One way to relive your travel exploits over and over is to decorate your home with unique mementos from the places you’ve visited. When it comes to tropical islands in the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda, you’ll find many talented artisans that craft one-of-a-kind gifts to take home. Look for everything from woodcarvings and jewelry made of locally sourced gems to pottery and hand-dyed fabrics. And, don’t miss out on some of the delectable treats from these destinations. Fill your suitcase with real vanilla and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. Heck, bring an extra suitcase just for this reason—you won’t find this stuff at home! Read on for our advice on finding the best souvenirs in some of the world’s most popular tropical ports of call.—Andrea M. Rotondo
WHERE: Puerto Rico
Many Caribbean cruises embark or disembark in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When you’re there, stroll through Old San Juan and set your sights on purchasing a piece of art in the form of a colorful, whimsical vejigante mask. The lore of the vejigante actually dates back to Spain’s medieval period–and it depicts a demon. When the masks made their way to Puerto Rico, Caribbean and African influences were incorporated. Typically, masks are hand-painted and made from coconut husks, gourds, and papier-mâché. The best part about them is that each one is as unique as the artist who crafted it.
Insider Tip: You can buy vejigante masks at Puerto Rican Art & Crafts at 204 Fortaleza Street or El Galpon at 154 Cristo Street, both in Old San Juan.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Puerto Rico Travel Guide
Amber and Larimar Jewelry
WHERE: Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is gifted with two sought-after gems: amber and larimar. Jewelry featuring one or the other makes a great memento of your trip. Buy your amber at the gift shops that are run by the Dominican Amber Museum. There’s an outlet right at the museum in Puerto Plata, at The Plaza in Playa Dorada, and at Coral Marien in Costa Dorada. Larimar is only found in the Dominican Republic and it has a dreamy blue/green color that pairs well with silver. The Larimar Museum gift shop sells jewelry, as do many jewelry shops across the country.
Insider Tip: Amber is actually fossilized resin from trees that are at least 20 million years old. Some pieces feature leaves, feathers, insects, or seeds trapped inside and make for unique conversation pieces.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Dominican Republic Travel Guides
You cannot leave this island without shopping for an authentic pair of Bermuda shorts. This “fashion statement”—originally designed by the owner of a teashop during World War I—caught the eye of the British navy that adopted Bermuda shorts for its officers that were stationed there. Today, these knee-length shorts made from cotton twill fabric—available for men, women, and children—are made by TABS, the authentic Bermuda shorts company. Pick up a pair at shops across Bermuda, including A.S. Cooper near Hamilton’s Passenger Terminal. You’ll find many color choices, including lavender and purple, green and blue, red and coral, and yellow and beige. Best of all, you’ll look great.
Insider Tip: If you’re not the shorts-wearing type, there are some food-related souvenirs you should pick up, including a Horton’s rum cake or pepper jams, jellies, and sauces from either Outerbridge’s Original or Onion Jacks Trading Post.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bermuda Travel Guide
It can be difficult to find authentic, handcrafted gifts on some Caribbean islands, but Barbados isn’t one of them. If you’re shopping for yourself or for gifts for friends back home, take a 20-minute taxi ride from Bridgetown Cruise Terminal to Earthworks Pottery in the Edgehill Heights section St. Thomas parish. This workshop showcases handmade plates, bowls, vases, candleholders, and full dinnerware sets. Everything is made from red-clay ceramic that is molded and then fired to stoneware temperatures.
Insider Tip: It’s not easy carrying home large, fragile souvenirs from the Caribbean. Consider letting Earthworks Pottery ship your purchase right to your home—especially if you’re buying an entire dinnerware set
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Barbados Travel Guide
Batik and Silk-Screened Fabrics
WHERE: Saint Lucia
Even if you’re not interested in picking up handmade fabric, it’s worth a trip to Caribelle Batik in Castries. Artisans work in a studio within an historic Victorian-era mansion at the top of Morne Fortune. You’ll watch craftspeople design batik fabric using wax and dye to create unique designs. Silk-screened creations are also available. Visit the gift shop for clothing, scarves, handbags, and wall hangings. Afterwards, walk the gardens and enjoy a tropical drink on the expansive terrace.
Insider Tip: Batik clothing wears well over time, but you can extend its life span by hand-washing the pieces or putting them in your washing machine on the “delicate” setting.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s St. Lucia Travel Guide
WHERE: Grand Cayman
Many a tourist picks up a bauble or two when visiting Grand Cayman. But, don’t relegate yourself solely to duty-free products. Instead, buy something that is unique to the Cayman Islands: caymanite. Formed on the islands some 25 million years ago, caymanite looks a bit like marble. Each piece is unique and that makes it ideal for jewelry creations. You can shop for caymanite gifts at the Cayman Craft Market, the Cayman Islands National Museum, and Pure Art (on South Church Street in George Town).
Insider Tip: Other uniquely Cayman gifts include Silver Thatch palm handicrafts and Cayman sea salt. Both can be found at the craft market and various gift shops across the island.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cayman Islands Travel Guide
Blue Mountain Coffee
If you savor a drink of Tia Maria every now and then, you’re actually a fan of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee—the beans of which are the base of the liqueur. Coffee from the Blue Mountains is revered but it’s pricy, in part, because a large percentage of the coffee is exported to Asian countries like Japan. That’s why you owe it to yourself to buy some coffee to take home when you visit Jamaica. You can purchase certified Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee at most gift shops and supermarkets on the island.
Insider Tip: If you fall in love with a particular brew, you may be able to order it online once you’re home. Look to Amazon for Wallenford or Jablum Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Jamaica Travel Guide
If you’re a baking aficionado, you already know the reputation of Mexican vanilla. It is coveted around the globe for its superb, rich flavor and you can get it when your cruise ship calls on Cozumel. Just be sure you are buying real vanilla—all you have to do is look on the bottle. If it contains more than 2 percent alcohol or the additive coumarin, put it back on the shelf and shop elsewhere. Coumarin has been banned in the United States for decades due to its negative effect on the kidneys. Yikes. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Look for well-respected brands like Los Cinco Soles and Orlando.
Insider Tip: If you have time, buy your vanilla in a supermarket. You’ll pay less than you would in a gift shop.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cozumel Travel Guide
Plaited Straw Hats and Bags
Bahamians have long used the islands’ natural resources to create strong and beautiful braided baskets, hats, and bags from straw, coconut palm, and sisal. At the dawn of the straw industry in the 1940s, these products were utilitarian—baskets for harvesting fruit and bags for shopping. But, as more and more tourists began visiting the Bahamas, artisans devoted their time to crafting unique souvenirs to sell in straw markets across the archipelago. Nassau Straw Market is the most famous of the shopping venues. Here you’ll find all types of straw crafts at a range of price points, in addition to other handcrafted items like woodcarvings and dolls.
Insider Tip: Walk the entire market before making a purchase–many of the stalls sell the same handicrafts. When you find something you like, haggle on price. This is expected.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bahamas Travel Guide