Shopping in the Cayman Islands has improved drastically because of all the new business generated by cruise ship arrivals. Although the Cayman Islands are definitely not a shopping destination in the league of St. Thomas and St. Maarten, they do offer a vast array of merchandise, most of it imported. Because there's no sales tax, you'll find duty-free shopping galore, ranging from jewelry and toys to coral and rum cakes.
The Shopping Scene
You can get good deals here on island-made art, crafts, and other products. Many local souvenirs tend to be a bit cheesy, but some handicrafts are artistic statements in their own right and have more lasting value. Jewelry fashioned from caymanite, a hard, marble-like stone harvested in the cliffs of Cayman Brac, is especially popular. In recent years, local art has made increasing strides, finding a ready market among the constantly arriving cruise ship passengers and expat villa owners who want to brighten up their surroundings.
Many products, including jewelry, are fashioned from black coral. Eco-sensitive visitors urge other travelers not to purchase these products. Much of the black coral comes from Central American countries such as Honduras and Belize. The Cayman Islands themselves have strong marine laws to protect their reefs, but countries to the south often do not, and the coral reefs can be seriously harmed or damaged when harvested. Since black coral is known to grow at a rate of only 7.6cm (3 in.) per decade, it qualifies as an endangered species.
Because the Cayman Islands are under the rule of Great Britain, you can sometimes get good deals on British imports. You'll find an array of top-quality jewelry, some of it comparable in quality to jewelry in the stores of London, Paris, and New York.
Grand Cayman, especially around George Town, abounds with imported luxury items. For example, you might find French and American perfumes; Spanish, French, and Swedish crystal; Swiss watches; premium liquor; Japanese cameras; and English china. However, the prices for some of these items are often on par with what you might find in your hometown. Know the average cost of a desired item before you head to the Caymans, so you'll know whether or not you're getting a bargain. Some of the best deals we've discovered have been on native crafts, watches, jewelry, rum, designer sunglasses and clothing, art, cameras, crystal, and cosmetics. Cuban products such as cigars are sold, but you can't bring them back into the United States. The carefully packaged Cayman rum cake is the most popular purchase.
U.S. citizens (including children) can return with up to US$1,000 worth of goods duty-free. Since the amounts are collective, a family of three has a duty-free allowance of US$3,000. No duty is imposed on handicrafts, art, food (including those famous Cayman rum cakes), or books.
Make sure you know which dollar a merchant is quoting in before you step up to the cashier. The U.S. dollar is valued approximately 20% less than the Caymanian dollar.
There is no local sales tax in the Cayman Islands.
Most stores keep regular business hours of 9am to 5 or 6pm Monday to Saturday.