Let's face it, Aruba ain't cheap. Well known for its glitzy hotels, exclusive boutique resorts, and over-the-top restaurants, Aruba has few bargains to offer. Keep in mind, everything has to be flown in and almost no food is produced on the island. For this reason, and because it's marketed to an upscale audience, prices are easily on par with those in similarly ranked restaurants in New York or London. Bank machines are readily available in shopping malls, and in addition to a couple of bucks for fees, you will likely pay a currency conversion fee. Banks may have slightly better prices, but since U.S. dollars are widely accepted, if you have these, you are better off using them and asking for dollars back when you are given change.
Aruba is not a bargain shopper's paradise compared to cheaper Caribbean destinations such as Mexico or the Dominican Republic. The upside is that the standard of living among Arubans is fairly high, and the island lacks grim scenes of abject poverty or hopelessness. There are also some easy ways to save cash. While a taxi to the airport or into town will cost you $15 or $20 dollars, you can ride the clean local buses for about AWG 2.25. A cup of coffee may cost you the usual $3 but most hotels have beverage makers and you don't need to use bottled water since the island has some of the cleanest water in the world. While a three-course dinner at even a moderate restaurant (sans alcohol) can set you back $75, the portions are so enormous that you can easily share one appetizer, main course, and dessert between two people and be sated. Most hotel rooms will run you about $150 a night and (way) up, but if you opt for a small inn catering to locals that is a short walk or bus ride to the beach, you can probably find a deal for around $100 a night.
Taxes, Service Charges & Tipping -- Aruba has a 3% sales tax, but it is unclear whether merchants will charge that when you make a purchase or simply incorporate it into their prices, so it's best to ask before you buy. Hotels charge an 11% government tax on rooms, and most routinely add 5% to 7% for "service." A few resorts may also charge an energy surcharge of $7 to $10 per unit per night.
Some, but not all, restaurants charge 10% to 15% for service, but not all of this goes to the service staff. Some restaurants keep a percentage for overhead, while the rest is distributed among all restaurant personnel; so you are generally expected to leave a little extra cash on the table (say 10%). If no charge is included in your tab, leave 15%, or 20% if the service was excellent.
Taxi drivers expect 10% to 15%, and porters should get about $2 per bag. Some of the hotel service charge should trickle down to the chambermaids, but if you're staying in a nice place, leave $2 per day for the housekeeper anyway. For spa treatments, if a service charge is not included, leave 15%.
The U.S. dollar is as widely accepted as the Aruban florin (AWG), and most items and services are priced in both currencies.
The AWG is divided into 100¢. Silver coins come in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢ as well as 1, 2 1/2, and 5 florins. The 50¢ piece, the square yotin, is Aruba's best-known coin. Paper currency comes in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 florins. At press time, the (fairly stable) exchange rate was 1.79 AWG to $1 (1 AWG is worth about US56¢). Hotels, restaurants, and stores accept dollars at rates of between 1.75 and 1.80 AWG; supermarkets and gas stations use a conversion rate of 1.75 AWG to the dollar.
The currency used in the neighboring Dutch islands of Curaçao and Bonaire, the Netherlands Antillean florin (NAf), is not accepted in Aruba.
Note: Since U.S. dollars are accepted almost everywhere in Aruba, prices are quoted in U.S. dollars throughout this guide.
Arm Yourself with Small Bills -- Bring a bundle of small bills (if your currency is American dollars) to make for easy tipping and small purchases. There's no need to bring large sums of cash, unless you're planning to make big purchases and prefer not to use a credit card.
Aruba has plenty of cash machines -- you'll find them at the airport; and there are also locations throughout Oranjestad in Noord, at the Allegro, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Marriott Playa Linda, and Radisson in the High-Rise area; and at La Cabana in the Low-Rise area. Your hotel can steer you in the right direction, and an ATM is never far away. Most dispense both florins and dollars. Since you can expect to pay a fee of about $3 per transaction, take out as much as you estimate you'll really need rather than taking out a small amount and planning to go back later.
Major credit cards are almost universally accepted in Aruba. Visa and MasterCard seem to dominate the landscape, with Discover making a comeback and American Express being at times shunned due to the alleged fees it charges. Diners Club is rarely accepted. In any case, you'll still need cash for small purchases, cabs, and the occasional restaurant or small shop. U.S. dollars are often accepted and you can request them when getting change as well.
If your credit card is lost or stolen, contact your credit card company immediately. In Aruba, both MasterCard and Visa cardholders can visit branches of Aruba Bank (tel. 800/325-3678) or Caribbean Mercantile Bank (tel.297/586-0202) for cash advances or to report a lost or stolen card. Discover cardholders can get assistance by calling tel. 800/DISCOVER [347-2683], or 801/902-3100 in Aruba (www.discover.com). American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282 for assistance.
Traveler's checks are becoming relics now that ATMs make cash accessible 24/7. If you want to avoid ATM service charges, though, or if you just want the security of knowing you can get a refund if your wallet's stolen, go ahead and get traveler's checks. You'll have to show identification every time you cash one. Most banks sell them, and most Aruban businesses accept them. Be sure to keep a record of the serial numbers (separate from the checks, of course). You'll need the numbers to get a refund if your checks are lost or stolen.
You can get American Express traveler's checks by calling tel. 800/221-7282 or visiting www.americanexpress.com. Traveler's checks are also offered through Thomas Cook Currency Services (tel. 800/223-9920).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.