Dominican rum (and tobacco) is considered to be one of the finest in the world. The most famous brands are the 3 B's: Brugal, Barcelo, and Bermudez. If you're in the area of Puerto Plata, you can visit the Brugal (bottling) Factory. Otherwise you can buy rum in any local grocery.
My favourites are from Brugal: Extra Viejo (on the rocks) and Añejo...
The Dominican Republic is the largest producer of cigars, and the cigars are considered to be the best in the world. You can buy cigars in souvenir shops or - if you visit a cigar factory - buy them fresh rolled from the factory. Normally you're allowed to smoke a cigar as a test before you buy.
I don't smoke myself so I can't recommend a good brand, but there are many different brands of cigars, for example: Churchill, Doble Corona, Corona, Robusto, Panetela, Torpedo and many more...
One of the most popular souvenirs of the Dominican Republic is the faceless ceramic doll. It is made of clay and dressed in the traditional clothes. The dolls depict Dominican country life with some dolls balancing baskets or pots on their heads, some milling coffee, and some holding bouquets (like the photo).
Some people says that the doll is faceless because nobody knows how a Dominican looks like (75% of the population is of mixed race).
Don't buy your souvenirs at the resort areas, it is much cheaper elsewhere...
What to buy:
Larimar Jewelry, all of them! This stone speaks about the beautiful Caribbean Sea and beaches, where you can see from deep blue to light blue and green blue waters, white sand and a blue sky with white and grey clouds. It speaks about DOMINICAN PEOPLE who are always smiling and happy ready for the best to come. Each piece of Larimar stone is different its pattern has an ample variety.
What to pay: It depends on the stone's quality, then deeper the blue than expensier. But it's always worth it!
La Marina, mentioned in a previous tip, is apparently part of the Casa de Campo resort and is quite a lovely section. The buildings and setting alone are worth riding the bus to get there. However, contrary to what we heard about great shopping, we found only a few shops open here. The ones we visited had very nice items such as upscale beach and resort casual clothing. There also was a very nice arts & crafts store as well but I'm not sure that the items here were actually made in the Dominican Republic, but maybe. As you might expect, these stores were pricey, but if you can afford to stay at this resort, you probably don't have to worry about that!
What to buy: I did not find anything particularly indigenous to this country while shopping here. I imagine that you would find more selection in Altos de Chavon and the capital city of Santo Domingo if you were looking for native arts & crafts.
What to pay: Expect bathsuits and the like to be in the $50 & up range. Tops and beach coverups $25 and up.
Cigars are the the thing to take home or rum if you like these things. Otherwise the shops offer the same type of good everywhere you go. Nothing to get excited about. I noticed the shirts were made in Indonesia.
On the beach there are many pedlars and they all wear a uniform and they have numbers on their shirt. They carry quite a heavy box of wares on their shoulders and every 5 minutes one comes by to pedle their goods.
The most interesting pedlars are the women with their basket of fruits on their heads.
What to buy: There are paintings and craftworks but I have a feeling they come from Haiti.
If you like merengue then this is the place to buy the music. Just ask anyone which are the latest hits and they will tell you.
I bought two CDs but when I opened them I realized they were copies.
Homerun Bachatero 2009
Se Acabo Lo Bonito
Lo Nuevo Luis Migue Del Amargue
You can buy cigars, rum, coffee, Mamajuana and perhaps vanilla extract from tourist shops, but you will usually find the prices much more attractive in a regular grocery or small shop.
What to buy: Vanilla extract -- less than a dollar for 16 oz and very good.
Mamajuana -- A Dominican specialty of a mixture of wood chips and spices for flavoring wine and rum. You will see nicely labeled tourist bottles for sale, but the only question is whether you can get this through customs. It would be heavier to carry with the bottle full of alcohol but it might be more acceptable to the US customs/agriculture inspectors. What was surprising to me was that even in off the tourist path places these bottle of chips seemed kind of expensive ($10 US).
