You hardly need anything more to tempt you to Aruba than the thought of the powdery white sand beaches and turquoise water (really, amazingly turquoise) – but as I discovered when we visited, there are far more things to do in Aruba with kids than just hitting the beach.
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From the marine life under the waves to the caves and rock formations of the desert national park, not to mention the chance to see donkeys, ostriches and butterflies, we quickly discovered that a week was never going to be long enough.
So if you’re tempted by a Caribbean family holiday, here are my top 16 things to do in Aruba with kids – and two that I don’t recommend…
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Find the perfect beach in Aruba
Yes there’s more to Aruba than the beach, but this still has to come near the top – and finding your perfect beach with kids can keep everyone entertained all holiday.
But the chances are you’ll be staying near either Palm Beach or Eagle Beach for starters. Palm Beach is home to most of the big-name chains, including the Hilton where we stayed for part of our trip, with restaurants lining the sand and the main road a block back, plus you’ll find loungers galore and even more boat trips and watersports.
Eagle beach is slightly further down the coast, part of the ‘low-rise’ zone with smaller hotels, fewer facilities but it’s also quieter. And has its own WiFi!
Snorkel at Baby Beach
The other best-known beach on Aruba is on its easternmost tip – and Baby Beach gets its name because it’s calm and shallow enough even for babies.
The water is beautifully clear and warm, and the beach slopes very gently into the waves so it’s a great option with little ones. It’s also perfect for new snorkellers: my daughter had one of her first snorkelling experiences here.
You’ll find patches of sea grass and little silvery fish in the centre of the beach but venture further along towards the wall and there’s much more varied marine life to spy, with bigger and more brightly coloured fish swimming under the waves.
It’s worth knowing that there’s limited shade on the beach (although you can find a few spots under the trees and the couple of palm umbrellas) – if you’re planning to make a day of it, it’s a good plan to bring your own.
The cabanas are very expensive and charged by the day, so if you’re stopping here for an hour or on a tour, it’s simply not worth it.
Visit De Palm Island
It’s one of the most popular tours if you stay on the island, and if a day on De Palm Island is touristy, it’s still a huge amount of fun.
As well as the beach, there’s a waterpark, snorkelling and flamingos to see, plus more activities if you’re visiting with kids aged 8+ and 10+ including snuba, Sea Trek (special undersea helmets to explore beneath the waves), zip wire and a banana boat.
You also have an open bar and food included, starting with breakfast and followed by a buffet and grill – there is only limited vegetarian food though.
If you’re expecting the flamingo experience to be similar to the more famous Renaissance Beach (more on that below), instead it’s the chance to see a handful of flamingos in a separate section of the beach – I wouldn’t book purely on the strength of that.
The tickets are usually for a half-day (until after lunch) or a full day – I recommend the latter, as it definitely quietens down in the afternoon. Having said that, we had no trouble finding loungers in the shade, so made a base and then spent most of our time relaxing or in the water: you can also rent cabanas.
My daughter got some more snorkelling practice in the shallow sheltered waters by the beach before we headed into the sea itself with some fantastic reef life, including blue parrotfish. And in between, she found time to go on the smaller slides in the waterpark too many times to count!
Incidentally, if you choose a lounger near the front of the waterpark, you’ll almost certainly get splashed by the spray. It’s also worth knowing that WiFi is slightly stronger here than elsewhere on the island, but otherwise unless you’re right outside the shop, you may not have any data. Take a book!
It was an incredibly relaxed day. If she had been older, I’d have loved to have tried Sea Trek, which lets you walk beneath the waves to feed fish and view the sunken jeep or try Snuba, for a taste of scuba diving.
Kayak at Mangel Halto
One of my favourite places in Aruba (and there’s a lot of competition!), Mangel Halto beach is ridiculously picturesque.
According to tradition, you can see five separate shades of blue in the waters here, which gave me the perfect excuse to sit back on a bench on the cliff above the small coves and count them. Not far away, lies Spanish lagoon, where pirates used to hide after a spot of marauding – I was tempted to follow suit.
But as well as those classic turquoise waters, the beach here is lined with mangroves so it’s a great place for kayaking to discover some of the different undersea life. There’s also a reef and if you have older kids that dive, there’s a shallow wreck not far offshore.
It’s another quiet beach too if you’re looking to escape the crowds, but best to bring an umbrella and drinks.
Take a cruise
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to boat trips around Aruba – there are pirate themed boats, sunset cruises and plenty more, but we decided to fit in a little more snorkelling on our final full day.
I booked an afternoon boat trip with Pelican Adventures to two different snorkelling spots, including the wreck of the Antilla. The German freighter was sunk in the Second World War, and the waves are choppier here if you’re with younger kids – you can borrow life jackets though, as well as fins.
The second stop was to Boca Catalina for more reef life and fish, within a roped off area – it’s usually calmer here too. My seven-year-old tried both before heading back to the boat where she sat with some friends she’d made on board and watched me snorkelling.
