My first trip to Aruba was twenty years ago! I am still processing that it’s been that long. Almost at the moment we arrived, this tiny little island that’s 23 miles off the coast of Venezuela captured our hearts. The Queen Beatrix International Airport is small, easy to navigate, and over the years has become even more accessible for travelers with disabilities.
The staff is trained to help you board and deboard your flight and then will get you through Customs and baggage claim quickly. As you exit the airport door, yes door, there is a long line of taxis waiting for arrivals. Rental cars are just across the street. If you need accessible transportation, you must book it in advance and the only company I am aware of, (as of this post in July 2023) is We Welcome Wheelchairs. Aruba is only about 6 miles wide and 22 miles long so you can be at your hotel or vacation home in just minutes.
We have traveled to Aruba 5 times now and have stayed at a few accessible hotels, including a hotel that is now the Riu Palace Antillas, the Radisson Aruba which is now the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, and the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. All are in the “high-rise” section of Aruba on Palm Beach. There is an awesome wide, accessible, concrete pathway that runs more than a mile along the water’s edge on Palm Beach connecting each resort and hotel, as well as a number of restaurants and bars.
There are plenty of places to choose from when you get hungry or just want a tropical drink to cool you down, especially during the summer months when the average temperature is about 90 degrees F.
Thankfully there is a breeze from the tradewinds to offset the intense heat. And, Aruba is out of the hurricane belt so it is seldom impacted by a major storm!
As with many beach resorts, water sports are always a favorite. Aruba is no different. One of my most memorable experiences ever took place on our second trip to Aruba. I noticed a small parasailing business located on a pier next to our hotel. I always wanted to try it and I asked the owner, who was German, if he had ever taken a paraplegic parasailing. He told me. “No, but come back in three days and I will take you.”
Well, we went back three days later and sure enough, he had a harness rigged for me and two young Aruban men ready to take me for my very first parasailing adventure! They helped me transfer onto their boat and drove to a spot less than a mile off shore. I put on my harness and with the rope attached I was quickly and safely hoisted into the air with a full parachute! Within minutes I was about 500 feet in the air and could literally see almost the entire island!
The boat looked so small below me and the two Aruban men were clapping and waving to me with excitement. It was peaceful and exhilarating at the same time. I remember looking at the small knot on the rope that attached me to the parachute and saying to myself, “What’s the worst that can happen? I have a parachute on and I can swim if the knot comes loose!” I was in the air for about 45 minutes – an extended time, but very well worth it.
explore the island
We rented a small SUV to explore the island. I was able to safely transfer to the passenger seat and we put my wheelchair in the back seat. There are lots of small towns to drive through – accessibility is difficult outside of the resort area and down by the port in Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. We visited San Nicolas and drove past Arikok National Park which actually covers about 20% of the island and has plenty of trails, caves, and wildlife but is not very accessible without assistance.
Aruba has a number of things to offer that are “disability-friendly” and I’ve captured some of those activities below. I can’t wait to get back to “One Happy Island” and experience the progress made on the island.
Aruba has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen and efforts have been made to make some of them accessible with beach mats or wooden pathways. Eagle Beach and Palm Beach, two of the most popular beaches on the island, offer accessible beach entrances and beach wheelchairs for rent. These specially designed wheelchairs are equipped with larger wheels that can easily traverse the sandy terrain, allowing individuals with mobility challenges to enjoy the beach and take a dip in the crystal-clear waters. The beach wheelchairs can be rented from Easy Hire Aruba for just $30 per day and they will even deliver to your hotel or beach! Some resorts even provide complimentary use of beach wheelchairs to their guests.
Adaptive Water Sports
It is difficult to find companies that offer specific adaptive water sports activities for individuals with disabilities. There is no directory for these activities and unfortunately Aruba does not update its website for this kind of information. My advice is to ask questions for boat operators and other experiences such as snorkeling or scuba diving. The only place that I am familiar with is Fun 4 Every I Watersports which is the company that took me on my very first parasailing experience. They are awesome!
Aruba is blessed with a few natural wonders that showcase the island’s unique beauty. The Arikok National Park, home to diverse flora and fauna, has made significant efforts to enhance accessibility. There are a few paved trails, accessible restrooms, and ramps that have been installed to ensure that individuals with mobility impairments can explore the park’s captivating landscapes. Depending on the type of disability you have, you can experience natural wonders such as the Natural Pool and the Guadirikiri Caves, with some areas even featuring accessible viewing platforms. Contact them for specific needs and accessibility. Additionally, the Bubali Bird Sanctuary offers accessible pathways and viewing areas, allowing bird enthusiasts and nature lovers to observe the island’s winged residents comfortably.
If you want to have a really great accessible experience on the beach or in Arikok National Park, check out Offroad Wheelchair Aruba! They have some really cool all-terrain wheelchairs that you can rent to have the ultimate accessible experience!
Aruba has made some progress towards accessibility over the years but still has work to do! With a limited number of accessible beaches and watersports activities, you do have a few options. If you want to enjoy the sun and a vibrant nightlife, there are lots of options for you. I continue to encourage the Aruban government and the Aruba Tourism Authority to do more and time will tell. Still, it remains one of my favorite Caribbean destinations!