We can spend all week inside during the summer months without thinking twice. But people on the island of Aruba know that the best moments in life happen under the sun. Toddlers especially are crazy about open spaces where they can run, explore and soak up new surroundings. A place like Aruba, located close to the South American border and part of the Dutch Caribbean, is one of those special places that can be a wonderful introduction for families who want to try something new and indulge in a little tropical paradise.
By far the island has some of the most perfect hideaways for resorts and hotels, but venturing inland and along some of the more remote coastlines is something not everyone includes in their vacation photos.
Eeyore and friends
As Aruba is only about 20 miles long it doesn’t take long to escape the resort room and reach other parts of the destination with ease. Toddlers will often keep occupied right on the beach, but what a surprise it will be to spend an afternoon at the Donkey Sanctuary. This little plot of land is surrounded by brush and cacti, common plants you’ll find all over the island away from the beach. Inside is a massive paddock full of scruffy yet perfectly docile donkeys ready for a petting session and some treats. Entry to the park is free, but for a few dollars grab the kids some donkey pellet food and watch all the animals line up along a special porch. They munch happily while volunteers let you know about the history of the sanctuary, such as how it’s built on private land and protects animals from being hit on the roads.
Toddlers are a little young to understand donations, but visiting the four-legged friends can be a great lesson in helping. Explain how we humans are taking care of these donkeys and this is their safe home. We can feed them and make sure they live happy lives on the island.
On an animal kick, the next best place to roam after playing with donkeys is the Arikok National Park. You’ll be delighted to see such a juxtaposition of rolling rills littered with aloe and cacti, framed by an endless slice of deep blue ocean in the background. Toddlers will enjoy the view too, but might squeal more for the bumpy ride it takes to cruise through the rocky interior of the scenic park.
Have a break at the mouth of the famous Aruba caves inside the park, called Quadirikiri, Fontein and Huliba. You can head inside and check out some incredible cave formations carved by centuries of wind, sand and water. Light streams in through holes in the ceiling, which can illuminate the occasional bat swooping by. As these creatures are nocturnal, they won’t disturb you or your toddler as long as you play the quiet game!
It’s simple to experience the Donkey Sanctuary and Arikok National Park through a guided tour by Jeep. Some of the rough roads inland can take a toll on rental cars, so it’s advisable to try a company like De Palm Tours Aruba to help get you around. Check for their discounted child rates and age limits ahead of time.
The relaxing resort life
There are some fantastic accommodations to choose from throughout the destination, but of the prettiest and centrally located is the Aruba Marriot. Part resort, part casino and all amazing, it’s a mecca of incredible entertainment, cuisine and pretty poolside thrills. Bring little toddlers to the kid’s outdoor swimming area for a splash around with new friends. The beach goes on for miles in front of the resort as well, where the whole family can rent a palapa, or thatched roof covering, to be used for beating the heat and strong sunshine.
When it’s time to eat, the Marriott has streamlined the process for picky little ones, as the same large kid’s menu is available at all the dining options. So choose a romantic meal right on the beach, indulge in the seafood buffet or have a leisurely breakfast knowing nutritious crowd favorites are always on the menu. Rooms also include refrigerators to keep snacks and other perishables on hand during the day.
The property often runs specials for room rates, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, choose an off-season week that doesn’t skimp on any of the excitement.
Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel writer, social media manager and co-founder of Pure Wander Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @guapetonah