba?