The best buys in Santo Domingo are handcrafted native items, especially amber jewelry. Amber, petrified tree resin that has fossilized over millions of years, is the national gem. Look for pieces of amber with objects like insects or spiders trapped inside. Colors range from a bright yellow to black, but most of the gems are golden in hue. Fine-quality amber jewelry, along with lots of plastic fakes, is sold throughout the country.
A semiprecious stone of light blue (sometimes a dark-blue color), larimar is the Dominican turquoise. It often makes striking jewelry, and is sometimes mounted with wild boar's teeth.
Ever since the Dominicans presented John F. Kennedy with what became his favorite rocker, visitors have wanted to take home a rocking chair. These rockers are often sold unassembled, for easy shipping. Other good buys include Dominican rum, hand-knit articles, macramé, ceramics, and crafts in native mahogany.
You Call That a Bargain? -- Always haggle over the price of handicrafts in the Dominican Republic, particularly in the open-air markets. No stall-keeper expects you to pay the first price asked. Remember the Spanish words for too expensive: muy caro (pronounced mwee cah-row).
Best Shopping Areas
The street with the densest population of useful shops is El Conde, which is known to consumers throughout the capital as a venue that's loaded with middle-bracket, workaday stores selling basic necessities (food, clothing, cleaning supplies), electronic goods, CDs, and luxury items within a street that's peppered with fast-food joints, cafes, and bars, even an outlet for Baskin-Robbins. In the colonial section, La Atarazana is more geared for foreign visitors who aren't necessarily maintaining a private home or apartment within the capital, and have no interest in buying soaps, consumer goods, or groceries. La Atarazana has a higher concentration than El Conde of art galleries and gift and jewelry stores. Duty-free shops are found within the airport, and in the capital at the Centro de los Héroes.
Head first for the National Market, El Mercado Modelo, Avenida Mella, filled with stall after stall (about 100 independent vendors) selling crafts, spices, and produce. The market lies in a battered two-story structure near Calle Santomé, just north of the Colonial Zone, and is open daily from 9am to 6pm. The merchants will be most eager to sell, and you can easily get lost in the crush. Remember to bargain. You'll see a lot of tortoiseshell work here, but exercise caution, since many species, especially the hawksbill turtle, are on the endangered-species list and could be impounded by U.S. Customs if discovered in your luggage. Also for sale here are rockers, mahogany, sandals, baskets, hats, and clay braziers for grilling fish. That's not all. Expect to find everything from musical instruments to love potions, even voodoo objects. Warning: Pickpockets, regrettably, are rampant.
Don't overlook the upmarket hotels as shopping venues. In Santo Domingo some of the best shops, at least the highest-quality merchandise, are sold in hotel corridors and arcades. In Santo Domingo, the best shops are found at the Hilton Santo Domingo, Meliá Santo Domingo, Centenario InterContinental, and the Renaissance Jaragua Hotel & Casino.
Paintings & Sculpture
As you're going from gallery to gallery, you might keep an eye out for the works of any of the following artists. Although there are many rising artists, a few have achieved international recognition, including Guillo Pérez (famous for his paintings of oxen), Juan Bautista Gómez ("sensual landscapes"), Adriana Billini Gautreau (known for her remarkable portraits), Luis Desangles (exponent of folkloric art), and Mairano Eckert (depicts workaday Dominican life).
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