Be prepared to be pursued by aggressive vendors. Selling a craft item may mean the difference between having a meal or going hungry, and that situation often leads to a feverish attempt to peddle goods to potential customers, all of whom are viewed as rich. Warning: Occasionally this harassment turns ugly or even violent, so watch your back if you decide to turn it on an angry vendor.
The main shopping areas are at Montego Freeport, within easy walking distance of the pier; City Centre, where most of the duty-free shops are, aside from those at the large hotels; and the Holiday Village Shopping Centre, located across from the Holiday Inn, on Rose Hall Road, heading from Montego Bay toward Ocho Rios.
If you have time for only one shopping complex, make it Old Fort Craft Park, as its handicrafts are more varied. It's grazing country for both souvenirs and more serious purchases. This shopping complex with 180 vendors (all licensed by the Jamaica Tourist Board), fronts Howard Cooke Boulevard (up from Gloucester Ave. in the heart of Montego Bay, on the site of Fort Montego). You'll see wall hangings, hand-woven straw items, and wood sculptures. You can even get your hair braided. Be aware that vendors can be very aggressive. If you want something, be prepared to bargain.
What's the best souvenir shop in Montego Bay that isn't part of any larger crafts market? It stands alone on the Hip Strip, surrounded by less appealing shops on at least one side. It's Tropical Treasures, Shop #1, 55 Gloucester Ave. (tel. 876/971-8531). Open daily from 9am to 7pm, under the ownership of the genuinely charming Sam Chhugani, it offers handmade gift items, a wide range of Jamaican rums, cigars, jerk spices, coffees, CDs by Jamaican musicians, rum cakes, some very intriguing beachwear, and some of the most attractive women's dresses we've seen. Many were crafted in India, come in "one size fits all" motifs, seem appropriate for cocktail parties within moonlit gazebos, are undeniably sexy, and rarely exceed US$50 in price.
At the Crafts Market, near Harbour Street in downtown Montego Bay, you can find a good selection of handmade souvenirs of Jamaica, including straw hats and bags, wooden platters, straw baskets, musical instruments, beads, carved objects, and toys. That jipijapa straw hat is important if you're out in the island sun.
One of the most intriguing places for shopping is an upscale minimall, Half Moon Plaza, on the coastal road about 13km (8 miles) east of the commercial center of Montego Bay. It caters to the guests of the Half Moon resort, and the carefully selected merchandise is upscale and expensive. On the premises are a bank, about 25 relatively upscale boutiques, and a private and well-respected prep school named in honor of the longtime manager of Half Moon, Heinz Simonowitz.
Klass Kraft Leather Sandals, 44 Fort St. (tel. 876/952-5782), offers sandals, caps, and leather accessories made on location by a team of Jamaican craftspeople.
Golden Nugget, 8 St. James Shopping Centre, Gloucester Avenue (tel. 876/952-7707), is a duty-free shop with an impressive collection of watches and a fine assortment of jewelry, plus cameras and a wide assortment of French perfumes.
Copasetic, Half Moon Shopping Village (tel. 876/953-3838), is a good outlet for Jamaican crafts, including pottery, jewelry, and straw products.
The best selection of native art is found at the Gallery of West Indian Art, 11 Fairfield Rd. (tel. 876/952-4547), with a wide selection of paintings not only from Haiti and Jamaica, but Cuba as well, along with Jamaican hand-carved wooden animals -- even some painted hand-turned pottery.
Mezzaluna, Half Moon Shopping Village, Half Moon Plaza (tel. 876/953-9683), is an upscale women's boutique selling lingerie, La Perla perfumes, and various garments, along with chic accessories such as belts.
Avoiding the Mo Bay Hustle
With some two million tourists arriving each year, often with fat wallets, the Mo Bay hustle developed. Although the government has improved the situation considerably, in the 1990s you couldn't walk more than a few steps before a hustler approached or cornered you.
Rivaled by the Ocho Rios hustler, the Mo Bay hustler is still an annoying presence and works hard to keep you from walking around the resort and enjoying it on your own terms.
Sometimes even a simple "no" is not enough to free yourself from the bondage of your uninvited guest. If a hustler will not leave, you can threaten to call a resort patrol, a group of police officers hired by the government to prevent harassment of visitors. The patrol (both men and women) wear dark-blue quasi-military uniforms with black berets and are easy to spot.
Some vendors try to peddle themselves as guides. Some try to sell junky souvenirs such as carvings. Many are peddling drugs, especially ganja (marijuana).
Be careful of pickpockets when shopping the markets, and don't let a carver etch your name on a piece of wood. He will later claim you ordered him to do so. Resist having jewelry put on your body; similarly, if someone places a straw hat on your head, you'll be billed whether you want it or not.
When "Duty-Free" Isn't -- Some so-called "duty-free" prices are actually lower than stateside prices, but then the government hits you with a 10% "general consumption tax" on all items purchased. Even so, you can still find good duty-free items here, including Swiss watches, Irish crystal, Italian handbags, Indian silks, and liquors and liqueurs. Appleton's rums are an excellent value. Tía María (coffee-flavored) and Rumona (rum-flavored) are the best liqueurs. Khus Khus is the local perfume. Jamaican arts and crafts are available throughout the resorts and at the Crafts Market.
Grooving on Marley's Reggae Beat
The Reggae Experience, at the Half Moon Shopping Village, North Coast Highway (tel. 876/953-3946), provides a keen insight into Bob Marley's life. On-site you can visit a shop stuffed with Marley memorabilia, everything from CDs to T-shirts, from postcards to incense. Marley's exclusive clothing line, the "Tuff Gong Collection" of denim wear, is also sold here -- and there's a free 15-minute documentary on Marley's life and music showing continuously in a wide-screen theater seating about 70. Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.
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.