If you went to the Caribbean and you didn’t buy anything when you got there, did you even go? As far as I’m concerned, you absolutely did not! Buying something—ideally beautiful and/or useful and locally made—is a great way to remember your trip and to support the local economy, particularly when you buy from independent makers. As a black-belt international shopper, no boutique, roadside stand or craft store can escape my eagle eye and ready credit card. And I’m proud to say that I’ve amassed quite the collection of island mementos, some of which I’m sharing here. So next time you’re in the Caribbean, back away from the cheesy fridge magnets and shot glasses and buy yourself—and your friends—something truly special.
BAHAMIAN BATIK Nothing says “Bahamas” like the hand-blocked batik textiles produced by Androsia, which has been churning out the colorful cloth since 1973, when it was dyed on the beaches of Andros. Visit the factory there to buy the islands’ unofficial national fabric—as well as clothing, table linens and accessories made with it —or pick up some pieces at their Nassau outlet.
BAJAN TABLEWARE I love souvenirs that inspire collecting and offer an excuse to buy more on every trip. And the distinctive crockery from the St. Thomas, Barbados pottery Earthworks fits the bill, with more than 50 signature hand-painted place setting patterns to choose from. Side plates and mugs are a great start to your collection.
A TASTE OF CAYMAN Cold cuts, cheese and crackers, your Sunday roast…almost everything tastes better with this Caymanian condiment, which pairs a spicy kick with a sweet finish. Buy it in local supermarkets, but take my advice and make sure you buy more than one. Because, as we say in the Caribbean, it’s “more-ish!”
HAUTE HATS If you’re following me on Insta you know how much I love hats. I wear them (a lot!) but I also decorate with them. Case in point: these fabric-covered straw salakos, traditionally worn by fishermen from Les Saintes, two of the islands in Guadeloupe’s five-island archipelago. My pair brighten up my bathroom, but you can mount one on any wall and enjoy some French-Caribbean flair in any room of the house.
SAN JUAN STYLE Yes, I know, Panama hats are actually from Ecuador. But at Olé, a tiny hat and souvenir shop on Fortaleza Street in Old San Juan, you’ll have your pick of hundreds of the straw toppers, that the owner, Guillermo Jeffs will custom-fit to your head using a blow dryer (!) and then personalize with the colored ribbon of your choice. Beats a boring baseball cap, any day of the week!
VIRGIN ISLAND HOOK-UP Don’t leave the USVI without at least one of the island’s iconic hook bracelets, originated on St. Croix back in 1964 by Sonya’s (and creatively modified by retailers IB Designs and Crucian Gold). Available in silver, gold or a combo of both, the unisex wristlets are worn with the open ends of the hook outward to signal your single status, or toward your wrist if you’re coupled up.
ST. LUCIAN Love color, like me? Then you’ll adore artist Zaka’s vibrant hand-painted totems and masks, made from recycled wood and discarded telephone poles. Each one seems to have its own personality, and every one’s a winner.