Though the western Hotel Zone and the capital of Oranjestad – located along the southwestern shore – stand as Aruba's primary tourist destinations, there are numerous small towns across the island that offer unique sightseeing opportunities. On the western half of the island, just a short drive from both the western beaches and Oranjestad, tourists will find several unique communities that offer not only distinctive sights and experiences, but convenient access to many of Aruba's most treasured historic and natural sights.
Located just a short drive north of Oranjestad, the town of Noord is home to some of Aruba's most popular historic landmarks. At the heart of the town, visitors will find Santa Anna Church – also known as Anne's – a breathtaking house of worship known for its hand-carved 19th century altarpiece. Though the Santa Anna Church was renovated throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the parish has been the focal point of daily life in Noord since 1776.
Just north of Santa Anna Church, perched on a windswept hill overlooking Aruba's northern shore, travelers will find the famous Alto Vista Chapel. Known for its distinctive yellow exterior and unparalleled views of the Caribbean Sea, the Alto Vista Chapel has long been one of the most photographed sights in Aruba. Noord also provides easy access to the California Lighthouse, another popular scenic destination near the northwestern tip of the island.
The town of Noord can be reached from Oranjestad and the western coast within just a few minutes. Travelers visiting the town from Oranjestad can follow Caya Francisco D. Figaroa north from the heart of the city, while those staying near Palm Beach can reach Noord by following Route 3 east to the easily spotted Santa Anna Church.
Just a few miles southeast of Noord, travelers will find the relaxing town of Paradera. Though Paradera is one of Aruba's lesser-known communities, this area near the center of the island isn't short of activities. Within just a moment's drive from the heart of Paradera, travelers can explore the Casibari Rock Formations – a field of mysteriously shaped boulders with groomed hiking trails. Visitors that scale some of the largest boulders amongst the Casibari Rock Formations will find excellent views of the Paradera, Santa Cruz and the Aruban countryside.
Paradera can be reached from Oranjestad by following Route 6 towards the northern shore, or from the western beach resorts by following Route 4 or the scenic Route 3 via the town of Calbas.
At the center of the island, visitors will find the town of Santa Cruz – a community known primarily for its proximity to a wide variety of outdoor sights and recreation opportunities. Tourists visiting Santa Cruz from the western shore often stop at the former home of the Natural Bridge – once one of the most photographed natural sights in Aruba. Though the Natural Bridge collapsed in 2005, the nearby Baby Bridge is now celebrated as an equally scenic destination.
Aruba's premier outdoor recreation and ecotourism destination – Arikok National Park – rests just east of Santa Cruz. Within the park, adventurous tourists can explore everything from rugged desert landscapes, fields of unique local flora, volcanic peaks that offer views of the island and the Caribbean Sea and even historic caves, including Fontein Cave and Guadirikiri Cave.
Within just a short drive from Santa Cruz, travelers can also scale the 541-foot peak known as Hooiberg. As Hooiberg features steps and handrails all the way to the summit, the mountain is a popular hiking destination for families and travelers in search of casual outdoor recreation. From atop Hooiberg, visitors will be able to admire views stretching across the island and, on clear days, even the South American mainland.
The town of Santa Cruz and its nearby recreation destinations can be reached from Oranjestad via Route 6 or from the western beach areas by taking Route 3 to Paradera, then following Route 6 north towards Arikok National Park.
While the beaches, resorts and cosmopolitan capital of Oranjestad are certainly Aruba's biggest draws, the smaller communities scattered throughout the western half of the island allow tourists to take home a more complete picture of the island. Best of all, as the roads to many of the island's top sightseeing destinations pass through towns such as Noord and Santa Cruz, tourists are able to conveniently and affordably experience another side of Aruba.