Many destinations in the Caribbean are third world countries. Tourism is usually their main source of income for the economy. It’s many locals’ livelihood. So when you arrive to their port, they will often be very aggressive in their approach to gain your business. This, for me, was very overwhelming when I first started cruising. I’ve since learned a few tricks for navigating local sellers.
1. Don’t be afraid to bargain.
I have never been very good at it. If they say it costs $20, I didn’t question it. But actually, I’ve learned that there is a lot of wiggle room in the prices of local items most of the time. They work really hard on the items they make so I definitely don’t want to undercut, but I don’t want to overpay for a beaded bracelet either. Sometimes, of course, I’m willing to pay more than what it’s likely worth depending on the demeanor of the person selling it.
2. Don’t pull out a wad of cash.
If you say you don’t have any more than $10 but pull out a $20 bill asking for change, don’t be surprised if the price of whatever you’re buying goes up. Also, by doing that, you’re basically putting a big sign on your head that says, “I’ve got a bunch of cash on me.” Make sure you have a good variety of smaller bills, like 1’s, 5’s, and 10’s.
3. Go off the beaten path.
Sure, the areas directly surrounding the port of call usually aren’t bad. But once you go outside those areas you will find the true beauty of the Caribbean. Find a local to drive you around to where the locals go and you’ll be surprised at how different it looks from the brochures. This is what I’m more likely to do versus booking an excursion. Sure, an excursion is exciting but, to me, going out on your own to see what the locals see and eat what the locals eat is the real adventure and allure of visiting a new place.
4. Sample the local fare (and drinks!).
There are also some very good local breweries in the Caribbean. Caribe, in particular, is my favorite light beer I’ve tried in the region.
5. Participate in the culture.
Music is a major part of Caribbean culture. It’s not uncommon to walk up on a group circled around some steel drums doing some island-style dancing. When in Rome…or the Caribbean…am I right!?
Whether you’re headed to San Juan, Cozumel, St. Thomas, or the Bahamas, you’ll find that these tips are pretty much universal throughout the Caribbean islands.