Best Caribbean Shopping
Island Shopping Yields Booze, Spices and Gems
Goods for sale to tourists in the Caribbean generally fall into 2 categories: locally made handicrafts, liquors and foodstuffs or duty-free and tax-free luxury goods. Stores and vendors in the port towns of many islands, especially those visited by large numbers of cruise ships, set up operating hours to accommodate cruise schedules and clientele. On smaller islands and villages outside the big ports, shoppers are more likely to find open-air markets and boutiques less geared toward tourists.
Dominican Republic: Larimar, Amber and Cigars
The Dominican Republic is the only place in the world where larimar, a pale-blue gemstone similar to turquoise, is naturally found. It is also one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where amber is mined. Both stones are widely available in jewelry pieces. Beware, though; street vendors sometimes try to pass off orange and blue plastic as the real thing.
The island is also famous for producing cigars. The most sought-after are those handmade in Santiago by the Fuente family and those from the Cibao Valley. Other locally made products include embroidery, fabric dolls, leather goods, rum and coffee. Boutiques on the island also stock garments by local-boy-done-good Oscar de la Renta, the world-famous fashion designer who was born in Santo Domingo.
St. Thomas: Duty-Free and Tax-Free Luxury Goods
Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, is a major port of call for cruise ships. It’s also considered one of the shopping capitals of the Caribbean. It helps that US citizens are allowed to take home more duty-free goods from the Virgin Islands than any other port of call, up to $1,600 worth of untaxed goods versus $800 from most other islands.
The city’s downtown includes a district of converted 18th-century warehouses with more than 400 shops. Visitors will find imported items such as liquor, china, crystal and jewelry, as well as locally produced goods such as shell jewelry, carved calabash bowls, straw brooms, woven baskets and handmade dolls. The warehouse district becomes extremely crowded when a cruise ship is in port, so shop accordingly. The local publication, This Week, details shops and available merchandise.
Curacao: Liqueur, Beer and Dutch Treats
This island’s most famous export is Curacao liqueur made from the laraha fruit, a tropical bitter orange descended from Valencia oranges brought to the island by the Spanish. Curacao is a Dutch island, and shoppers will find plenty of Delftware, clogs, cheeses and other items from the Netherlands. The Amstel brewery here claims to brew the only beer in the world using distilled seawater.
One of the most popular souvenirs people bring home from the “Island of Spice” is a woven basket filled with -- you guessed it -- spices, most commonly cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg. The spices are used to make necklaces, perfumes and rum. Other local products include straw baskets and hats, sisal items and wood carvings. Try shopping at Market Square at the foot of Young Street in St. George's, the capital of Grenada, or the Craft and Spice Market on Grand Anse Beach.
Jamaica: Coffee, Liqueur and Jerk Seasoning
Shoppers in Jamaica have their choice of many homegrown treats. Jerk seasoning -- a blend of Scotch bonnet peppers, allspice and other herbs -- is probably the island’s most ubiquitous spice mixture. Coffee grown in the island’s Blue Mountain region is known for its mild flavor and is used in the locally made liqueur, Tia Maria. Other popular souvenirs include Pickapeppa hot sauce, Jamaican rum, wood carvings, woven baskets and handmade sandals.
Trinidad and Tobago: Angostura Bitters and Rum
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, is known for Angostura bitters, a popular cocktail and food flavoring. The blend of natural herbs and spices was originally developed as a tonic by a German surgeon general in Simón Bolivar's army in Venezuela. Angostura Limited also produces the well-known rums, Old Oak Gold and Vat 19. Puerto Rico: Santos, Cuatros and Carnival Masks The best shopping district in Puerto Rico is Old San Juan. Locally made gems include santos, carved and painted wooden figurines of the patron saints, and cuatros, 10-string guitars and carnival masks made from paper mache. This area is also known for high-quality rum, coffee, cigars and hand-woven mundillo lace. US citizens pay no duty on anything bought in the territory.
Travel writer Trisha Creekmore has been to more than a dozen Caribbean islands. She bought one of her favorite necklaces, made of larimar, in the Dominican Republic.