On an island less than 20 miles long, you won’t have to drive very far to find adventure. From tropical beaches to desert landscapes and ancient grottos, Aruba offers endless experiences off-the-beaten-path . Related: The Top All-inclusive Aruba ResortsHead to its wild side for secret beaches, off-road drives, and exotic wildlife less than an hour from downtown Oranjestad.

By Travel & Leisure
June 10, 2015

Windswept and sun-soaked, the island of Aruba offers a wild and rugged interior of cacti-dotted desert scenery which provides a dramatic contrast to its legendary beaches of powdery white sand and turquoise blue water. Along the northern coastline, gnarled divi-divi trees bend gracefully away from the shore cooled by trade winds that sweep westerly across the peaceful island spanning just 19.6 miles across and 6 miles wide. Named the “watapana” in the Arawak language, these distinctive shrubs are only one example of Aruba’s untamed natural beauty.

Inside the grounds of Arikok National Park, which sprawls over some 20 percent of the island’s landmass, travelers will find a departure from a standard day at the beach. The wild side of Aruba offers hidden coves, craggy geological formations, natural bridges and pools, as well as historic cave paintings and indigenous flora and fauna. Many have found the best way to explore this arid landscape is via ATV, UTV, Jeep safari, horseback, or even on foot.

Related: T+L’s Guide to Hotels in Aruba

A habitat for many local species, the park is populated by animals ranging from Aruban cat-eye snakes and blue whiptail lizards to burrowing owls and brightly colored parakeets. At the visitor center, experts Julio Beaujon or Jimmy Mijer are eager to share Arikok’s secrets and stories with travelers. The admission fee—$11 for adults and free for children under 17—goes toward funding future preservation projects and protecting endangered wildlife.

In and around the park, those looking for exhilarating outdoor adventure will find places to hike, mountain bike, and horseback ride, as well as the famed Natural Pool nearby. Situated on a remote stretch of coastline, which can only be accessed by 4x4 vehicle, on horseback, or on foot, this tranquil pool, also known as “conchi” or “Cura di Tortuga” among residents, is formed by volcanic stones and provides a safe swimming hole sheltered from the waves of the windward coast.

Related: The Top All-inclusive Aruba Resorts

The park also encompasses three caves—the Guadirikiri, the Fontein, and the Huliba—which showcase intricate stalagmite and stalactite formations, as well as a haven for nocturnal (and completely harmless) bats. The Fontein is famous for its historic cave drawings, while the Huliba is marked by a distinctive heart-shaped entrance dubbed the “Tunnel of Love.” From exploring mysterious caverns by flashlight to off-roading in an ATV, Aruba’s wild side will get your pulse going. Read more about what to see and do in Aruba at aruba.com.