Let’s begin this article with a spoiler alert. You are in for a treat if you are a foodie when traveling to Aruba. The Aruba travel veterans know that food on this island is top-notch. First-timers are sometimes a bit apprehensive, but you shouldn’t be. Let’s explore.
Do you like exploring local flavors? You should. Are you vegan? No problem. Food truck lover? Yes, please. Kosher? Check. Meat? Fish? Poultry? Yes, yes, and yes. Aruba has something to offer you.
Throughout history, many people have passed by this island. Each nationality brought its flavors whilst in Aruba and all these different tastes were happily adopted by locals. Don’t be surprised if you see one of our dishes look and taste familiar to yours.
In this article, I feature three specific aspects of food in Aruba: the production, retail and restaurants/eateries. The last part is about restaurants where I focus on types and varieties.
The southern Caribbean is one of the driest areas of the whole western hemisphere. Aruba in particular, is windy, sunny, rocky, and dry. Especially the latter complicates it for prospective farms.
Aruba is tiny by all measures and metrics and is only 69 square miles (179 square meters) and this means that space for farming is a big problem. Our island is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Due to the shortcomings, Aruba has a robust import infrastructure with a steady and secure delivery at our shipping ports of food products arriving from all over the world.
Harvest, Livestock, Fisheries
The logistics (import, raise, feed) required for animal farms at the scale needed to supply this island’s permanent and floating population of tourists, is practically impossible.
Having said that, there are tiny farms that have minor production that supply local companies. Some companies are artisan while others are boutique producers. I do want to highlight some producers/farmers that do a terrific job with all the limitations in Aruba. There is even a winery trying!
There are local producers of mushrooms, lettuce, hot sauce, hydroponic farmers. Below you find two examples.
In terms of fisheries and local seafood production, this too is not commercially organized. Institutionally, it is even not allowed to fish commercially via fishing trawlers.
The local production of local fish is by way of local fishermen going out daily and fish in local waters and whatever they catch, sell it to restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and individuals. This means that there aren’t any fish markets in Aruba.
Aruba offers world-class quality products and variety. Depending on the business model (see list below), the main local supermarket mimic either the US or European style layout.
In Aruba there are 5 types of supermarkets:
- Premium supermarkets
- Discount markets
- Membership clubs
- Neighborhood supermarkets
- 24-hour convenience stores
Note: The above classification is done by me, not a branch organization or statistical office.
The food distribution and retail have come a long way on this island. Aruba also suffered from the processed-meat-in-a-can-for-islands syndrome, that many islands in the Caribbean and Pacific endured.
Ever since tourism and millennials came onto the scene, the offerings and variety of products went up, arguably to world-class standards.
Nowadays you can expect to find the most A-brand products and niche variety at the major supermarkets, allowing for a much more varied and healthy cuisine across the board.
At the time of writing, there are 3 premium supermarkets in Aruba. Other than brand products they offer other services such as bakery, buffet catering, flowers, etc. These superstores are open daily from early morning to late evening and close only on select national holidays.
The first two have a larger variety of products, while the latter has full hardware store addition as well, although if you are visiting Aruba, why would you need a hardware store.
SaveMore Food Stores is build after in the model European discount supermarkets. It offers quality fruit, vegetables, produce, meat and bread. They offer mostly quality off-brand CPG products, which help maintain their cost low. Some products are also vertically integrated, which means they produce (in other countries) or import their own products, this way cutting the middle-man, thus keeping their cost in check.
Currently, there is one paid membership warehouse shopping club in Aruba: PriceSmart. This store is a nearly identical copy of US-based Costco Wholesale. The yearly membership cost is nearly US$70.
PriceSmart is a San Diego, California, US-based public company with locations mostly in the Caribbean and Central America.
PriceSmart Aruba is nearly two decades old and it has proven to be one of the best overall performers among the locations.
When I’m there, I rarely see visitors, if ever, from North America or Europe, which totally makes sense.
Neighborhood Supermarkets and 24-hour Convenience Stores
Neighborhood stores are the primary place for locals to get their day-to-day or last-minute groceries. Mind you, these stores most of the time are more expensive than the other type of stores, as mentioned above, but the convenience is worth the extra money for most customers.
This form of food retail has proliferated so much in the last decade, that the government has put new rules in place, in order to prevent more neighborhood stores to open. Most of the time, business owners buy one or two houses within the neighborhood and convert them into supermarkets, without looking at negative aspects that may arise such as traffic issues and noise.
The 24-hour convenience store was restricted to a few operators in the 90s and before, but in the present, you may find more stores that are allowed to remain open 24-hours a day. Also, some 24-hours gasoline stations offer around-the-clock option to buy quick groceries.
Restaurants – Eateries – Food trucks
According to TripAdvisor, there are 431 restaurants in Aruba travelers are currently reviewing. This represents an Aruban restaurant density of 1 in each 6 mi2 or 23.6 restaurants per 10,000 inhabitants.
Aruba would belong in the Top 10 of most restaurant-dense US cities, place it among places as San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, and Boston.
In terms of variety, you will find European food options such as Italian (of course), Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, German and Dutch.
Regionally you will find the following cuisines: Venezuelan, Caribbean, American, Colombian, Peruvian, Surinamese and Mexican.
Farther away is also represented. Think about Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine.
In terms of variety, you won’t be disappointed. Apart from vegetarian and vegan, you find that all food groups are royally represented. Seafood, beef, pork, and poultry.
If you are looking for familiar brands of US-based restaurants, you won’t be disappointed. My suggestion, however, tries the local restaurants that offer top quality meals and services.
The food truck scene started in Aruba early on, together with the rise of casinos. When more casinos started opening in the 80s more people started working at the casino.
Casino dealers worked until the early hours, but couldn’t find places to eat. Food trucks saw their way clear to meet this demand and one truck after another popped up.
In the present food trucks have proliferated and have become a world on its own. Additional to the typical food truck menu, now there are themed food trucks, such as burger trucks, arepa and empanada trucks, Italian trucks, etc.
Lastly, I couldn’t finish this article without mentioning that food in Aruba is expensive. Especially if you live in North America or Europe you will notice this whilst here. Remember I mentioned above, that the production in Aruba is deficient, which means that everything is shipped in, causing food prices to be significantly elevated.
Additionally, real estate prices in prime hotel areas are high, which means that restaurants are paying steep rental fees or mortgages.
If you have questions or you think I missed something, please feel free to email me, leave a comment below, or contact me on social media.