A short time ago I wrote a rather large piece about the rules and rights on the so called palapas. These are the wooden huts covered with palm leaves planted – sometimes ruining the beach by using cement – on the beaches – mostly – illegally by resorts.
What makes palapas illegal anyway? The law states that any structure build permanently on beaches or otherwise needs a building permit according to the building code. It gets more complicated when hotels start to build on the beaches limitlessly. Mind you, not only palapas are being build but also other structures, such as bars, restaurants, towel huts, massage areas, etc.
Palapas at Eagle Beach
Another twist is the fact that beaches are considered sacred by locals. As opposed to many islands in the Caribbean all Aruba beaches are public and access is free and unrestricted. This is the only “natural resource” this island has to offer. We allow concession holders (hotels) to exploit their property economically, including allowing their guests to use the beaches for free. Naturally we allow the users of the world (visitors) to use them for free, without restrictions, as well.
What’s your beef
The beef with the palapas are multiple. In the past there wasn’t need for regulation as resorts and tourism numbers were small, thus making the palapas actually add a nice touch to the beach. For this reason officials didn’t see need to regulate it. Now, however, it’s getting out of hand. Resorts are building like no tomorrow. Add to the equation the construction of Ritz Carlton at Palm Beach, beaches are under pressure now more than ever. Locals feel like they are losing out and the beaches are without protection.
A reader sent me an email about issues he had at the Holiday Inn about the usage of the palapas there. Apparently management told him he couldn’t use the palapas. I’m not aware about the details exactly, however, I’m aware that the Holiday Inn property borders the closest to the beach, more than any other resort at Palm Beach. Obviously they are allowed to build as many palapas as they please on their property and restrict the usage for paying costumers. Not beyond property lines.
Respect the law
What am I going to do? Currently I’m digging into the public registers and looking where it is exactly the property line of the hotels end. I’m also looking into the legislation of Aruban building code, organic laws about land ownership and the recently passed law on territorial zonification. I’m going to write a friendly letter for users to download, this way you can show it to anyone in case of doubt. I will also add the corresponding legislation to back up the claims in the letter.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to start trouble here. I fundamentally believe that we need to respect the rule of law, especially the powerful business interest. Even if it is for something “silly” like palapas. If we pretend to grow towards sustainable tourism in Aruba certain things need to be clarified and regulated, otherwise conflicts will ensue and at the end product “Aruba” will suffer as a consequence. A word of advise to all hotels managers: tourists coming from other hotels, condos or apartments are our guests here in Aruba as well and are equally important to us Arubans. Treat them well this time, and who knows, next time they might become a paying customer.