For the last three years, my husband has been traveling to Aruba about every six weeks for his consulting gig working on solar and wind power on the island. As this winter in Minnesota has been declared the coldest in 139 years, the kids and I decided it was time for us to go too.
Aruba was a Dutch colony for many years and is now independent, but still a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The culture is a fun mix of Dutch, Afro-Caribbean and Latin American. Here are five of my favorite activities with kids on Aruba:
1. Snorkeling over Rocks, Reefs and Shipwrecks
The hype about the crystal clear water and colorful tropical fish is not overstated. I was impressed at how easy it was to see gorgeous fish. My previous snorkeling experience was all in Costa Rica which tends to have murkier water. Aruba can’t top Costa Rica’s jungle wildlife but easily exceeded it’s sea life. You can buy cheap snorkeling gear at any supermarket and hit the rocky beaches and mangrove beaches on your own. Organized tours are nice if you want to get to some of the less accessible areas like shipwrecks. Protect your back and the backs of your legs as you’ll be floating face down and the sun is STRONG!
2. Climb through Rocks and Caves
My kids wanted more time at these three rocky locations: Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations and the caves at Arikok National Park. Ayo and Casibari are small, free parks with huge boulders of volcanic rock in the middle of the desert in crazy piles. A short trail takes you up, over and through the rocks with plenty of detours for little ones to explore. Our favorite cave at Arikok is Guadirikiri which has 2 huge chambers with natural skylights letting in some sunshine. A flashlight is handy in the caves- we got by with cell phone lights and a tiny Hannah Montana squeeze light my daughter happened to have clipped to her bag.
3. Get on a Boat
Seeing the island from a different perspective is fun and the sea winds feel great on a hot day. A word of warning: when traveling with kids, avoid any boat tours that advertise an open bar or you may find that wind whipping your neighbor’s rum and pineapple drink all over your legs while your daughter complains that the loud music hurts her ears. I speak from experience. Next time, we’re going for De Palm Tour’s Seaworld Explorer Semi-Submarine with windows in the hull to see what’s going on below the surface.
4. Hit the Trails with a Horse
As I hadn’t been on a horse since a visit to Bryce Canyon when I was 10, the kids and I signed up for the one hour no-experience necessary horseback ride through the desert towards the beach with Rancho Notorious. We had a great time and a wonderful guide who made sure the kids were safe and comfortable in handling the horses. While we had a view of the beach, the longer tours go onto the beach and my kids would have liked to do that but I was afraid of having a sore behind for the next few days. I know, I’m a wimp!
5. Go Shopping
Yes, there are plenty of fancy shops selling luxury bags and diamonds along the high-rise hotel strip but that’s not my thing. We loved the downtown market with little stands selling crafts, woven bracelets, T-shirts and tropical dresses. My kids were also thrilled with their buys when they later saw the same things for sale along the strip for more than twice what they’d paid. Super Foods supermarket, known locally as “the Dutch supermarket,” is also worth a visit. Typical Dutch treats like appelflap apple turnovers, suikerbrood bread with sugar crystals, Gouda and Edam cheeses are displayed side by side with cactus fruit and papayas. Yum.
If you go
There are a bunch of nice hotels right on the beach which are great if you’re going for a few days. If you’re staying for a week or more, it’s worth renting a car and staying at an apartment. We loved our 2 bedroom apartment at Aruba Tropic Apartments. The seven apartments all face inwards around a pool and shady pergola. My daughter made friends with kids from the Netherlands and Argentina at the pool and the place is so small that we felt comfortable letting our kids (ages 9 and 11) play in the courtyard without constant supervision. Read more about Aruba Tropic Apartments.
The entire island is only about 25 by 8 miles so getting anywhere takes only a few minutes. We hit a different beach every day- sandy for swimming and wave jumping, rocky or mangrove for snorkeling.
Seafood was delicious at Marina Pirata. Sit on the deck for dinner so you can see the fish when they turn on the lights under the water. Want some more sea food? At de Zeerover, they catch it in the morning and serve it in the afternoon. Big baskets of fresh shrimp, fish, and french fries. The Old Conucu House Restaurant has great traditional Aruban food- try the funchi, like a thick pancake served as a side with many meals.