You might want to think twice before you grab a cheap China-made plastic souvenir at one of those tourist-trap shops. Sure, they’re easy to find, and easy on your wallet, but are they really the memory you want to have of your fantastic Caribbean vacation?
Let’s face it: those dollar keychains and plastic picture frames may say “Anguilla” or “Barbados” on them, but they were manufactured far, far away from the Caribbean islands. And they’ll last about as long as the delicious Caribbean meals you’ll get to savour while on vacation. So, why not go for a better kind of Caribbean souvenir?
Cheap Caribbean souvenirs
First of all, let’s determine exactly what cheap Caribbean souvenirs are. Basically wherever you go in the Caribbean, whether it be Puerto Rico, Barbados, Antigua, or Curacao, you’ll find mass-produced knick-knacks in nearly every souvenir shop:
- Plastic picture frames
- Painted clay “ocarinas” that you can’t actually play
- Wooden “flutes” that aren’t in tune
- Plastic or clay magnets
- Colorful “Caribbean dresses”
- Plastic, wooden, metal or rubber keychains
- Cheap screen printed T-shirts
- Painted sea shells
- Printed mugs
- Colorful printed fabric bags
We hate to break it to you, but usually these types of things aren’t actually made in the country where they’re selling them. Those plastic picture frames? China-made. The decorative wooden flutes? From workers in Peru or Bolivia. The colorful Caribbean dresses made of delicate, airy fabric? Made in sweatshops in India. Basically very few cheap souvenirs are actually manufactured in the Caribbean. If you’re lucky, you’ll see labels on some of the items you’ll see in these “tourist-trap” type stores. They will tell you exactly where they were made.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a Peruvian llama figurine on the streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico if you absolutely love it. Just keep in mind that you’re not exactly getting something made locally, nor even made in Puerto Rico, for that matter.
In addition, another reason why you might opt for a less-expensive option is because the souvenir is for a child. It’s probably not a good idea to spend $50 on a handmade pearl necklace if the child would rather have a fun plastic toy to play with for a few weeks (or even just to have for entertainment during long plane trips on the way home).
Why you should forgo cheap Caribbean souvenirs
There are many, many reasons why it’s best to skip cheap Caribbean souvenirs. Here are a few that may or may not have crossed your mind:
- Those with cheap plastic parts can break easily (good luck getting them off the plane in one piece). Same thing goes for ceramic mugs.
- They don’t make good gifts because they look cheap (unless your friend or family member has specifically asked for a plastic keychain…)
- Imported products don’t directly support locals or the local economy.
- They aren’t usually “authentic”, meaning they’re not really made in the country where they are being sold, even if the island’s name is painted in bold letters on the front.
- They don’t age well. Cheap paint jobs will fade, flimsy parts will rust or break.
- Some of unethically produced in sweatshops located in Asian and South American countries.
- And finally: there are so many better options out there if you know where to look!
The best Caribbean souvenirs
To find the best Caribbean souvenirs, you’ll have to think outside the box (namely the box-shaped stores). Sometimes the best souvenirs can’t be found in stores at all! Here are a few ideas of things to take home or gift to loved ones that won’t make them ask: “Why did they buy me this?”
1. Sweet treats
Letting your friends and relatives have a taste of Caribbean sweets just might be the ticket. Besides, coconut or guava candies certainly won’t end up in the junk drawer with all those unused keychains! In addition, you can even find something called “guava cheese” on many Caribbean islands, including Trinidad and Nevis. It’s a mixture of fresh Caribbean guava and native cane sugar. It’s sometimes flavored with lime and cinnamon.
2. Adopt a turtle
We love this idea! What could be better than helping endangered sea creatures as a way of “giving back” to the Caribbean? You can adopt a turtle through the Sea Turtle Conservancy. They’ll even give you a personalized adoption certificate.
3. Caribbean rum
If there’s one thing that’s authentically made in the Caribbean, it’s rum. Visit the disterillies where this tropical concoction is made to get a souvenir that any friend or family member (of age, of course) will love! The best part is that you can be sure that they’re getting a real taste of the Caribbean when they open the bottle.
4. Handmade, local goods
If you see someone weaving straw hats on the street, you’re guaranteed to get an authentic, handmade product if you purchase a Caribbean souvenir from him or her. However, handmade goods aren’t just sold on street corners. Look for shops that say “artisan” or “locally made”. That way, you can help support local economy. Furthermore, you’ll get a souvenir that will really remind you of your Caribbean vacation.
That’s right– you can find handmade, natural skincare on every Caribbean island. Look for ones that are not mass produced. On the island of St. Barth, you can purchase unique products from Ligne St. Barth, a reputable natural skincare company. Founded by a St. Barth native, the brand uses ingredients from local resources.
You can purchase fresh Caribbean spices in local markets. Pure vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon from the islands will transport your senses back to your vacation villa even though you’re back home in your kitchen, thousands of miles away.
Ready to head to the Caribbean? Make sure you pack everything you’ll need for your trip!
Main image source: doncaribe.com
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