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Imagine a spot on Earth where there is no unemployment, no civil unrest, no major crimes and nearly-perfect weather all year round. Welcome to Aruba. This small island, part of the Dutch Antilles chain, is such a place. Formerly a place known more for its oil production than its hospitality, Aruba has fully embraced the tourism industry and today is a popular destination for newlyweds and tourists looking for sun, snorkeling and casinos. Numerous high and low rise resorts dot the white sand beaches, and many of the best-known restaurants and entertainment spots have a presence on the island. Casino gambling is widely available, and helps to keep the per capita incomes of Arubans among the highest in the region. Arubans refer to Aruba as 'One Happy Island', and it's not difficult to understand why.

But even in Paradise, there can be some hidden troubles. In the capital city of Oranjestad, shopping is a major draw for tourists, but bargains can be hard to come by. Many merchants have discovered that tourists are willing to pay inflated prices for the convenience of air conditioning or buying on impulse. If you find yourself in Oranjestad and want to know where the true bargains can be found, here are some ideas.

Downtown Oranjestad has one major street which runs the length of the town. Most of the tourist-oriented businesses have set up shop on this strip, including the best bars and restaurants. These shopping areas are air conditioned, and decorated in what can be best described as 'upscale Carribean'. The signs are flashy and colorful, and the atmosphere is crackling with youth and vitality. The price you will pay for all this ambience, however, can be astonishingly inflated. If you really want to save money on food while shopping downtown, head to the fast food places just a few blocks over. Exchange rates for American dollars are excellent, so you will pay negligible prices for full meals. A local grocery store preferred by the locals is only blocks away from the bus terminal. Prices are marked in Aruban Florins, but US dollars are accepted almost everywhere. There are plenty of roadside cafes that offer substantial savings for those who are interested in local cuisine.

The Strip in Oranjestad offers a tremendous variety of imported goods and outlets for major international retailers, such as Gucci and Waterford crystal. There are definitely bargains to be found if you are an upscale shopper. If you have the cash available to purchase the higher ticket items, then you will find some substantial savings. It may be cheaper to have these items shipped back to your home directly, instead of facing some stiff tariffs at the airport customs office. The sales clerk should be able to handle these arrangements for you, so be sure to ask at the time of purchase. For those on a more restricted budget, avoid temptation when browsing through the upscale sections of the malls. There are other gift shops that will fit your budget much better. Consider Dutch linens as gifts. They are beautifully created, and can be purchased at a local shop for surprisingly low prices. Cheeses are also popular choices for gifts on a budget. Customs do impose weight limits on food items, but again, consider having all gifts shipped out from the store instead of taking them through the airport yourself.

Perhaps the most popular gift item for a tourist is a t-shirt, and Oranjestad is overflowing with t-shirt stands. Before you plunk down $25 or more for a t-shirt, however, do some comparison shopping first. A t-shirt shop located in a strip mall on the main street will charge the highest prices for shirts. Many smaller vendors who own their own stands on the other side of the street offer deep discounts on similar items. It's not unusual to find a local vendor offering 3 t-shirts for the price of one at a mall. If you plan on buying t-shirts as gifts, it may pay to search the local booths before considering any other 'tourist' outlet.

Another bargain is the public transportation system in Oranjestad. For a nominal fee, you can ride a bus to almost every point on the island. Taxis charge a fixed rate to drive you to certain points of interest, which can add up quickly. Car rental is an option, but driving in Aruba can best be described as a combat sport. If you are only planning to do some light shopping downtown, your most economical choice is to take the bus from your hotel or resort. Some resorts offer bicycles for reasonable fees, but be sure that you are in good physical condition. Aruba's weather can be brutally hot, so if you do choose to use a bicycle
be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen.