Caribbean Duty Free Shopping Article

Shop till you drop…Caribbean style

Article written by Travel Writer Linda Jackson

Caribbean duty free shopping ports

The quintessential attractions of the Caribbean need no introduction. But maybe the attraction of Caribbean duty free shopping at ports or onboard cruise liners does. Even though bigger and bigger cruise ships sail to more and more destinations, the Caribbean still remains the Number One. This rich and varied region is regularly plied by cruise ships offering a particularly inviting way to explore a cluster of different islands in a matter of days, giving a tantalising taste of the Caribbean’s multiplicity and an insight into the world of duty-free shopping.

Let’s face it… retail therapy is practically the law when “duty-free” comes into the equation. Who can resist the allure of buying jewellery, perfume, sunglasses, electronics, leather goods and designer brands at up to 50% discount at duty-free ports and onboard plush cruise ships? As soon as the ship has ventured into international waters 50 miles offshore, onboard duty-free shops open their doors, selling luxury brand names in fashion, jewellery, watches, glassware, leather goods and perfume at classy boutiques and shops. Goods are competitively priced with duty-free shops at ports-of-call (but purchases onboard almost certainly will carry a guarantee); a plethora of perfumes can be sampled during your cruise, and there’s plenty of time to convince your other half that the designer outfit or diamond ring you spotted is a “must” for your wellbeing. Some cruise ships even produce their own stylish jewellery such as specially cut diamonds set in rings, pendants and ear-rings; and new cruise ships coming into service boast shops more akin to mini-department stores with an incredible array of merchandise.

Shopping in duty-free Caribbean ports can be as attractive to visitors as the region is to its fair share of celebrities. You might rub shoulders in the Bahamas with Johnny Depp; maybe catch a fleeting glimpse of Uma Thurman in a sophisticated boutique on the chic island of St Barts, or spot the likes of Bill Clinton or Paris Hiltonen route to Anguilla, an elite island retreat just twenty minutes from neighbouring duty-free shopping hotspot Saint Martin/Sint Maarten.

Let’s look at some of the islands where celebrities could enjoy Caribbean duty free shopping…

Caribbean duty free shopping in Saint Martin / Sint Maarten

This French-Dutch island is a great two-for-one bargain; two cultures, two nations, no duties on merchandise, and no sales tax. Savings can be as much as 50%. This port-of-call is a favourite with cruise lines. Here, visitors will discover fine elegant French fashions, crystal and perfume on the French side, from shops a stone’s throw from picturesque Marigot Waterfront. Meander down rue de la Républic for chic women’s clothing, and rue du Général de Gaulle for perfumes and cosmetics. For local crafts, flavoured rum, spices, T-shirts and souvenirs, visit the waterfront open-air market that sprawls along Boulevard de France.

Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side, is a different kettle of fish. It is much busier, with flashy casinos, dynamic nightclubs and narrow streets, and is one of best places to shop in the Caribbean. Shops are concentrated along Front Street (boutiques stretch along the entire length), Back Street, and in adjacent narrow alleys. Concentrate on electronics, cameras, watches, leather goods, jewellery, crystal and linens. Enjoy a Guava berry tipple too, at the Guavaberry Emporium on Front Street; it’s aged local rum with a distinctive fruity/woody kick.

Duty free shops in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands (USVI)

Heralded as the shopping capital of the Caribbean, St Thomas offers every genre of retail therapy imaginable, ranging from local handicrafts to items from Europe’s most notable designers, with a saving of up to 40% on some well-known brands. Go for jewellery, watches, cameras, china and leather here, they are the main bargain goodies. The major downtown shopping area, Main Street, is a short walk from the cruise terminal and located alongside the harbour of historic Charlotte Amalie, once the Danish capital of the now-US Virgin Islands. Discover quaint streets (called Gades), alleys, passages, and old warehouses once used to store spices, rum and molasses and now housing fashionable boutiques, art galleries and craft shops. Located on the cruise ship dock, Havensight Shopping Mall boasts over 100 stores selling merchandise ranging from electronic goods and jewellery to beachwear and souvenirs. Nearby Yacht Haven Grande (a mega-yacht marina) is perfect for a retail therapy splurge; expect to find an array of designer boutiques including Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Coach, Salvatore Ferragamo, Diamonds International and Little Switzerland.

Caribbean duty free shopping in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Ranked amongst the best islands for Caribbean duty free shopping, with prices sometimes lower than even those in St Thomas, bustling San Juan has some great bargains; founded in 1521 it now has the busiest and most important port in the West Indies for cruise lines. Old San Juan, an ancient walled city with cobblestone streets, oozes ambiance with its ancient churches, Spanish forts, sun-drenched plazas and brightly-painted colonial houses. Competitively priced jewellery and watches can be found in Old San Juan where the cruise ships dock; Calle San Francisco and Calle del Cristo being the main shopping streets. Although these streets are dominated by jewellery shops and geared to tourists, some of the local handicrafts are great buys. Look for expertly crafted products unique to the island – folkloric Vejigantemasks (papier-mâché carnival masks) and santos (hand-carved wooden figures depicting saints), as well as wall hangings, paintings by local artists, and handmade hammocks. Designer outlet shops also on Calle del Cristo include Polo Ralph Lauren; Coach – for stylish leather goods (belts, bags, purses, wallets, briefcases), and Dooney and Bourke, handbag specialists.

More Caribbean duty free shopping

Grand Cayman shopping: Famed for its powdery white sand beaches, luxury hotels, and being a Mecca for divers and snorkelers, this island is also a duty-free destination with a daunting collection of malls and mini-malls, most situated along Seven Mile Beach. Check out china and crystal, perfumes, watches and fine jewellery; select luxury items can be as much as 30% less expensive here; local art is sought after, and speciality stores offer some unusual buys such as Caymanian-style birdhouses, crocheted items, treasure coin jewellery, Caymanite (the island’s semi-precious stone) jewellery and sculptures.

Guadeloupe shops: Think Chanel, Saint Laurent, Hermès, Baccaret; in fact, think anything French… perfumes, scarves, cosmetics, crystal. A number of stores in the narrow crowded streets of Pointe-à-Pitre, the main city of the Grand-Terre half of this sophisticated French island, will offer up to 20% discount on their goods. Head for Rue Frébault, it’s one of the best shopping streets for duty-free goods and is located directly in front of the port. For a real flavour of the island, stop to eat; Guadeloupe’s Creole cuisine is a delectable “must”.

Shopping in St Barts: Ritzy, chic and sophisticated, St Barts is an idyllic retreat for the rich and famous and all about relaxing. It also has a doll-sized harbour and duty-free port with good deals on perfume, French luxury items, clothes, porcelain and watches. For an array of fine jewellery, head for rue de la République in Gustavia; you’ll also find high-style women’s fashions, and big-name brands such as Roberto Cavalli, Hermès, Burberry and Cartier. For the best Sales, be there in April.

If you’re a savvy traveller, you’ll be prepared to hit duty-free shops running, whether at retail nirvana on luxury cruise ships or at duty-free ports: you’ll know your target; have checked prices of silver, gold, watches and designer wear before leaving home; made a note of what your home country’s customs limits are, and be ready to bargain for the best prices. Purchase exotic items in an exotic location and you’ll have long-lasting memories of your enjoyable trip, and more than a little smugness at getting a good deal (an essential ingredient of any shopping delight) by snapping up this season’s en vogue scent or to-die-for handbag at a fraction of the High Street price.

[June 2015]

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