There’s also an open bar (mostly very very sweet fruit juice and rum) plus some snacks (deep fried odds and ends plus some cheese and olives), and you get some great views of Aruba’s coastline from Palm Beach all the way to the California lighthouse in the west.
Peek underwater in a submarine
When is a submarine not a submarine… when the boat itself stays above sea level. In the SeaWorld Explorer semi-submarine, originally used for research on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the hull stays 5ft below the surface to give you fantastic views so you get to look under without totally submerging.
Trips run for around 90 minutes sailing around the Arashi coral reef as well as to the wreck of the Antilla and it’s a great option for kids who don’t want to snorkel (or can’t). There are no age restrictions and it’s free for children up to two.
I was very tempted by this trip, as my daughter’s not keen on the idea of submarines but loves looking at sea life, although in the end we went for the snorkelling cruise.
Everyone has their own seat, so there’s no fight to get a view plus spotter’s guides are provided – check out this review from Nichola at Globalmouse Travels who tried it with her three kids.
Visit the Butterfly farm
Venture away from the coast and not far from Palm Beach, you’ll find the Aruba Butterfly farm – a tropical garden filled with butterflies, where you can see the life cycle of the insects as well as discovering more from one of the knowledgeable guides.
I held one of the striped caterpillars destined to be fluttering around the site after its own metamorphosis, wriggling and tickling my hand.
We spied butterflies emerging from their jewel bright chrysalis, others hanging motionless as their wings dried before flying off to join the rest of the flitting throng.
And I discovered there are two types of butterfly: the ones which feed off nectar, and those which drink from overripe fruit – so ripe, it’s fermented in fact, which is why you’ll see huge owl butterflies flapping erratically through the air, quite literally drunk on fermented fruit juice.
It’s a lovely spot and perfect for younger kids. Keep an eye out for the brightly coloured birds which live here too (and no, they don’t eat the butterflies!)
Entry to the Butterfly Farm costs around £11 for adults, £6 for children aged four and above, and you get a free return pass so you can go back again later in your holiday.
Discover the Donkey Sanctuary
There have been donkeys on Aruba for around 500 years – but once they were no longer used as the main means of transport for Arubans, many were abandoned.
Living wild, they became more at risk as more cars came to the island, and around 20 years ago, the idea of a sanctuary to protect the donkeys resulted in a safe haven with more than 100 in this new home at the sanctuary in Bringamosa.
Donations are welcomed and you can also buy food to feed the inhabitants, or pick up drinks and food in the little cafe, as well as donkey-themed souvenirs to help support the sanctuary. Visitors are also welcome to bring apples and carrots.
We also watched some of the older donkeys being fed a type of wild bean by staff – which got very enthusiastically gobbled up. And even if your kids are wary of feeding them themselves, it’s a lovely place to see the animals.
Some island tours stop at the donkey sanctuary: it’s somewhere you’re only likely to spend a short time, so this can work well, although if you have your own transport, it’s easy to pop in. You don’t need a guide.
Feed the ostriches
What’s the difference between and ostrich and an emu? No, it’s not the start of a joke but one of the bits of information you learn on a tour of the Aruba ostrich farm (the answer? It’s all in the toes).
There are guided tours every 15 minutes throughout the day, with more facts to learn about ostriches including that they don’t bury their heads in the sand and that you really don’t want to try to out-run one.
Then if you’re brave enough, you can step up to feed one of the ostriches: the very enthusiastic pecking had me in giggles although a couple of the less intelligent (or possibly cheekier) ostriches did have a go at randomly pecking heads as well as gobbling up their feed.
Spot King Kong
The Ayo Rock Formations are somewhere you could spend a long time, spotting shapes and faces in the boulders.
No-one quite knows how the huge monolithic rocks near Ayo village got their shapes but if you gaze at them you can see everything from a very convincing King Kong to a snake and earless rabbit.
With older kids, you can climb up and discover ancient petroglyphs as well, or it’s easy to pull over to see the animal shapes before carrying on to explore the island – keep an eye out for the goats which wander through the boulders too.
See the rock bridges
Not far from Ayo Rocks are some of the island’s natural rock bridges – at least one of which has crashed back into the ocean.
Battered by the ceaseless pounding of the wilder sea on the north coast, it’s almost more surprising that the rest have endured above the surf, soaring over the Caribbean and black volcanic sand beaches.
We visited as part of a day trip and you can wander down to look into the waves swirling under the bridges, as well as picking up corals washed up on the beach.
Explore Arikok National Park
Away from the idyllic Caribbean beaches, you can see desert landscapes dotted with countless endless cacti before heading into the Arikok National park, which covers almost 20% of the whole island.
There’s more hiking to try here with older kids along paths which weave through thorny vegetation as well as a natural pool where you can swim, plus walks with park rangers to introduce you to some of the creatures which live here.
