See the stables and visitors center at the new donkey sanctuary in Santa Cruz. // © 2017 Donkey Sanctuary Aruba; Getty Images
Feature image (above): Aruba’s new Art Walk is an exciting cultural experience. // © 2017 Michele Peterson
Although Aruba is best known for its family-friendly, white-sand beaches, this sunny island in the Dutch Caribbean offers plenty to explore beyond the shore. Here’s what’s new for family travelers on Aruba.
A Private Island VIP Experience
Set off Aruba’s west coast, De Palm Island has long been a mecca for fun-loving families who want to spend a day swooshing down waterslides, ziplining and splashing through waves on banana boats.
Now, this all-inclusive attraction has added a VIP Beach Cabana, where families can snorkel with neon-blue parrot fish off a private dock or just chill out in a private lounge complete with a fridge stocked with champagne, water and juice boxes. The cabana is conveniently located steps from the lunch buffet, waterslides and the gift shop.
Exploring Santa Cruz
During the 17th century, local indigenous tribes confronted invading French pirates in a narrow passageway known as Frenchman’s Pass. According to legend, the ghosts of those valiant defenders still haunt this windswept stretch of Santa Cruz. The stunning scenery features salt beds, cacti and divi-divi trees, as well as cunucus (quaint Aruban farmhouses).
Spectacular views can also be seen from Mount Jamanota, the highest point on the island. The area is the home of Aruba Donkey Sanctuary — a safe haven for more than 130 rescued donkeys. Also worth a stop is Mauchi Smoothies, a juice and snack bar featuring fresh-harvested fruit, veggies and herbs, along with the island’s best burgers.
The launch of First Class Experience Aruba, a new VIP arrival and departure service at Queen Beatrix International Airport, makes it easier for travelers to get to Aruba’s attractions faster. With this premium service, clients enjoy a personalized welcome, a fast-track escort through immigration queues, streamlined luggage handling and the opportunity to relax in the private Aruba Airport VIP lounge.
Other family-friendly services offered by First Class Experience Aruba include concierge assistance with babysitting, shopping and dining reservations.
Parks and Pedaling
Active travelers won’t want to miss cycling in Aruba’s new Linear Park. Stretching from Oranjestad to the airport, this breezy cycling, walking and running path is a paved, dedicated trail that’s fun for all ages.
Green Bike Aruba just launched eight handy bike-rental stations (for those ages 16 and older), so it’s easy to pedal around for a few hours. Cyclists can also head to the floating inflatables at the new Splash Park Aruba in Oranjestad or grab a bite to eat at Cuba’s Cooking, where kids can sip virgin mojitos (aka fresh-squeezed lemonade) while soaking up the 1950s Havana vibe. Complimentary bikes are also available for guests at the newly renovated Divi Tamarijn All Inclusive resort.
Sunrise City on the Rise
Aruban culture is just as fascinating as its beach scene. A top spot to explore its rich history is San Nicolas, or “Sunrise City,” a former oil refinery town that’s undergoing a fantastic renaissance. Located on the island’s southern tip, it’s just 12 miles from the glitzy shopping malls of Oranjestad, but its atmosphere feels a world away.
A must-see here is the new Museum of Industry, which is located in downtown San Nicolas’ historic water tower and filled with exhibits on gold mining, aloe production and the Lago Oil and Transport Company, which began operation in the 1920s and helped shape Aruba’s economic landscape. The nearby Aruba Art Fair is a new collection of street art that features plenty of Instagram-worthy photo ops, including a huge iguana made of recycled materials bursting out of a wall.
A handy stay is nearby Casa Alistaire, an eight-person partial overwater villa with space to sprawl.