On my last visit to Santo Domingo I was directed to the Mercado Colonial by a tourism department official as an alternative to walking the 10 blocks to the Mercado Modelo. Apparently this is a new market (It is not mentioned in Lonely Planet.) made of stores with the same ownership as the stores in the Mercado Modelo. The official told me I could even get better prices at this more conveniently located market. (After having seen the market --It seems more upscale than Mercado Modelo--and glanced at the prices I doubt the veracity of this statement.)
The only tricky part to identifying this collection of stores called a market is that the entrance seems to be just the entrance to a typical shop. As you penetrate you see that store after store opens to the passage that extends for the full length of the large block.
What to buy: It seems to have just about everything offered in the Dominican Republic. The listed prices for paintings seemed very high, but I can not say what they would have reached after bargaining. The rum prices were 35% higher than in a nearby grocery store. I was not given the impression that a discount over 10% was likely on the rum. I was almost happy I did not seeing anything I really wanted because I did not have time for any protracted bargaining.
What to pay: This is only a quick impression, but I felt that if I found something I liked I was going to have a hard time getting the price down to reasonable.
The Mercado Modelo may have once been a central produce market but now it is almost full of tourist shops. Although there is some typical produce marketing and modest shops in streets behind the main building, this is not the place to go to get a traditional market experience. The special value of this market area is the competition of many shops with similar products. The asking prices will be higher than most, if not all, of the regular stores on the Paseo Colon, but bargaining is expected and one should be able to get to prices below those of stores. You will probably pay about 40% of the typical first asking price. Of course this will depend on how bloated the first price is and the energy you have to resist paying more that you have to.
As you might expect the shops that are somewhat out of the way like those selling paintings on the upper floor do seem be easier to bargain to lower prices. [They know you came through the other shops and have been shopping and so are not likely to be coming back to them if you do not buy during this visit.]
What to buy: There is just about everything you might be interested in buying from the Dominican Republic. There seems to be an extensive collection of wood carvings and paintings. Quality can be an issue so inspect manufactured or crafted items carefully. Unless you have some expertise purchasing unique items like jewels or amber bargaining successfully might be even more difficult, because a much lower price might just reflect a much lower quality.
What to pay: If you bargain well you should be able to save at least 10-20 percent from the final prices offered at the cheapest regular stores, but it will take an investment of time. [For a store on Paseo el Conde with remarkable fair pricing see a subsequent tip.] You should understand that the prices in many of the stores are still negiotable. I was offered 10-30% on lots of store items during my last brief visit to Santo Domingo.
Inspite of its name [importer] this is a large store with a wide selection of products of the Dominican Republic. It has the best prices I saw in a regular store. [Prices do decrease as one walks east to west on El Conde and this store is on the far west end of El Conde. ] On paintings, for example, the prices were only about 10 percent over the best price I could get in the market or on the street. I even was able to buy a mahogeny carving at a price below what I would have paid in the market, if I could have found one as nice, but this was a special situation.
What to buy: Buy what you want when it is unique enough that you won't likely find another in the market, or when the approximate 10 percent savings you can get with bargaining is not worth the time and effort.
What to pay: Pretty fair prices without the time bargaining. I briefly revisted this store again in 2007 and the prices still seemed to be reasonable. The first asking price in the Market Modelo and the Colonial Market stores seemed to have increased significantly.
This place is amazing! After 2 weeks of tourist shops and beach hawkers it makes a real change.
Plaza Central is a 5-storey shopping mall in the middle of Santo Domingo. It has furniture shops, art shops, perfume shops, a whole floor dedicated to eating (KFC, McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King sit next to funky coffee shops and chinese takeaways), a cinema, and best of all - hundreds of clothes shops! You can buy anything here from Gucci sunglasses to J-Lo's latest collection.
This is where the rich Dominicans go. Jonathan and I got talking to a local lawyer in one of the coffee shops and he was telling us how bad the economy actually is. He explained that someone working in a bar could earn more than he does because of all the tourists tipping in foreign currency.