But if you see nothing else, head into one of the ancient limestone caves in the national park. We visited Fontein Cave with deep reddish pictographs left by Caquetá’s, the island pre-European inhabitants – alongside 19th century graffiti scratched into the rock.
There are more unusual rock formations here as well – this one is best to visit as part of a tour unless you’ve got a sturdy 4WD and good sense of direction!
There are a lot of tours available by UTV, some of which are available for kids aged six and above, but be aware there’s a lot of local opposition to these for the dust they throw up and potential damage to the landscape.
Uncover the secrets of aloe
Aloe is so important to Aruba that the plant even appears on the Aruban flag – and if you head to the Aruba Aloe factory, the oldest aloe company in the world, you can see examples being cut and prepared, a small museum with some of the history and look into the factory floor itself.
It’s also a good place to stock up on reef-safe sunscreen as well as some very tempting toiletries and soaps – for more tips on why you’ll need reef safe sunscreen from 2020 and for visiting Aruba with kids, check out this post.
We also discovered that the orange gloop that oozes from a freshly cut aloe vera plant can stain your arms purple and acts as a laxative. Who knew? The inside is clear and packed with that delicious soothing moisturising goodness though.
Climb the California lighthouse
On the northernmost tip of the island, the California lighthouse near Arashi Beach was named for the steamship wrecked nearby at the end of the 19th century on its voyage from Liverpool to Central America.
Restored in 2016 (100 years after it was built), it stands tall and white on top of a hill, and you can climb to the top for some of the best views on the island.
There are 123 steps to the top so not one to attempt with toddlers though! Entry to climb costs around £6.
Unlike some other Caribbean islands, Aruba doesn’t have many historic forts – a legacy of its rather peaceful past and the fact that Columbus originally dismissed this tropical paradise as ‘Islas inutiles’ (or useless islands).
But you can visit Fort Zoutman in Oranjestad, built by the Dutch in 1798. Now home to the island’s historical museum (and weekly Bon Bini festival), it’s the oldest building on Aruba.
The town itself grew up around the fort, and it’s easy to wander through the capital itself, full of brightly coloured buildings.
The bright green town hall is one of the most eye-catching but there are pastel colours lining most streets, as well as shops galore (mostly targeted to cruise ship buyers looking for Duty Free bargains and souvenirs) plus a market.
If you don’t fancy walking, there’s a battery-powered trolley bus which circles downtown and out to the cruise terminal – plus it’s free.
Dotted around are blue horse statues – a nod to the town’s original name of the bay of horses. Keep your eyes open, there are eight in total.
And a reminder that Aruba is as Dutch as Amsterdam (well, nearly) with plenty of places to stop and eat pancakes here, as well as elsewhere across the island.
Eat Caribbean food
A lot of the restaurants around Aruba, in particular along Palm Beach, are very international – great with kids, and with some fabulous fresh fish as well. But if you’re looking for somewhere with traditional Caribbean food, you can’t beat the West Deck restaurant right on the sand.
I found a few of my own favourites including conch fritters and Johnny cakes, and it’s designed for you to get several small dishes so you can try different options and share. In the case of the gigantic pieces of chocolate mousse cake that my daughter got for dessert, it almost certainly needs someone to help.
Keep an eye out for keshi yena too, a typically Aruban Creole dish using a huge ball of cheese stuffed with chicken or meat, as well as seafood, plantain, spiced fishcakes and some great drinks.
Wondering where to stay in Aruba with kids? Check out my review of the Hilton Aruba
The things not to do in Aruba with kids
Visit the Bubali bird sanctuary
A wonderful place to spot Aruba’s birdlife, this is definitely aimed at serious twitchers – unless your kids are able and willing to sit still and quiet, and are truly fascinated by bird-watching, this is one that’s best left to adults.
The flamingos on Renaissance Island
This private island is one of the best-known attractions on Aruba – the flamingos wandering the beach alongside a handful of guests makes a fantastic Instagram photo.
Kids are only allowed on Flamingo Beach on the island between 9am and 10am, and while under-12s are free, it’s not the cheapest option for adults… especially if you get less than 60 minutes there. You also have to be poised to snap up the passes when they’re released each day, unless you’re a guest at the hotel (who also have free access).
But the biggest reason I’d say not to bother? Flamingos are not naturally found on Aruba, unlike nearby Bonaire – the birds you find on the island have been imported as a tourist attraction.
A rather spectacular one, I agree, but with so many other things to do on Aruba with kids, you’ll find plenty of genuine Aruba attractions elsewhere.
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Disclosure: Some of my tours and entry to attractions were courtesy of Aruba Tourism and De Palm Tours. I paid for our flights and Pelican Adventures boat tour. This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission. All opinions are my own, including which of the many beautiful beaches in Aruba is my favourite.
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