Aruba owes its appeal to miles of beautiful white beaches washed by water that looks siphoned straight from a Corona commercial. But when you need a break from lounging under a palapa, shopping is a fun alternative. Most stores are in the tiny capital, Oranjestad, and Palm Beach, the high-rise-hotel area to the north. Prices aren’t necessarily cheaper than those stateside, but you will find some special mementos of your Aruban vacation.
Pass on the ubiquitous diamond shops and trinket markets, aimed at the cruise ship crowd, in favor of Oranjestad’s two downtown malls. The Royal Plaza Mall is hard to miss, thanks to its cotton-candy paint job and frilly ironwork. On the ground floor, Little Holland stocks delft pottery from the Netherlands and linens from Belgium and Portugal. At Inti, look for figurines and masks that appear painted but are actually made from layers of dyed and stretched resin from the South American mopa mopa tree. Hibiscus sells affordable silver baubles from India, Mexico and Thailand, and larimar stone jewelry from the Dominican Republic.
For BCBG, Louis Vuitton, Coach and Kenneth Cole, head to the ritzier Renaissance Mall. Vilebrequin, a French swimsuit store from St. Tropez, sells men’s board shorts that streamline the baggies look (without venturing into Speedo territory) with fabric that incorporates safari animals and ocean creatures.
WHERE THE LOCALS SHOP
Just behind the Renaissance Mall is Plaza Daniel Leo, a pedestrian zone lined with sherbet-hued colonial Dutch facades. One of them houses a stylish Argentinean shop, Carla Danelli, which sells the latest handbags from the streets of San Telmo, fashioned from soft leather in candy colors.
Follow the trolley tracks to Caya G.F. Betico Croes, downtown’s Main Street. International stores like Victoria’s Secret sit alongside hole-in-the-wall eateries serving delicious pastechis (meat-filled turnovers). The Sting, a boutique run by a Dutch-Aruban family for the past 37 years, sells men’s and women’s fashions from France, Italy and Denmark. Owner Nadja Speyer holds court at the espresso bar in the back. “If you want a black leather bag, I don’t have it,” Speyer says. “We like the bling-bling.” You’ll find it in brightly colored denim and sequins and studs on purses and jeans.
For preppier fashions, hit Wulfsen & Wulfsen, where the yachting set shops for Bermuda shorts and demure linen dresses by German and Dutch brands. Finish your downtown foray back at the Renaissance Marketplace for lunch at the Dutch Pancake House. The specialties are thin pancakes piled with sweet or savory toppings, and the divine creation called poffertjes, tiny airy pancakes dusted with sugar and butter.
SHOPPING AFTER DARK
As evening falls, crowds descend on the village-style Palm Beach shopping mall, Paseo Herencia, to browse in boutiques by the light of tiki torches. There’s free nightly entertainment at a sunken amphitheater—the carnival dancers are particularly dazzling. Patrizia Gelvatti, the Italian owner of La Boutique, makes regular trips to the old country for heels, boots and sandals made of Italian leather and embellished with semiprecious stones. Lace and silk dresses and wraps by Rome-based Be Hip define Gelvatti’s vision of Aruba’s island style: “casual with a touch of chic.”
A few doors down, at La Langosta Balnearie, the Venezuelan owner, Marielys Jiménez Lookyan, focuses on women’s bespoke bathing suits—some by Colombian designers and others she herself creates by hand. Her handmade straw beach bags and sandals get their style from feathers, fringe and beading.
Guys dig the collection of Panama hats (woven by hand in Ecuador) at Havana Nines, which also stocks Cuban-style linen shirts by Stone Rose. The quintessential island souvenir could be the sweet-smelling bath and body products made from Aruban-grown aloe and sold at Aruba Aloe.
Then finish the night down the road at Gianni’s for a fashionably late dinner of antipasto and delicious pasta dishes.
WELL-PRICED FINDS IN PALM BEACH
A market sets up every evening at six just outside Señor Frog’s bar. Most of the stalls proffer made-in-China stuff you’d find anywhere, except for Do Good Aruba. Its table displays “up-cycled” tumblers and vases made from bottles gathered at island bars and restaurants (there’s no glass recycling facility on Aruba, so the bottles were destined for the dump). A set of Balashi Chill tumblers, repurposed from beer bottles from a favorite island brewery, will let you toast Aruba with toddies back home.
The most fun you’ll have at the luxurious but somewhat sterile Palm Beach Plaza mall is probably watching first-time surfers trying to navigate the flow-rider machine out front. But there are a couple of shops here that stand apart from the Baccarat, Benetton and Mont Blanc crowd. Loft does cheap and cheerful young fashions for women: sundresses, rompers and straw bags to outfit a carefree Caribbean night. Pop upstairs to the Venezuelan shoe store Basinger, where all the kicks (sandals, stilettos, wedges and canvas slides) are priced at less than $55. Pick up the perfect pair of espadrilles to transition from the beach to some refreshing retail fun.
*Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
Royal Plaza Mall: 94 L.G. Smith Blvd.
Little Holland: 297.583.8494
Inti: 297.582.7862; mopamopa.com
Renaissance Mall: 82 L.G. Smith Blvd.
Vilebrequin: 297.588.7780; vilebrequin.com
Carla Danelli: 1 Emmastraat; 297.582.4543; carladanelli.com
The Sting: 4 Caya G.F. Betico Croes; 297.582.3305
Wulfsen & Wulfsen: 52 Caya G.F. Betico Croes; 297.582.3823; wulfsen-wulfsen.com
Dutch Pancake House: 9 L.G. Smith Blvd., Oranjestad; 297.583.7180
Paseo Herencia: 382 J.E. Irausquin Blvd., Palm Beach
La Boutique: 297.586.9257
La Langosta Balnearie: 297.586.1321
Havana Nines: 297.586.0020; havananines.com
Aruba Aloe: 800.952.7822; arubaaloe.com
Gianni’s: 348 J.E. Irausquin Blvd., Palm Beach; 297.586.7794
Señor Frog’s bar: 348 J.E. Irausquin Blvd.
Palm Beach Plaza mall: 95 L.G. Smith Blvd., Palm Beach