Although Aruba boasts a plethora of shopping opportunities, the days of Caribbean bargains are waning. The 1.5% sales tax may be absorbed directly into the price of merchandise or show up as a government tax on your bill. Nevertheless, the island's low 3.3% duty can make prices on certain items such as jewelry and fragrances attractive, although comparison shopping indicates the prices on many cosmetics are priced the same as in the U.S.

Dutch goods such as Delft porcelain, chocolate, and Gouda cheese are especially good buys. Items from Indonesia, another former Dutch colony, are reasonably priced, too. Although Aruban souvenirs tend toward cheesy resin casts of cunucu (farm) houses or divi divi trees, some impressive works by Aruban artists can be viewed or purchased at the local art galleries or jewelry shops. Skin- and hair-care products made from locally produced aloe are popular and practical. If you're looking for big-ticket items, Aruba offers the usual array of Swiss watches; German and Japanese cameras; gold and diamond jewelry; Cuban cigars; premium liquor; English and German china; Spanish porcelain; French, Swedish, and Danish crystal; and French and American fragrances. If you plan to make a major purchase, do a little research so you know you're getting a good deal.

If you are looking for something unique, head for one of the many outlets of Aruba Aloe, a product line of lotions and creams produced on island. These moisturizers come in every formulation and are so gentle they are used for skin graft and burn patients. For shoppers who want to do good while finding the perfect gift, head over to the gift shop at the Donkey Sanctuary, where you can find everything from plush stuffed donkeys to French milled donkey soap. All purchases go towards supporting the care of the many donkeys. For gifts that are a little higher end, there are several shops selling hand-crafted boxes, masks, and figurines covered in a colorful metallic overlay called mopa mopa. These dyes are derived from boiled leaf buds using an ancient South American Indian technique that involves stretching the rubbery pigmented overlay with the artisan's hands and teeth. The colorful products are pricey but well made.

Great Shopping Areas

Although recently eclipsed by the new malls in the High-Rise area, Aruba's other retail activity center is in Oranjestad. Half-mile-long Caya G.F. Betico Croes, better known as Main Street, is the city's major shopping venue for Arubans, office workers, and families. Downtown also teems with contiguous shopping malls that stretch for several blocks along the harborfront. The gingerbread pastel-colored buildings are impossible to miss. Renaissance Mall (L.G. Smith Blvd. 82, Oranjestad; is adjacent to the Renaissance Hotel and marked by a distinctive clock tower that also indicates the presence of the Crystal Casino. On the other side of L.G. Smith Boulevard and just past the marina is the Renaissance Marketplace; both the Renaissance Mall and Renaissance Marketplace feature more than 130 stores, 2 casinos, 20 restaurants and cafes, and a movie theater. Just up the road, adjacent to the Renaissance Mall, the bright pink-and-white fanciful-looking Royal Plaza Mall on L.G. Smith Boulevard is occupied by several popular restaurants and generally midscale boutiques. Port of Call Marketplace, also on L.G. Smith Boulevard, is the first complex that cruise-ship passengers encounter on their way downtown and is directly across the street from the main bus terminal. An adjacent mall stands complete but empty, awaiting resolution of final legal matters before stores can fill the vacancies and open for business.

Merchandise stands clutter Oranjestad's waterfront, most selling garden-variety T-shirts and souvenirs at bargain prices. Many wares are imported from nearby Venezuela, though others are made in the Caribbean.

High Rise/Palm Beach Shopping -- A sizeable shopping center called Paseo Herencia (Aruba's Pride) is on the High-Rise district's main street (J.E. Irausquin Blvd.). Across the street from the Holiday Inn, it contains a multiplex cinema, a fountain with water shows every evening, an indoor parking garage, and dozens of shops and restaurants.

A small mall called the Village, across the street from the Radisson also on J.E. Irausquin Boulevard, is just down the street. More meeting place than mall, here you can find a few retail souvenir shops, and the headquarters of Red Sail Sports on the second level. There are a handful of restaurants, including the infamous and highly visible Señor Frog. This colorful and loud eatery serves food as well as drinks, attracting families with kid-friendly meals and a balloon toting clown. For a more subdued meal, try the open-air, French fusion bistro called Papillon (tel. 297/586-5400;

South Beach Mall is a two-story shopping and eating complex adjacent to the Hard Rock Cafe. The prominent escalator carries diners and shoppers to the restaurants and shops above, flanked below by a row of vendor stalls.

In keeping with the beach theme, Palm Beach Plaza was built right around the corner from Paseo Herencia. Christened as the largest mall in the Southern Caribbean, this three-story behemoth is an entertainment mecca. In addition to its stores, there's an enormous kiddie arcade, bowling alley, mega multiplex movie theater, and food court. Oh yeah, and a wave machine where pre-teen boys hone their body surfing and high-speed wipeout skills.

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.