Shopping in Aruba
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Shopping can be good on Aruba. Although stores on the island often use the tagline "duty-free," the word "prices" is usually printed underneath in much smaller letters. Cheaper rents, lower taxes, and a willingness to add smaller markups mean that Aruban prices on many luxury goods are often reasonable, but not truly duty-free. Most North Americans, who find clothing to be less expensive back home, buy perfume and jewelry; South Americans tend to shell out lots of cash on a variety of brand-name merchandise.
Aruba's souvenir and crafts stores are full of Dutch porcelains and figurines, as befits the island's heritage. Dutch cheese is a good buy (you're allowed to bring up to 10 pounds of hard cheese through U.S. customs), as are hand-embroidered linens and any products made from the native aloe vera plant—sunburn cream, face masks, skin refreshers. Local arts and crafts run toward wood carvings and earthenware emblazoned with "Aruba: One Happy Island" and the like.
Island merchants are honest and pleasant. Still, if you encounter price markups, unsatisfactory service, or other shopping obstacles, call the tourist office, which will in turn contact the Aruba Merchants Association. A representative of the association will speak with the merchant on your behalf, even if the store isn't an association member.
When the stresses of sun and surf prove too much there's no shortage of spas to choose from on Aruba. The best spas are within the big resorts, particularly in the Palm Beach area. They offer a similar range of massage options, but relaxation treatments and amenities vary from one facility to the next. The legendary healing properties of the locally grown aloe plant are also available for those seeking a uniquely Aruban experience. When the intensity of the sun proves too much, several spas also offer cooling and relaxing post-burn treatments. In-room and couples treatments are widely available at larger resorts.
How and When
It's easy to spend money in Aruba. Most stores accept American currency and Aruban florins (written as "Afl") as well as credit cards and traveler's checks. Aruba has a 3% sales tax on most goods and services, which includes most purchases by tourists. Though many stores downtown advertise "duty-free" prices, Aruba isn't a duty-free port, so the only duty-free prices are to be had at the airport. Good bargains are to be had for those who have a good knowledge of U.S. prices and who shop carefully. Don't try to bargain in stores, where it's considered rude to haggle. At flea markets and souvenir stands, however, you might be able to strike a deal.
Stores are open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 or 9 to 6. Some stores stay open through the lunch hour (noon to 2), and many open when cruise ships are in port on Sunday and holidays. The later you shop in downtown Oranjestad, the easier it will be to find a place to park. Also, later hours mean slightly lower temperatures. In fact, the Aruba Merchants Association is one force behind the effort to have shops stay open later, so that visitors who like to spend the day on the beach can shop in the cool of the evening.
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