What to buy: On the ground floor of Plaza Central is an Oscar De La Renta clothes shop. This Dominican born designer and his designs are popular Worldwide, particularly on those lush red carpets!
The range is beautiful and I would definately recommend a visit (with a credit card!).
There' s also a lovely little accessory shop - I think, on the third floor, with the coolest bracelets, handbags and scarfs I ever saw - extra luggage room needed!
What to pay: Prices are pretty similar to the UK - roughly £30 for a shirt, £25 for a skirt and £40 for a pair of jeans.
Close to the beaches and other areas where tourism is common, there are a lot of souvenir shops that sell things like local crafts, clothes (such as t-shirts and bandanas with the Dominican flag on them, wrap skirts, swimsuits, shoes, etc), jewelry, etc. But since those aren't street vendors, you can't usually negotiate the price.
What to buy: Stuff with the flag and/or Dominican Republic written on it, wrap skirts, beach sandals, jewelry made of amber, jade, lava rock, and other stones, statuettes, carved boxes, and other little nick-nacks, etc.
What to pay: More expensive than if you buy at the market or from vendors, since you can't usually negociate the price in a store.
What to buy:
Beside's the local craft & many flavors of Rum, you can't leave the DR without a bottle of this special stuff. The Mamajuana! Yes, it sounds like a drug and to the locals and those who have visited the DR, the story is well known that it has certain medicinal properties! This special drink is purchased with only tree roots, herbs & leaves in the bottle. You are to then add your own red wine, rum and honey to these ingrediants and let it sit to fermint. About a day or two is good, but you can let it fermint for longer if you wish. The locals call it Liquid Viagra & they swear by this special alcholic drink that it does bring back the vigor to men. I on the other hand had to try this myth out for myself at our annual New Years eve party. Anyone who was brave enough to have this specially brewed concoction partook in the fun and humor & then once drank I asked if they felt any more friskier. Of course, me being a woman & married, they never would tell me, but it sure was fun getting a blush out of the men. One thing to know about this purchase is that the bottle of leaves, roots and herbs and can be used over & over again. So, your getting a heck of a bargain by buying one bottle at $5.00 that can be used for years & years to come and it never goes bad!
What to pay: $5.00 for a litre. $8.00 for a half gallon
What to buy:
There is so much to purchase in the DR, from the local shops right down to the local vendors on the beach. Some of these must have items is Hatian Art. Beautiful, colorful paintings that surprised me to have so many wonderful artist in the area. Each & everyone of them was absolutely gorgeous. Hand made Mahogony artifacts, statues, bowls, serving ware, etc. Btw, don't forget to barter. None of the vendors expect you to pay full price! Then there is the Larimar. The Dominican is known for it's mining for such minerals as silver, gold, platnium, phorous, etc. and from these mining expeditions they discovered the Larimar. A unique Gem found only in the Dominican Republic. This is a must have and you can find it either in raw form, but most often in the form of already made jewlery, necklaces, braclets, earrings. This gem is a conversation piece. I can't begin to tell you how many people have commented on my necklace and earrings and they were all complentiary! The gem itself is a light blue w/ghostly white veins and most people mistake it for turqoise, but if you were to compare the Larimar next to Turqoise you can see that there is a vast difference. The Larimar is more blue & has more white & less defination to its veins whereas Turqoise is more blue w/a green twinge and in Turqoise you'll often find black veins or spots. Women, this is a stone to bring home! You'll be the talk of the town.
What to pay: Depending on the size of the stone and whether it is placed in a silver or gold setting you can expect to spend anywhere from $50.00 on up to $200.00. I purchased my necklace & earring set for $120.00 & it is set in gold.
This is the butchers at a local market near Juan Dolio. If I ate meat I wonder if I'd have been tempted??? We didn't buy anything from here so I can't really comment on price or quality of meat - but it was interesting to see the display!
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