The Caribbean’s Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Shopping

January 18, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Anguilla, Antigua/Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Martinique | Leave a comment
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by David Paul Appell

Why in the world should you settle for all those cheesy malls and resort gift shops, the cruise-terminal complexes and hypercommercialized downtowns clogged with cookie-cutter perfume, watch, and T-shirt stores? If you know where to look, it’s still possible to find unique local products, atmosphere, or both. There are of course various straw markets and crafts centers on various islands, of course, but here are just a few of the other favorites I’ve come across in my years covering the Caribbean. And it’s just part one — part two is on the way!

Anguilla One of the Caribbean’s top sculptors, Cheddie Richardson is a world-class whiz at shaping wood, coral, bronze, and stone into graceful, sometimes haunting pieces depicting people and fauna. Get an eyeful out at Cheddie’s Carving Studio in The Cove, out on the island’s west end not far from Cap Jaluca and other resorts (he does commissions and sells other Anguilla artists and artisans, too).

Antigua Shopping-wise, if there’s one thing the Caribbean’s stuffed full of, it’s same-old-same-old jewelry shops. The Goldsmitty, part of the historic Redcliffe Quay complex in St. John’s, is one of the felicitous exceptions. Dutch expat Hans Smit has quite an imagination, and uses it to turn out unique gold pieces set with pearls and a slew of gems from diamonds to black opals.

The Bahamas You may’ve spotted those primary-colored Androsia batiks — cheerfully awash in sea critters, island flowers, butterflies, and more — for sale elsewhere in the Caribbean. But the mother workshop, now in its 37th year, is on Andros, the Bahamas’ largest Out Island, just outside Andros Town. Pop in for a tour and the best selection anywhere (outlets also on most other Bahamian isles). Another Out Island keeper is Great Abaco’s Conch Pearl Galleries in Marsh Harbour, which sells some great local arts and crafts but specializes, of course, in conch pearls — those pink little beauties from the queen conch that are among the world’s rarest baubles. And yes, I’m aware that technically the Bahamas aren’t part of the Caribbean.

Barbados In the island’s upper central highlands, Earthworks Pottery contains a cornucopia of colorful crockery with designs from understated to psychadelic, but all tropically inspired (you can stick it all in the microwave and dishwasher, too). The gallery also hawks a bunch of other great Bajan booty, from paintings to jams.

British Virgin Islands Yes, corals are endangered in parts of the Caribbean, but at The Coral Studio, up in the hills of Tortola, Fiona and David Dugdale use only that which washes up on shore to create elegant, delicate pieces — figurines, plates, clocks, boxes, and more — in various pastel colors and sometimes reminiscent of Wedgwood china (by appointment). For some funkier browsing, head to Tortola’s East End to bridge-connected Beef Island, where Aragorn’s Studio purveys not only Aragorn Dick-Read’s creative pottery and metal creations but also an array of edibles, traditional Carib Indian crafts, and more; demos and lessons are available, too.

Cayman Islands The Caymans famously excel in the quality and quantity of their marine life, and for evocative depictions thereof, a couple of Grand Cayman stalwarts offer different but equally compelling options. Artist/marine biologist/all-round personality Guy Harvey sells his vividly realistic paintings, prints, and sculptures at his imposing George Town gallery, and at the Sunset House Hotel south of town Cathy Church runs a dive/camera shop and gallery full of her stunning color and B/W photos and prints.

Dominican Republic All the resort areas — Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, etc. — have their little shops and malls, but for better options I recommend a visit to capital Santo Domingo, an easy day or overnight away. Examples include the colonial zone’s La Atarazana complex and L’Île au Trésor in the Plaza Conde building, where Parisian Patrick Leclerq creates exquisite jewelry using native Dominican amber and larimar, much of it pirate-themed. Outside SD, another must-see collection of shops at a touristy but high-quality ersatz “old Mediterranean” village out in La Romana, Altos de Chavón, including jewelry (some one-of-a-kind and/or custom made, especially out of larimar and amber, a Dominican specialty), artworks, crafts, clothing, housewares, furniture, cigars, coffee, linens, golf gear, and plenty more.

Martinique Don’t miss Le Village de la Poterie in Trois-Ilets, the small seaside town across the bay from Fort-de-France. In these red-brick buildings, front and center amid the various island crafts is of course the pottery, planters, and figurines shaped from the local red clay using traditional Carib and Arawak techniques and designs; demos are very much a part of the experience.


Tripatini Surveys Hot Destinations for 2010

December 28, 2009 at 11:03 am | Posted in Africa, Asia, Barbados, British Columbia, Canada, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Central America, Colombia, Croatia, cruising, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Florida, Honduras, Iceland, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macau, Mexico, Middle East, Montenegro, New Mexico, Panama, Rwanda, Slovenia, South Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Suriname, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe | 2 Comments
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by David Paul Appell

It’s that time when the travel-hungry are scouring the media for word of the coming year’s “it” spots. We can play that game too, so, besides popular perennials, here are 29 we see looming larger on twenty-ten’s worldwide vaycaydar:

For Americans at least, tight times mean Florida will tempt folks sticking closer to home; better deals down south include  Fort Lauderdale and up north the Panhandle. The latter’s now marketed as the “Emerald Coast,” trying to softpedal the “Redneck Riviera” image; comparisons to Sardinia’s glam Costa Smeralda are laughable, but there are some fetching towns, inns, and some interesting attractions — but above all sugary beaches along a stretch including  Destin, Fort Walton, Apalachicola, St. Joe Beach, and Pensacola. Another hotspot due for a boost this year is Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is popping the corks for its 400th anniversary (and while you’re out here, add a couple of days to explore some cool nearby towns like Acoma Pueblo and Gallup.

