Aruba Palapas

The Palapa Debate

For those of you who do not know what Palapas are, they are the umbrella-like wood structures covered with dried, woven palm leaves. They are also known as grass-huts or tiki-huts.

I first heard about this debate in the summer of 2010, but, did not realize the emotional scope of the parties involved until looking into it further.

In June, during deliberations in Aruba’s Parliament, the Minister of Infrastructure initiated new regulations regarding the Palapas and it was backed by a majority of Members of Parliament. The new regulations are to enforce the law that no perminant structure be built on the beaches and the palaps are to be removed. If this rule truly gets enforced then Aruba will have one the strictest beach regulation policies in the Caribbean.

Here is what I know…

Years ago, there were a limited number of hotels along Palm and Eagle Beach. This meant long stretches of uncluttered and undeveloped white sandy beaches.

In the late 80’s, tourism started to boom and with it, the growth of resort properties in Aruba, and consequently, the number of beach goers. More and more people spending hours at the beaches, needed shade against the fierce sun. So the resorts planted some palapas on the beaches for their guests. The palapas were built and maintained by the hotels, provided shelter for the tourists and actually brought some character to the beaches and gave it a special Caribbean feel.

Although, technically, all Aruba beaches are public beaches and can not be owned by any person or corporation, and the building of any permanent structure on the beach without a permit is illegal, officials allowed resorts to erect palapas in front of their hotels with little to no regulation. In other words, most of the palapas are built without any kind of permit from the Department of Infrastructure, thus completely illegal, but officials “let it slide”.

However, as more resorts, timeshares, apartments and condos are built along the beaches, more and more palapas are being planted and they are overcrowding the beaches. Now officials are trying to put a halt to all the building of so many palapas.

Overcrowding is part of the debate, but the biggest issue is building without permits (for safety reasons).

Another facet of the topic is ownership and usage of the palapas. The resorts finance the assembling and maintenance of them, and because of this they assume that they own them. This is not the case. According to Aruba law, any structure built on PUBLIC beaches (again ALL ARUBA BEACHES ARE PUBLIC) is considered PUBLIC PROPERTY. Therefore, subject to universal use by everyone, including local people, tourists, and guests (even of other hotels) without charge, without limit.

However over the years, some hotels have ignored this fact. Some charge a fee to their guests to reserve a palapa. And others discourage and even intimidate non-hotel guests from the area with the use of hovering hotel security personnel. (Marriott is one of the biggest offenders of this tactic.)

My opinion: Rather than banning, and removing them altogether, I think that there should possibly be a restriction put on palapa density, and some kind of enforcement of more public access at all locations.

I would love to hear my reader’s opinions on this emotional subject. Please leave a comment below, or if you would like to remain anonomous, contact me directly here.

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