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Situated in the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea, Aruba may be tiny in stature, but it looms large when it comes to entertainment. Beyond the white sand beaches and calm waters, Aruba houses a multitude of unexpected treasures. From shipwrecks for scuba diving to natural pools for snorkeling to unexpected critters like donkeys and ostriches, there are many fun things to see and do especially with the kids.
It Really is One Happy Island
My first foray to this picturesque Caribbean island was also my granddaughter, Katherine’s first international trip. Just 7 years old at the time, she could hardly sit still as we flew over the turquoise waters on our approach to the airport in Oranjestad, the island’s capital city. Once on the ground, we both delighted in going through passport control where she received her first passport stamp.
Aruba instantly lived up to its moniker “one happy island” from its colorful Colonial style buildings of Oranjestad to its many natural wonders. Forget 50 shades of gray, Aruba boasts 50 shades of blue.
One of the Lesser Antilles islands, Aruba’s Divi Divi trees display a permanent southwest bent due to the constant trade winds. Pristine beaches blanketed with silky white sands invite barefoot walks even at noon.
The Aruban population of 112,000 is uniquely diverse with 90 plus nationalities and ethnic groups. Locals speak Papiamento—a Creole language—along with Dutch, Spanish Portuguese, English, French and African dialects.
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Settling in on Palm Beach
Katherine and I made our way to the Aruba Marriott located amid a group of high-rise resorts on Palm Beach. Situated on a prime beachfront location with gorgeous pools, plenty of lounge chairs and a swim-up bar serving margaritas for grandmoms and Shirley Temples for grandkids, the resort provided an ideal home base for our Aruba adventures.
As for the accommodations, the resort boasts 411 spacious guest rooms each with a 100-square-foot balcony with stellar views of the sun, surf and sand. One of the most popular places for tourists, Palm Beach offers plenty of watersports including windsurfing and paddleboarding to keep kids of all ages entertained.
In contrast, nearby Eagle Beach offers accommodations in smaller resorts with fewer crowds. There you’ll find the charming thatched-roof Manchebo Resort and Spa, one of the best all inclusive resorts in Aruba, along with a selection of private condo residence rentals.
We kicked off the first evening with a sunset dinner at Atardi, a pop-up restaurant right on the beach serving mouth-watering seafood. Placing our sandals in cubbyhole shelves, we dined with our toes in the sand as the bright orange sun sank into the clear waters.
Adventures Beyond the Beach
Katherine might have been content to play in the sand, surf and pools all day but there were plenty more fun things to do beyond the resort. We set out on a half-day guided tour that started with a thrilling yet bumpy off-road adventure in an open-air Land Rover.
Beyond the white sand beaches and turquoise waters, the island’s landscape evolves into a semi-desert environment dotted with cactus plants, volcanic rocks and limestone cliffs. With most roads unpaved, many companies give ATV tours making the journey every bit as fun as the destination.
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Meeting the Animals on Aruba
Our first stop was the Donkey Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for the donkeys on the island. Tender-hearted Katherine shied away from the aggressive donkeys demanding food and moved instead toward the shy older one waiting patiently at the edge of the covered porch. (I hope she does that for me when I’m old!)
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If you’re up for more animal adventures, check out the Aruba Ostrich Farm where you’ll learn all about these lovable yet not too smart birds. Another favorite, Philip’s Animal Garden is a non-profit with a focus on rescuing exotic animals on Aruba. Here you’ll find everything from camels to parrots and pigs.
The road to Philip’s Animal Garden also leads to the iconic beachside Alto Vista Chapel on the island’s North Coast–an Instagram-worthy stop.
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For more sightseeing, check out the old stone California Lighthouse situated near the island’s northwestern tip in Noord. Named for the shipwreck victim S.S. California, a climb to the top yields gorgeous views of the island’s coastline.
Exploring Arikok National Park
Spanning an incredible 7,907 acres across this happy island, the Arikok National Parks offers a wealth of outdoor pursuits. The park’s striking landscape brings a diverse group of natural wonders. Here you can go horseback riding or hike to limestone caves where you’ll discover Arawak Indian drawings.
For a view of the island’s north, west and east coast hike to the top of Jamanota–the island’s highest point.
Arikok National Park is home to dramatic coastlines, natural bridges and a favorite for locals and tourists, the Conchi or natural pool.
Despite the surf crashing onto the shoreline, the clear waters of this secluded swimming hole remain calm thanks to a protective wall of volcanic rock. That made it an ideal place for Katherine to learn to snorkel. Sure, most kids learn to snorkel in a pool, but thrillseekers opt for the natural pool!
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Taking Advantage of the Island’s Best Beaches
Aruba boasts some of the Caribbean’s best beaches. Whether you’re looking for calm waters or a rugged coastline with strong surf, you’ll find it on this happy island.
Locals into bodyboarding favor Andicuri Beach. Quieter than Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, here dramatic bluffs flank a sandy cove. If your kids are older and very strong swimmers, it’s an ideal place to try bodyboarding. Otherwise, hanging out on the sand or wading in the water in search of marine life in this picturesque spot wouldn’t be a bad way to spend an afternoon.
With Katherine being younger and a brand new snorkeling star, we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging on Baby Beach on the southeast end of the island. Here the shallow sheltered lagoons were perfect for practicing her newly learned snorkel techniques without worrying her grandmom!
Another favorite for families is the white sand Arashi Beach located just off the road to the California Lighthouse. Here gentle currents and abundant marine life make snorkeling even more fun for the kids.
Family Hiking Options on Aruba
Although Aruba is generally flat, there are two remarkable rock formations rising above the landscape. Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations provide excellent spots for viewing the island.
The huge boulders comprising Casibari Rock Formations sit just off the main road to Santa Cruz. Walking trails and steps lead to the top for 360-degree views.
Ayo Rock Formations’ towering stone boulders provide a glimpse into the past. Once considered a sacred site by the island’s original inhabitants, here you’ll find petroglyphs dating back thousands of years.
Nightlife in Aruba
If you’re traveling with the kids or grandkids, you may not have an opportunity to explore Aruba’s nightlife. But if you do, you’ll find plenty of bars and casinos to keep you entertained.
For a more family-friendly way to end your day of watersports, natural pools and gold mine explorations, consider a sunset cruise on a catamaran. It’s hard to beat those Caribbean sunsets. So take advantage of this evening spectacle while you’re on this very happy island!
What You Need to Know About Covid and Aruba
Like most destinations, Aruba’s policies regarding COVID travel restrictions continue to change and include options for testing.
For the most up to date information visit the island’s tourism website here.