The big story this year is inevitably the province of British Columbia, with cool cities Vancouver and Victoria, stunning coastal and mountain scenery, eco/adventure tourism, and swell snow sports. The reason is, of course, is the attention focused on Vancouver and ski resort Whistler Blackcomb, hosting this February’s Winter Olympics.

The so-called Maya Riviera, on the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean coast stretching southward from Cancun, continues evolving whether big luxury resorts, mass-market all-inclusives, exquisite small inns, or budget digs. Some also see a bump for Mexico City, whose pollution and security issues can be finessed with some common sense and which offers one of the world’s great urban experiences — and what other burg has not just a stunning Aztec pyramid complex (Teotihuacan) on its outskirts but several right in town — one smack in the middle of downtown?

This winter/spring, more ships come online and cruising is likely to stay strong, thanks to heavy discounting. Beyond the usual suspects, keep your eye on buttoned-down Barbados,  where some resorts and dining spots have been updating of late, and scenic St. Lucia, with luxury properties coming online fairly recently (Jade Mountain, The Landings) or refurbing (Cap Maison); there’s also a movement toward sustainable — and less pricey — town and country tourism. Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos also keeps adding fab resorts without sacrificing its limin’ vibe. Finally, could this be the year for Cuba, when the self-defeating, un-American, yet stubborn travel ban is dropped or relaxed for all U.S. citizens? Hold not thy breath, but anything’s possible, and if it happens, go — unsavory regime notwithstanding, it’s one of the world’s great travel and cultural experiences.

Eastern Europe has been on a major upswing ever since the Berlin Wall fell. But even 20 year later, some destinations are still growing or even just emerging. Examples of the former include Croatia and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And lately we’re hearing more about Croatia’s neighbors, Slovenia and Montenegro. Both serve up stunning mountains with eco/adventure, historic cities and towns, and Adriatic seacoast with fine beach resorts. And this year, Montenegro welcomes AmanResorts’ fancy-schmancy Sveti Stefan, on an island of medieval architecture. On the western side of things, Icelands a nice land, with its superb eco/adventure, cool capital Reykjavik, short flight time from Europe and New York City, and some of the most affordable prices in years, thanks to the recent economic meltdown.

In Central America, everybody’s jockeying to be “the next Costa Rica” — even El Salvador (who knew?). But watch Honduras; ’09 tourism plummeted due to its political crisis but should be back on track — and hungry — once the new elected government debuts in January. Highlights: Maya ruins, colonial towns, exceptional eco/adventure, world-class diving.  Panama, too, with great rainforest, beaches, one of the hemisphere’s loveliest colonial quarters (Panama City’s Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and barefoot Caribbean isles like Bocas del Toro and the San Blas, home to the autonomous Kuna Indians. In South America, Colombia‘s overall continuing security and economic progress will feed that diverse country’s tourism, especially to another colonial stunner, Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, and happening capital Bogotá (whose colonial quarter’s also nothing to estornudar at). Rising on the radar is the continent’s smallest and only Dutch-speaking country, Suriname, a multi-culti charmer with a cute, sleepy little capital and some of the hemisphere’s most unspoiled eco offerings.

With the steam let out of Dubai, look to UAE capital Abu Dhabi, also developing a-plenty yet without sacrificing traditional culture and flavor. On the Mediterranean, with political crisis at bay for now, Lebanon is still rockin’ the casbah — well, at least Beirut is, while the beach resorts, Roman ruins, and even wine country outside the capital provide a lower-key counterpoint. Up on Turkey‘s “Turquise Coast,” meanwhile, a resort town and region called Dalaman is currently hot, for example outstripping Spain’s Majorca as among the Brits; allures include beaches, soft adventure, nightlife, and historic/archaeological sites.

The tourism offerings in staid ol’ Singapore are getting something of a 2010 shot in the arm, with the elaborate, Vegas-style casino-resort Marina Bay Sands; the also elaborate Fullerton Heritage Complex crammed with shopping, dining, and lodging; and Sentosa Island’s Resorts World, with a Hard Rock Hotel and a Universal Studios theme park. Another “city-state” (now a semi-autonomous part of China) seeing some new action is Macau, where, again, it’s Vegas-style casinos that’ve been complementing the Portuguese colonial architecture and fueling a local boom. On a less glitzy, more laid-back note, since Sri Lanka ended its civil war last May, more travelers will be returning to its historic towns, Buddhist temples, and breathtaking beaches.

From Kruger Park to Cape Town to the winelands, South Africa is on the upswing again, thanks to interest generated by Hollywood hits like Invictus and District 9, and especially June’s soccer World Cup. Lower on the radar, the story of the year may well be the rebirth of safari tourism in Rwanda, 17 years after its genocide, and, believe it or not, Zimbabwe, despite still being a political and economic basket case.

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