Hotels Don’t Get The Palapas

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.

Illegal

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
Palapas at Eagle Beach

Sacred

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.

Holiday Inn

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Gabriel

Former Aruba tour guide, trying to provide value to Aruba travelers.

10 thoughts on “Hotels Don’t Get The Palapas”

  1. Great article and cause. Here is an idea. When you know the exact boundries, why not write a nice email as a private individual and ask every hotel, if you are allowed to use their palapas and if any restrictions apply. Then publish all of the replies here on your blog, I am sure something will come from that and it should be either a great eyeopener for the politicians or a great “binding” promise from the hotels.
    I would love to read much more from you on this.
    Best of lucks

    1. Hi there CB, thank for stopping by. That’s a good idea you have there and I certainly would consider it. I suspect that few hotels are really going to respond to the emails, but that besides the point.

  2. Hi Gabriel. I just have to comment here.

    This has been an ongoing debate in my family. I know that ALL the beaches in Aruba are PUBLIC. However, my parents own a Marriott time share, and they were given the impression when they purchased it, that the beach in front of it was owned by the resort, including the palapas and that the hotel had the right to reserve them for the hotel/timeshare guests only.

    The point is that the guests of the hotels seem to think that it is their RIGHT to ask non-hotel guests to relinquish their palapas. Whether or not the hotels themselves enforce this, is not known. But, the guests somehow get that idea, and the hotels are not doing anything to clarify the confusion.

    Our favorite hotel is the Boardwalk (located behind the Marriott across L.G. Smith Blvd., and not physically on the beach.) We used the beach in front of the Marriott.

    But, I was asked to leave a palapa on more than one occasion by hotel guests who have said that they had reserved it and that it was owned by the hotel. I even had someone tell me that, because I was not staying at the Marriott, I was not supposed to be on that beach at all.

    But, despite the disagreements with guests, I don’t think I would like to see the palapas removed. And here is my reasoning…

    At Baby Beach there are no palaps. If you want shelter from the sun, you can rent those tents. Those tents are absolutely an eyesore. I would much rather look at the tropical looking palapas.

    And with the tents being portable we had the inconvenience of another family plopping their tent way too close to ours. And this was Baby Beach with 10x less people than Palm Beach. At least the palapas are evenly spaced out and you don’t feel like you are “on top of each other” even if the beach is crowded.

    So again I am torn. Removing the palapas …good? or bad? I don’t know!

    1. Hi there Kimberly, thank you for this very extensive comment. Indeed I understand completely what your are saying. I can assure you that it’s misleading for any resort to make the claim that they own the palapas because they paid for it. You can’t build on a land that you don’t own. It’s not allowed here, I’m sure it’s not allowed where you live either.

      Having said that, officials allowed (condoned) it because of its public function. This doesn’t mean that the government (the public) relinquished ownership of the land to the builder of the palapas, which in most cases are the resorts. Today this still wouldn’t be a problem if there were no issues. Too often (non-guest) tourists complained about security officers being fresh to them, at times forcefully removing them. Also there are cases of infighting between the same hotel guests, or like another commenter called it “acting like spoiled kids”.

      Just like you I have mixed feelings about the whole thing as well. Apparently hotels abused their privileged position by building too many things and now are going to pay the consequences by losing them.

      Kimberly, I’ve noticed with the tone of some commentators on this website are very cynical and skeptical about this whole thing, at times attacking me for the support I supposedly have for this new policy. My stance is, I like the way a palapa looks (I’ve taken many pictures during the years and posted on this website). I just don’t like to see too many. Also, the ownership issue is very clear. Hotels don’t own the beach and don’t own the palapas. Access is universal for locals and all our guests (from every hotel).

      Aruba has 1.3 million visitors a year, which is an average of 15.000 people on any given day. It’s impossible to build nearly as much palapas as these figures suggest. Not even a fraction. Fact is that people need shade in some sort. Also, fact is that hotels don’t own the beaches.

      Perhaps the restructuring of beaches like Baby Beach, Arashi Beach and Mangel Halto should be followed. At these beaches the government build huts and palapas for general use. They fixed the parking area, put garbage bins and nice titles with the name of the corresponding beach.

      I’ve noticed that people are passionate about this issue, which in itself I’m proud of. Several commentators on this website have offered useful suggestions and comments. Other not so. Just keep them coming. Thanks again Kimberly.

  3. Just read about the new Aruba Tradewinds Club and had to update my comment I made earlier…

    This was taken from the Marriott’s own website…

    “Stroll down to the Tradewinds Club beach area – reserved exclusively for the guests of our privileged Aruba beach resort.” …

    “And guests staying in our Governor’s suite will have a palapa reserved – at no extra charge.” …

    With a Tradewinds Beach towel hut and a new Mandara Spa hut “directly on the Tradewinds Beach”

    I’m confused. It IS STILL PALM BEACH right?

    Anyway, I can see how the hotels are taking advantage of building on the PUBLIC beach areas.

    1. I’ve read about this when Marriott opened the Tradewinds. This is the fancy product of Marriott on the top floor of the Marriott building. I haven’t had chance to look how they organized this because I was wondering as well and yes, it’s still Palm Beach.

  4. Having just returned from two weeks in Aruba, I was surprised at the number of palapas at the hotels in Palm Beach. We have been going to Aruba for 23 years and feel the time has come to stop building period. No more hotels, palapas, restaurants. Bring Aruba back to what it used to be. This year there were a few palapas and huts at Baby Beach. If we would all learn to share and not feel so possessive, there would be enough protection from the sun with the existing chickees.

  5. I recently ran into a problem when I placed an above ground shetler on the beach at the marriott. The police came and told me I needed a permit. I told them this was not a permanent structure and I would take it down at the end of the day. They told me if I did not take it down they would AND fine me

    1. Andrew I think it’s very strange that the police would do that, unless that it really is a big structure. It’s difficult for me to speculate at this point.

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