You may find duty-free merchandise here at prices 20% to 40% lower than in the United States and Canada -- but you've got to be a smart shopper to spot bargains, and you should be familiar with prices back in your hometown. Duty-free shops have two prices listed on items of merchandise: the local retail price, and the local retail price less the government-imposed tax.
Some of the best duty-free buys include cameras, watches, crystal, gold jewelry, bone china, cosmetics and perfumes, and liquor (including locally produced Barbados rum and liqueurs), along with tobacco products and cashmere sweaters, tweeds, and sportswear from Britain. Items made on Barbados are duty-free.
The quintessential Barbados handicrafts are black-coral jewelry and clay pottery. The latter originates at Highland Pottery, Inc. (tel. 246/422-9818), which is worth a visit. Potters turn out different products, some based on designs that are centuries old. The potteries (which are signposted) are north of Bathsheba on the east coast, most of them within or immediately adjacent to the hamlet of Chalky Mountain, in St. Andrew's Parish. In shops across the island, you'll also find a selection of locally made vases, pots, pottery mugs, glazed plates, and ornaments.
Island artisans weave wall hangings from local grasses and dried flowers, and also turn out straw mats, baskets, and bags with raffia embroidery. Leatherwork -- particularly handbags, belts, and sandals -- is also found on Barbados.
Cruise passengers generally head for the cruise-ship terminal at Bridgetown Harbour, which has some 20 duty-free shops, 13 local shops, and many vendors.
At Articrafts, Norman Center Mall, Broad Street (tel. 246/427-5767), John and Roslyn Watson have assembled an impressive display of Bajan arts and crafts. Roslyn's distinctive wall hangings are decorated with objects from the island, including sea fans and coral.
Cave Shepherd, Broad Street (tel. 246/227-1330; www.caveshepherd.com), is the largest department store on the island and the best place for duty-free merchandise. There are branches at Sunset Crest in Holetown, Da Costas Mall, Grantley Adams Airport, and the Bridgetown cruise-ship terminal, but if your time is limited, try this outlet, as it has the widest selection. The store sells perfumes, cosmetics, fine crystal and bone china, cameras, jewelry, swimwear, leather goods, men's designer clothing, handicrafts, liquor, and souvenirs. Take a break in the cool comfort of the Balcony, overlooking Broad Street, which serves vegetarian dishes and has a salad bar and beer garden.
Harrison's, 10-14 Broad St. (tel. 246/431-5500), has six branch stores, all selling a wide variety of duty-free merchandise, including china, crystal, jewelry, watches, liquor, and perfumes -- all at fair prices. Also for sale are some fine leather products handcrafted in Colombia.
Little Switzerland, in the Da Costas Mall, Broad Street (tel. 246/431-0030; www.littleswitzerland.com), offers a wide selection of watches, fine jewelry, and an array of goodies from Waterford, Lalique, Swarovski, Baccarat, and others.
Pelican Craft Centre, Harbour Road (tel. 246/427-5350), consists of about 20 somewhat disorganized crafts boutiques, each of them clustered tightly into a folkloric/ethnic blend of thatched roofs, dust, and commercial hubbub. It's been accused of being somewhat overpriced and something of a tourist trap, but there are occasional moments of charm among the handcrafted items on display. Most of the shops here are gimmicky, but a few intriguing items can be found if you search hard enough. Sometimes you can see craftspeople at work. In Bridgetown, go down Princess Alice Highway to the city's Deep Water Harbour, where you'll find this tiny colony of thatched-roof shops.
Elsewhere on the Island
The Watering Hole, Hwy. 7, St. Lawrence Main Road, close to the entrance to St. Lawrence's Gap (tel. 246/435-6375), is not only the best place to purchase bottles of Bajan rum at duty-free prices, but is also a great dive for hanging out. A small bottle of rum (about 6 oz.) sells for around $8. Some locals as well as savvy visitors come here and make an evening of it, sampling the various rum drinks. Of course, you may need someone to carry you back to your hotel, as these punches are lethal. Opening times vary -- call to be sure -- but we've seen this place going strong at 3am. One of the more interesting shopping jaunts in Barbados involves a visit to the very laid-back vendors at Tyrol Cot Heritage Village, Codrington Hill, St. Michael (tel. 246/424-2074), the former home of Bajan national hero Sir Grantley Adams. On the grounds of the former prime minister's estate is a colony of artisans, who turn out an array of articles for sale ranging from paintings to pottery, from baskets to handmade figurines.
Earthworks Pottery/On the Wall Gallery, Edgehill Heights 2, St. Thomas (tel. 246/425-0223; www.earthworks-pottery.com), is one of the artistic highlights of Barbados. Deep in the island's central highlands, Canadian-born Goldie Spieler and her son, David, in business at this site since 1978, create whimsical ceramics in the colors of the sea and sky, with touches of watermelon pink. Many are decorated with Antillean-inspired swirls and zigzags. On the premises are a studio and a showroom that sells the output of at least half a dozen other island potters. Purchases can be shipped. Immediately next door is the Ins and Outs Gift Emporium (tel. 246/438-3438), where jars of locally made condiments -- jams, jellies, sauces, and spices -- are sold along with a small selection of island-inspired reading materials.
The Shell Gallery "Contentment," Gibbes Hill, St. Peter (tel. 246/422-2593), has the best collection of shells in the West Indies. Also offered are shell jewelry, and local pottery and ceramics.
Greenwich House Antiques, Greenwich Village, Trents Hill, St. James (tel. 246/432-1169), a 25-minute drive from Bridgetown, feels like a genteel private home where the objects for sale seem to have come from the attic of your slightly dotty great aunt. The building that contains the shop is at least a century old, the historic centerpiece of what used to be a sugar plantation. Dozens of objects, both utilitarian and decorative, including some good examples of Barbados-made mahogany furniture, fill every available inch of display space.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.