Aruba is just 18 miles from the equator, a short two-hour flight from Miami and part of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao), well-known for having mild hurricane seasons.
The shopping on the island is also famous for having fresh cheese from Holland, aloe straight from Aruba’s Aloe Factory and Museum and handcrafted pieces of art using a five-centuries-old method. When you cruise to Aruba you’ll dock in capital Oranjestad, where shops and markets are a short walk from the pier. Bargaining is frowned upon, and products aren’t duty-free, but prices on high-ticket items can be 25 percent less than stateside. Aruba’s official currency is the florin, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Now that you know a few of the shopping basics, here are the five must-buys that will help you recall your visit to this southern Caribbean island.
Skip the mass-produced generic paintings in favor of handcrafted masks or figurines colored with a metallic-like dye. The ancient art of making the dye is called mopa mopa, in which the coloring is made with the boiled bud and leaves of the mopa mopa tree and vegetable dye. The combination produces a rubber-like resin that’s stretched by the artist’s teeth, then applied to masks, wooden animals and more. You can find these original treasures at the Royal Plaza Mall.
Know this: The Aruban sun is crazy strong. Even on an overcast day (it rarely rains), your skin can quickly become Lobster City. Besides obvious advice to apply and reapply sunscreen, should you need to soothe your scorched bod, pick up a bottle of Aruba Aloe’s After Sun Lotion or Burn Aid at the company’s outpost at Port of Call Marketplace, the cruise terminal shopping center. Locals buy theirs at Super Foods, just a few miles from the cruise port. Either way, these make great gifts for yourself and those at home.
Rum punch is a common Caribbean cocktail, but on Aruba, a popular drink is ponche crema. This boozy, eggnog-like beverage is made with white rum, eggs and vanilla, plus condensed and evaporated milks. It’s served over ice with a sprinkle of nutmeg, or even as an ice-cream topping. The creamy concoction is in a tall bottle and found at souvenir stores all around the island.
As a Dutch territory, Aruba celebrates its heritage with porcelain products imported from Holland. Housewares souvenirs from plates to vases are reproduced in the traditional 16th-century hand-painted blue and white colors. They can be found in Ecco Aruba or the Little Holland shop in downtown Oranjestad’s Royal Plaza Mall, a short walk from the cruise port.
A red-wax coated wheel of Edam cheese is a nice treasure since it’s cheaper and fresher than at home, thanks to daily KLM flights from Holland to Aruba. You’ll love the cheesy goodness in dishes like keshi yena (a local favorite), made with hollowed-out Edam or Gouda cheese, spiced meat or fish, and veggies. Most souvenir shops sell it, but it’s less expensive at a grocery store such as Kong Hing. Choose to buy a smaller amount and have a picnic-style lunch under a swaying palm tree.