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Smart Shopping in the Caribbean

For many who travel to the Caribbean, shopping is the highlight of their long awaited trip. 

Hal Peat

It could be a gift for someone else, or it could be a personal or home luxury item - whatever you may be exploring the shops for, you can come back with some excellent deals with just a little advance planning. Some general tips to prepare for a successful shopping excursion before you go:

Compare ahead - If you're visiting more than one duty-free port on an extended cruise, find out which each island has the most selection of retain names in the category of item you're possibly shopping for. Then also check and compare the different amounts of duty-free discounts allowed for your nationality to take out and bring home. It's all part of the final bottom line. You can usually find this information on the island's official tourism board website.

Locate ahead - If there are specific stores you already have in mind to visit or your time on the ground is limited, why not check on cross streets and exact locations for store online - most are even better mapped through Google maps or similar tracking than relying on street numbers which in stops like the Bahamas or Curaçao, often don't exist.

Shop ahead - If you get better terms from one jeweler than another, as far as insurance or warranty or service needs back home, this might play into your decision almost as much as the item price itself. Also, if you're traveling to more than one destination that also has another branch of the same merchant present, and you decide you want to return that item because you find a better deal or you're dissatisfied in any way, this might be the best opportunity to do just that.

The Bahamas

Thanks to its proximity to the U.S., the Bahamas is often either the first port of call or departure point for a longer cruise, or a one-stop flight for travelers from the eastern seaboard.

Grand Bahama Island - remains the most popular travel destination aside from Paradise Island/Nassau, and Port Lucaya has become the style community on the island, with some reliable luxury finds in luxury goods at hubs like the Port Lucaya Marketplace. Best finds include: jewelry, perfumes, Cuban cigars. Outstanding international shops to look out for in these categories at the Marketplace include: Colombian Emeralds, Prestige Perfumes, and also a host of small local and internationally recognized fashion boutiques such as Gucci, Tommy Bahama, Nautica, Bandolera. Port Lucaya and the nearby Radisson at Our Lucaya have plenty of dining options so you can break your shopping expedition up and refresh locally.

Nassau, New Providence - Bay Street's main downtown section in the Bahamian capital remains the hub of duty-free shopping action. Mostly covered sidewalks shelter avid shoppers from the afternoon sun - and you need to fit in your shopping here while it's daylight because most stores close at night and on Sunday. Again, keep your eyes alert for great finds in watches, jewelry, perfumes, but also there's good deals to be had in camera gear and fashion couture and accessories. Stop in at The Perfume Shop for browsing a broad range of the leading names in scents; international designer names with a storefront presence include Fendi and Coach. For the watch connoisseur, Cartier has its own location along Bay St., but you can find excellent emporiums that retail other leading watch names such as John Bull M Fondas Jewellers, or Jeweller's Warehouse Bay St. For jewelry, stop in at leading regional retailers such as Cole's of Nassau, Colombian Emeralds International, or Crown Jewellers. Nassau also allows you one very convenient way to acquire cigars without U.S. import problems: Graycliff Cigar Co. (at West Hill St.) offers its own hand-rolled cigars in the Cuban style minus the Cuban tobacco. If you're on Paradise Island, there's more duty-free shopping in the extensive mall area of Atlantis Resort, where you can find names like Faconnable, Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci.

St. Maarten

Once you get away from the central square area that sees most of the disembarking cruise travelers, the main street in downtown Philipsburg - the Voorstraat (Front Street) is often a pleasant pedestrian route that winds along the main harbor of this Dutch island. Since Front Street stretches for almost a mile, this is another location where you plan ahead and break up your expedition with some refreshment at some of the great small cafes in the neighborhood.

Shoppers will find that most prices are as much as 50% less than other countries and are quoted in U.S. dollars, saving you the confusion of sorting out the exchange rate. St. Maarten is an ideal stop for shoppers on the lookout for great deals in cameras and electronics. At the same time, a few yards away along Front Street will be an equally great buy for the watch or jewelry shopper. Just a few of the huge array of watch and jewelry merchants and brand names to look out for along here are: Joe's Jewelry International (for Philip Stein, Tissot, Parmigiani), Platinum Mine (for Escada, Jacob & Co., Lazare), Little Europe Jewelers (for Corum, Piaget, Concord, Movado, Gucci, Fendi), Artistic Jewelers (for David Yurman, Franck Muller, Van Cleef & Arpels), and Shiva's Gold & Gems (for Harry Winston, Carl F. Bucherer, Daniel Roth, Franck Muller).

Along Front Street, individual international store front names range from Tiffany to Tommy Hilfiger. The Sint Rose Shopping Mall on the boardwalk by Front Street features Cartier, Lalique, and Faconnable. For old world atmosphere and peaceful strolling, divert into Old Street, situated off Front Street, which home to pastel hued nineteenth-century houses that nowadays have become specialty shops. Maho Plaza (located by the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort) is another area for name-brand stores. For authentic local buys that are suitable for small gifts to take back home, art enthusiasts will come across native prints and crafts pieces as well as works from artists all over the Netherlands Antilles.


Brightly hued buildings in the Dutch colonial style line the Curaçao capital of Willemstad's shopping avenues, where you'll be able to find the greatest range of fine shopping on the island. Along with that, Willemstad is a scenic and atmospheric Caribbean port - and the worldly influences of Curaçao's trade post history remain abundant, making the shopping experience into a cultural exploration along the way. What you find in the side streets and shopping plazas: everything from European clothing and perfumes, African and Colombian jewelry, Venezuelan leather shoes and bags and Asian frabrics are just some of the spectacular items this town is strong on. For locally crafted clothes and island treasures to bring home as small gifts, peruse the small shops and outlets in the Punda neighborhood.

Curaçao is another "know before you go" destination as far as locating any particular merchant or boutique, since street signs can be rare. The main centers to focus on for shopping are Punda - in particular for the Breedestraat, Madurostraat and Handelskade that form the perimeters of this district. Handelskaade is bordered by cafes, shops and restaurants and is one of the prime places to include on any shopping foray on foot. For plenty of period style along with great buys, be sure to stop in at multi-level JL Penha & Sons, a bright yellow and white gabled building dating back to the early eighteenth century. Other notable leading jewelry and watch storefronts hereabouts include Boolchand Jewelers (for Movado, Seiko), Little Switzerland (for Roberto Coin, Zenith), Effy Collection and Colombian Emeralds International.

Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico cannot claim to be a duty-free paradise in its shopping avenues, it does have the advantage of often being the start for many a cruise experience and of course, a hub for many onward bound air travelers into the region - all of whom can can fit in some extra great shopping in more than one location around the capital of San Juan.

If you find yourself based over in the main beach resort areas of the city, venture into the Condado district for the chic boutiques and clothing stores lining the main drag of Av. Ashford. This hip district is home to such names as Cartier, Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton. Over in the Isla Verde area, you come across resort-based top outlets such as the Ritz-Carlton San Juan's branch of Little Switzerland (for Longines, Omega, Tiffany & Co.). But perhaps the most fun for sheer atmosphere and outlet shopping is to roam some of the main arteries of the Old San Juan neighborhood. Many of the best retail names are to be found here nowadays along Calle San Francisco and Calle Fortaleza, while Calle del Cristo is lined with some of the old city's most chic boutiques. International designer names to expect in this neighborhood include Coach, Ralph Lauren, or Tommy Hilfiger.

More Caribbean Shopping

Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
St. Barts
St. Croix
St. John
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Maarten
St. Martin
St. Thomas
Turks & Caicos
Virgin Gorda