Shopping in the Caribbean

There are plenty of interesting shopping opportunities throughout the Caribbean

Photo credit: © St Maarten Tourist Bureau

For many years the Caribbean was considered a shopping Mecca and a hot spot for bargains on imported luxury goods. While this may still be true to some extent, new international alliances and trade agreements have slowly changed the face of commerce in the region.

What's more, travelers in the know are taking a close look at the goods being produced by local artisans, often made with native materials. Caribbean craftspeople bring to their work a rich and colorful blend of the Native American, African, and European influences that make up their culture. Tropical flowers may be made into perfumes, for example, while tree bark, palm fronds, grass and straw are turned into fashionable handbags, hats, and sandals.

Shopping in the Caribbean is an experience like no other.


Locally grown produce and spices yield a delightful array of jams and jellies, soaps, jerk seasonings, cosmetics and hot sauces. Jewelry is handcrafted from natural amber, shells and bits of broken sea glass. Shopping for items like hand-hewn pottery, island coffee, rum, and cigars, is sure to engender a deeper appreciation of West Indian culture.

Throughout the Caribbean, shopping locales range from ultra-modern, air-conditioned malls to independent vendors who set up shop in the rural byways; you'll have your pick of chain stores and open-air markets. In Cancún, Mexico, for instance, you'll find well-known stores at large shopping malls as well as authentic Mexican wares in smaller stores downtown.

In some places, like Aruba, you won't have to pay sales tax on your purchases. These standards will vary greatly in the Caribbean; island sales clerks may not know all the rules about duty limits and taxes. Find out before leaving home what you'll be allowed to bring back, and at what cost. Also investigate what products are considered contraband. For example, items made from feathers of endangered birds or products derived from sea turtles are illegal. Laws will vary from port to port, so do your research before shopping to avoid losing your purchase, incurring a fine, or being detained.

Some Favorite Destinations for Shopping
Island Shopping Information
Antigua The main shopping district is in St. John's. You'll find British woolens, duty-free linens, an assortment of luxury goods, and locally made rum, dolls, pottery, and shell crafts. Don't miss the farmer's market.
Barbados The primary shopping area is in Bridgetown on Broad Street. If you have a passport or some other form of ID and a departure airline ticket, you can make your purchases duty-free. Here you'll find imported English bone china as well as watches, perfume, antiques and many other luxury items.
Dominican Republic Here you'll find the best in designer fashions by native son Oscar de La Renta. Amber and larimar, a pale-blue, semi-precious gemstone, are mined here and made into jewelry. Keep in mind that amber and larimar jewelry should probably be obtained from established dealers. Orange plastic and bits of blue glass have occasionally been passed off as the real things. Dominicans also make rocking chairs, already boxed and ready for you to assemble when you get home, and hand-rolled Fuente cigars. You'll also find lovely embroidered items, mahogany and cedar wood carvings, dolls, rum, and coffee here.
Jamaica You may find it hard to leave this island without the homemade and enticing, chocolate-flavored liqueur called Tia Maria and the sizzling Pickapeppa Hot Sauce. In addition to shopping for bargains on cameras, watches and electronics, you'll also find flavored rums, sculptures, woven baskets and mats, jerk seasoning, sandals and world-class coffee. As an added bonus, you just may stumble across a collectible that happens to be increasing in value; artworks coming out of Jamaica are becoming hot commodities in the art world.
Puerto Rico Regular visitors say the best shopping district here is in Old San Juan, where there is no duty for citizens of the United States. The typical assortment of china, crystal, cameras, watches, jewelry, and electronics is always on hand. Don't miss the "santos," carved and painted wooden figurines of the patron saints. Other local handmade specialties include "cuatros," ten-string guitars, and carnival masks made from papier-mâché. This area is also known for high quality rum, coffee, cigars and hand-woven mundillo lace.
Bahamas On these popular islands, the International Bazaar in Freeport and the Port Lucaya Marketplace are two of the best-known places to find a whole host of luxury goods imported from around the world. There are many tax-exempt items. The Straw Market on Bay Street in Nassau is another legendary Caribbean spot where you'll find t-shirts, batik wear, antique maps and, of course, a plethora of handmade straw goods.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands In downtown Charlotte Amalie, the capital city, there is an area of warehouses built in the 1700's, which now includes more than 400 shops in the converted spaces. Take note: The warehouse district is extremely busy when a cruise ship is in port. Duty-free goods are a-plenty here, and just as in many other Caribbean shopping destinations, you can find great deals here on cameras, watches, china, crystal, gems, jewelry, designer clothing, electronics, liquor, linens, rum, and perfume. Also be on the lookout for native specialties like straw brooms, dolls, calabash bowls, baskets and shell jewelry.

In most of the established shops of the Caribbean, bargaining is not welcome, and may even be considered insulting. You might cautiously try to do so at open-air markets or with street vendors. However, profits from selling homegrown or handmade items are likely to be the local person's only income, so prices aren't usually set artificially high.

Shopping in the Caribbean is an experience like no other.  Whether you shop in open air markets, high-end boutiques, or somewhere in between, the multitude of duty free shopping ports and discounted items means that you will almost always go home with a deal in your suitcase. 


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