Watches, jewelry, designer clothing, crystal, spirits (rum!), cosmetics, electronics and much, much more are part of the Caribbean shopping experience. Duty-free shops and upscale malls abound wherever cruise ships call, but prices may not be that much of a bargain. Truly unique items such as exquisite local craft items and artworks can be much harder to find.
Best Places to Shop
Harbour Island, Bahamas All the style you can afford.
Havana, Cuba Rum and cigars aplenty.
St George’s, Grenada Beautiful port city for browsing.
St Lucia Great for artwork and crafts.
Kingstown, St Vincent Heaving local market.
Jacmel, Haiti Technicolour Carnival papier-mâché art.
Doing Your Duty
The entire concept of ‘duty-free’ is fraught with confusion, most of which can cost you money.
There are two kinds of duty:
- Duty you pay when you buy something in a foreign country; this can be national taxes, value-added taxes (VAT), alcohol taxes etc.
- Duty you pay when you return home, such as customs levies on alcohol beyond the allowed duty-free purchase.
Typically ‘duty-free shops’ spare you the local taxes and fees on the purchase. You may have to show a passport or otherwise show that you’ll be leaving the country. Note that just because the store has ‘duty-free’ in the name doesn’t mean it is. Some still charge local sales taxes etc.
And note these additional considerations:
- Duty-free prices are not necessarily cheaper than what you’d pay at home, even with taxes.
- Duty or VAT reimbursement schemes – where you save receipts and fill out forms on leaving the country – may be so burdensome that you’ll wish you’d paid tax.
- Bottles of perfume, booze and other liquids won’t be allowed in your carry-on/hand luggage when you fly home. You will have to put them in checked luggage. (A few schemes are trying to change this.)
- Cruise lines may well seize your purchased liquor when you reboard the ship and stow it until you disembark, thus foiling your plans for a cheap party in your cabin.
Where to Shop
For local color in St John’s, skip Heritage Quay’s duty-free shops and instead head over to Market St, Thames St and St Mary’s St. Don't forget a bottle of English Harbour rum.
The malls in the resort area do not offer anything special, but downtown Oranjestad has a few unique shops where you can get aloe skin products and locally made handicrafts.
Emeralds, cigars, rum-cake, straw-work and a local hand-printed batik called Androsia are some of the most alluring buys The Bahamas can offer.
Visitors to Barbados will find small souvenir stands where local artists sell carved shells and other Caribbean-influenced knick-knacks.
Havana Club rum and Coiba cigars – need we say more! Now they are even legal to bring to the US (for personal consumption, of course).
There’s plenty of cigars, rum and schlock to go around, but the peculiar and potent drink mamajuana and jewelry made from the blue mineral larimar are two things you won’t find elsewhere.
Spice-themed souvenirs including spiced beverages and ornamental spices are the most popular gifts to take home, although not all are sure to make it through customs. Locally produced chocolate is a safe bet.
Everything is for sale, especially from ubiquitous beach vendors, though tourist souvenirs are frequently of very low quality. Blue Mountain coffee and Appleton rum are the best things to bring home with you.
Guadeloupe & Martinique
Rum is the best souvenir in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and there’s no shortage of choice, with many historic distilleries offering a sublime and affordable selection.
Coffee from one of Puerto Rico’s myriad mountain haciendas, or one of the island’s fabled alcoholic offerings (Bacardi from San Juan or moonshine rum from Jayuya) are great gifts; for a non-consumable souvenir, consider santos (carved religious figures).
Saba has a rich arts and crafts scene, with many artists and artisans living on the island; look out for locally made lace, art, jewelry, glass ornaments, natural cosmetics and Saba Spice liqueur.
St Lucia is home to many fine artists and artisans known throughout the region for the quality of their work. You’ll find precious hardwood carvings, batik prints and vibrant paintings.
Shopping options on St Vincent and the Grenadines are far less than in neighbouring countries although on Bequia there are some galleries and a couple of souvenir stall.
Haiti is arguably the best place in the Caribbean to buy art, particularly of the Vodou or Carnival-themed varieties. Pick up papier mâché from Jacmel or carved iron art from Croix de Bouquets. A bottle of Barbancourt rum aged 15 years isn’t a bad idea, either.
Trinidad & Tobago
Don’t leave without locally made chocolate (bars from Brasso Seco, Tobago Estate or Brasso Seco Chocolate Co, and Cocobel bon-bons), cocoa tea rums and aromatic bitters made by Angostura; many of the craft souvenirs are actually made in China.
The island is home to a handful of artist studios; other unique items to take home include salt from the recently established Anguilla Sea Salt Company, which is reviving the island's once-thriving salt industry on a boutique scale.
St-Barth is a duty-free port and features the most exclusive labels in the world (Hermès, Cartier, Louis Vuitton et al), in addition to small, locally owned labels, such as Made in Saint-Barth and Ligne Saint-Barth, with name-branded sweatshirts, cloth bags and cosmetics, and local designs such as hand-painted ceramic tiles depicting St-Barth beaches.
Philipsburg is awash with duty-free shops, particularly along Front St, while Grand Case has some chic homewares and clothing boutiques; unique items to take home include local rum and fragrances from Tijon in Grand Case, which you can also create yourself during a perfume-making course.
Statia's only shopping, supermarkets aside, consists of two gift and souvenir shops in Oranjestad's Lower Town, one of which, Little House on the Bay, is a good spot to pick up local arts and crafts.
Downtown Kralendijk is a tiny but charming place to shop, with an Artisan Market that sets up on cruise ship days. Local specialties include salt (of course) and Cadushy liqueur made from a cactus.
Avoid the uninspiring shopping malls in Willemstad, and buy your souvenirs instead at the local art galleries. Don’t forget a bottle of the island’s namesake liqueur.
For locally made items, skip the shopping malls and head to the Cayman Craft Market and to the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory.
Local rum rarely gets exported, so pick up a bottle of Macoucherie on Dominica. You can also find traditional pottery and baskets handmade by the indigenous Kalinago.
US Virgin Islands
Jewelry, watches and luxury brand items open wallets, especially in Charlotte Amalie. Cruzan Rum (made on St Croix) is an easy-to-find crowd pleaser.
British Virgin Islands
Sunny Caribbee spices and Pusser's Rum are favorites for a taste of the islands. Tourist souvenirs in the markets are the usual hats, T-shirts and knick-knacks.
Turks & Caicos
Among the shoddy mass-produced beachwear and garishly pink conch ‘artworks’ on offer, there’s also good local rum, hot sauces and hand-made jewellery to be found.
Best Shopping Advice
Understand duty-free It may not be the bargain you think.
Learn to bargain Take the fear and mystery out of the process and make it fun.
Buying rum Sample your way to greater knowledge.