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Energetic children, bursting at the seams with enthusiasm, put a strain on the purse-strings of their ever-patient parents.
But this family-friendly island features a host of budget activities that will captivate young and old alike without breaking the bank. From nature to sports, on land and sea, this holiday idyll has come up with a raft of answers for perplexed mums and dads.
Visitors can meet some of Aruba’s oldest inhabitants with a trip to the island’s Donkey Sanctuary. Donkeys, or buricos as they are known in the local Papiamento language, were imported to Aruba around 500 years ago by the Spanish for transporting goods and people.
With the introduction of the car in the 20th Century, the donkeys were set free into the wild. Modern society challenges the survival of wild donkeys, so in 1997, the non-profit Save Our Donkey Foundation was established to provide safety, shelter, food, and medical care to these lovable creatures at the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba. Today, some 100 donkeys happily live at the sanctuary, supported by dedicated volunteers and donations from the community. Entry is free, although donations are welcome.
Hiking makes it possible to experience Aruba at a much slower pace than usual. Hikers can consult locally-available guidebooks, such as Rondje Aruba, to set out on their own to explore the lesser-known natural treasures of the island. In Arikok National Park – which makes up 20 per cent of Aruba’s land area - 20 miles of walking trails have already been blazed. Professional hiking tours offer the advantage of enthusiastic guides who can educate the family about Aruba's rich abundance of flora and fauna, unique geological formations, and historical sites.
Entry to the national park costs $11 for adults (£8.50), with those under 17 getting in free. Guides are free but should booked at least the day before. www.arubanationalpark.org
Not immediately recognised as something to be found in the Caribbean, ostriches are a big hit in Aruba. The island’s desert landscape and climate are the ideal conditions for the flock of ostriches and emus living at the Ostrich Farm.
Tours enable guests to interact with these two bird species while learning about their natural behaviour and survival instincts from knowledgeable guides. Children can even feed the birds! Dedicated to the ostrich's native African homeland, the farm features an open-air lodge housing an African art boutique and a restaurant serving African-Caribbean fusion cuisine. Tour fees are US$12 for an adult (approximately £9) or $6 (£4.60) for children
Nature opportunities are widened at Philip’s Animal Garden. Founded in 2009, this is one of the Caribbean’s noteworthy animal and rescue centres, dedicated to caring for exotic species. The passion of Aruba-born Philip Merryweather, whose childhood love of animals has resulted in the garden, residents include a variety of monkeys and birdlife, miniature horses, zebras, an alpaca, kangaroos, and more. Tours are available at $10 (£7.70) for adults and $5 (£3.85) for children; under threes go free.
Smaller – but no less fascinating – creatures are the stars at the Butterfly Farm. Based close to many of the island’s main hotels in Palm Beach, the farm invites guests to step within its mesh enclosure to observe hundreds of butterflies—representing 32 different species—from around the globe as they flit among the flowering plants. Dedicated tour guides provide engaging explanations of butterfly habits and the stages of metamorphosis. Adult entry is $15 (£11.50) and $8 (£6.15) for children.
Out on the azure sea of the Caribbean, there are a host of fun opportunities, from the simple joy of pulling on a snorkel mask and seeing how many brightly-coloured fish one can spot off Aruba’s beaches.
Aruba’s coastline features a series of close-to-shore reefs that are ideal for snorkeling. Some of the popular areas include Boca Catalina, a small cove and beach area on the way to the California Lighthouse at the northern tip of the island, and Mangel Halto, located near Savaneta heading south from the hotel areas.
Alternatively, try a new experience – paddle boarding – which is rapidly growing in popularity. Standup paddle boarding (also known as SUP) is an ancient form of surfing originating in Hawaii. Over the past decade, this sport has grown exponentially, with Aruba being one of the first Caribbean destinations to embrace it.
The island’s calm, flat waters provide the perfect venue to learn and enjoy this activity as a family. Many resorts have paddle boards available for guests, as do many water sports companies. Organised tours through the Spanish Lagoon, now a protected area, and part of the Arikok National Park, are a great way to learn the basics of paddle boarding while also enjoying the scenery and nature of this area.
Typical costs are $25 (£19) per person for a family group lesson.
Aruba is also home to the Caribbean’s only outrigger canoe company. Aruba Canoe offers a variety of tours, with the eco-friendly snorkel and paddle combo being a favourite. Starting at the beach at Governor’s Bay close to capital Oranjestad, the tour begins in the outrigger canoe, where families will paddle for about 20 minutes to a small, private island just off the coast. Here one has the opportunity to snorkel the colorful reef (all equipment provided) for close to an hour. After snorkeling, the group paddles back to shore. Typical costs are $30 (£23) per person.