By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
People experience the Caribbean through several prisms: food, nature, rum, and beaches, to name a few. But my experience of a given destination revolves around its “shopportunities,” authentic local art, craft and design that I just have to have. Buying a handmade bag or a bottle of banana ketchup is my way of taking home a piece of an island, a tangible reminder of not only a good time but also of the true color and culture of a country. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that I couldn’t ferret out a good find, but for goodies guaranteed to please, here are my top Caribbean shopping spots.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
I’ve spent many an afternoon combing the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan for worthy buys, and there are three places where I always have to check out the current merch. Concalma sells limited-edition fabric totes in an eye-popping array of patterns; Luca is my go-to for feminine jewelry and minimalist clothing; and Olé is a tiny emporium of genuine Panama hats you can customize with the ribbon of your choice. And when I’m in Condado, Puerto Rico Diseña, a pop-up shop at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel, is a must for on-trend clothing, jewelry and accessories from the island’s coolest young talent.
There’s so much local art and craft to buy on the Caribbean’s largest English-speaking island, you’re going to need to pack an extra bag. I’m partial to Gene Pearson’s majestic sculpted masks and ceramists Margaret McGhie and David Pinto’s tableware. Check your hotel gift shop for handmade leather kicks from Bridget Sandals and Callaloo Clothing’s riotously colorful clutch bags and kids’ clothes. And, of course, don’t dare leave island without a pound of Blue Mountain coffee and some Appleton rum.
St Thomas, USVI
Although Charlotte Amalie has the Caribbean’s largest concentration of duty-free shops, that’s not the reason why this USVI makes my list. I bypass the big brands on Main Street and duck into the arcades that lead off it toward the waterfront. With evocative names such as Drake’s Passage, Raadets Gade, Palm Passage and Hibiscus Alley, they’re chock-a-block with find chic boutiques, and artisan’s outlets. And I love Zora’s of St Thomas on Norre Gade, where Zora (and now her daughter and son-in-law) have been handcrafting leather sandals since 1962.
The shopportunities at the airport here are limited to say the least, but Aragorn’s Studio, just a five-minute walk from EIS on Beef Island’s Trellis Bay, is a one-stop treasure trove of crafty covetables from every corner of the Caribbean. Find jewelry from Carriacou; coconut leaf “paintings” from St. Vincent, and owner Dick Aragorn’s copper sculptures and signature fireballs.
They may be pricey but you gotta love this island’s hotel boutiques, where the inventory strikes just the right balance between “beach” and “chic.” The stores at the Viceroy, Frangipani and Cuisinart resorts get my vote, but Anguilla also has solid independent boutiques, such as ZaZaa (for sarongs and statement jewelry); Irie Life (the coolest T-shirts in town); Seaspray for handcrafted souvenirs; and newcomer Limin’ for photo-real clutch bags and jewelry made with local sand. Hot tip: Shop late summer, when stores are clearing inventory to make space for new-season styles, and reap huge savings.
St Croix, USVI
If you’re a jewelry lover beat a path to Christiansted, where a silver or gold hook bracelet is this island’s iconic souvenir. Start with the original at Sonya’s on Company Street, where the wristlet was popularized decades ago, and then find modern iterations on the theme at IB Designs across the street and Crucian Gold around the corner. Another local find is Itiba in Frederiksted, where they sell a handmade line of all-natural, minimally processed lotions, soaps, oils and body butters with heady tropical scents.
The slickest shopping local in the Caribbean has to be Camana Bay, a mixed-use shopping, residential and commercial village just outside George Town. Even though many of the boutiques here sell imported goods, local shopportunities abound at the Wednesday artisan’s market, where I snag everything from homemade pepper jelly to jewelry made from conch and whelk shells and sandals woven from dried leaves of the islands’ Silver Thatch palm. There’s plenty more art and craft at Pure Art, a 100-year-old gingerbread cottage packed to the rafters with handmade jewelry, sculpture, art and wood carvings from the Cayman Islands and elsewhere in the Caribbean.