The Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) was conceived to strengthen the United States’ trade relations with countries in the Caribbean region. As a result, CBI countries have become havens of duty-free goods, a welcome addition to the Caribbean’s long-established appeal.
This economic arrangement has since flooded the region with zero-levy goods, and presented Caribbean cruise travelers, even seasoned ones, with an onshore activity that is an attraction in its own right. To help the undecided shopper navigate the ocean of choices that await them as they flit from one port to another, a brief summary of island best buys is presented below.
- Antigua. Jams and jellies made from black pineapple are highly popular.
- Barbados. There is a dedicated craft village in this town, so handicrafts figure largely in the tourist trade.
- Cayman Islands. The Grand Cayman is best known for custom items made from black coral and tortoise shells. They are, however, illegal to bring back into the United States as marine turtles are protected species in the mainland.
- Dominican Republic. Jams, jellies, straw mats, baskets, handicrafts and coconut soap products are the island’s fastest moving inventories. Quilted products are also an emerging cottage industry.
- Grenada. The best spices can be bought here, as well as anything that requires mixing and matching of ingredients, like island-made perfume and jams and jellies.
- Guadeloupe. Along with Marigot and Martinique, Guadeloupe specializes in perfumes and cosmetics.
- Jamaica. The land of reggae is best known for anything artistic with a primitive touch, be it a painting, carving or pottery.
- Martinique. As part of France’s overseas collectivity, the island is famous for cosmetics and perfumes.
- Montserrat. Sea Island cotton is hand-woven right on the island, so table linens and clothing made of this silk-like fiber are the best to bring home.
- St. Kitts and Nevis. Silver and coral jewelry are the prime movers of the duty-free economy, along with hand-made and batik clothing.
- St. Lucia. The island has its own Sea Island cotton factories and sells the finest batik in the region. Its island-made perfumes compete with that of Grenada.
- Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. Marigot in Saint Martin is famous for high fashion clothing and accessories, cosmetics and perfumes. On the Dutch side, the Front Mile in Philippsburg is known for (gold, silver and coral) jewelry, liquor (Dutch gin) and leather goods.
- St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie, the region’s hypermarket for everything duty-free, is the go-to shopaholic’s paradise for gold, watches, crystal, china and cognac.
- San Juan. Religious icons, musical instruments and ceremonial masks made of wood are the hottest inventories in the capital of Puerto Rico.
When shopping, keep in mind that, in general, travelers to the Caribbean Basin are given up to $800 allowance on their duty-free purchases ($1,600 in American territories) and that some items (bullions of precious metals and large quantities of unset gemstones) are outright taxable at the Customs.
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