Got the retail itch? Step away from the three-for-$20 T-shirts and those dreadful knitted caps with the dreadlocks attached! Savvy shoppers bring home authentic Caribbean goods that look good and/or work well, and evoke happy memories every time you look at them. Here are some of my favorite souvenir-snagging spots.
Irie Life, South Hill, Anguilla
There are T-shirts and then there are T-shirts. Irie Life sells the latter, and wearing one immediately marks you as one of Anguilla’s coolest customers (even the most stylish locals sport them around town). This store is located in South Hill and housed in a hilltop cottage painted red, green and gold. Expect trendy colors (neon Ts are current bestsellers) and styles (hoodies, burn-out textured stretch cotton), with nary a boxy crew-neck in sight.
Shop Smart: Make no mistake; Anguilla is notoriously pricey. Time your trip for the end of the summer, however, when shops are anxious to move leftover merchandise in advance of the winter high season, and you’ll score great deals.
Gallery of West Indian Art, Montego Bay, Jamaica
When I lived in Mo’Bay, this decades-old store secreted in a residential about 10 minutes’ drive from the city, was my go-to for Jamaican and Caribbean art and craft. Montego Bay’s, The Gallery is most famous for its menagerie of multi-colored “spotties,” hand-carved painted wooden animals stippled with white polka dots. But it is also a great find for handmade small furniture pieces and an impressive collection of colorful Cuban canvases. For more about Gallery of West Indian Art, visit them online.
Shop Smart: Don’t leave without a handmade Christmas tree ornament from the store’s year-round collection.
Olé, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Looking for the perfect Panama hat? Make a beeline for Puerto Rico and milliner Guillermo Jeffs’ tiny boutique on Old San Juan’s bustling Fortaleza Street, where you can browse more than 5,000 of them. Toppers start at a very reasonable $50 and rise to a whopping $4,000 for a hand-woven model that takes about two years to make. Whichever you choose, Guillermo will custom-fit the Panama to your head, employing his decades of experience – and a hat block and blow dryer – to ensure the perfect fit. For more information, visit Olé's Facebook Page.
Shop Smart: Ole offers more than 20 colors of hat ribbon to choose from, so instead of falling back on traditional black, get creative!
Mixik, Tulum, Mexico
I fell in love with the hand-carved wooden angels you see at resorts all over Mexico, so I was thrilled to hit pay dirt at this Tulum shop, which has a vast selection of the charming cherubs. It’s also jam-packed with locally crafted gifts, art and accessories you’ll find impossible to resist (or is that just me?)
Shop Smart: Can’t find what you want at the beachfront store? There’s also a larger location in el pueblo. Store can be reached at: 52-984-871-21-36
Zaka, Soufriere, St. Lucia
Simon Gajadhar used to be a shipwright but has clearly found his (ahem) groove as a wood carver and artist. Visit his fret-worked cottage in Soufriere, St. Lucia and you too will be enchanted by the colorful collection of masks and totems, all carved from recycled wood and old telephone poles. For more information about Zaka, visit their website.
Shop Smart: While the larger masks will set you back hundreds of dollars, prices for smaller pieces start at a very reasonable $20, so you can bring back something for everyone - even that grumpy woman in Accounting).
Jet Set Sarah, Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, is a Caribbean travel expert, award-winning travel journalist, and TV personality. Former executive editor of Caribbean Travel +Life magazine, she ventures to the beach and beyond, sharing the diverse culture, relaxed lifestyle and colorful people of the world’s favorite warm-weather destination. She is also jetsetter-in-chief at JetSetSarah.com, where travel and shopping meet.