Here are the best picks for authentic Caribbean-related gifts to brighten any holiday or occasion -- or just to bring home rather than that same old t-shirt or gift-shop shot glass!
Want to make someone feel good at the holidays, and feel like you did something good yourself? Adopt an endangered sea turtle on behalf of the person you love. The Caribbean Conservation & Sea Turtle Survival League, a Florida-based nonprofit group dedicated to saving turtles across the Caribbean, will give you an adoption certificate, a logo decal, and sea-turtle magnet, Sea Turtle Conservation Guide, and a one-year subscription to its newsletter for a donation of $25 or more.
Angostura Bitters from Trinidad
Angostura bitters -- a secret mix of herbs and spices used as a cocktail mixer and cure-all for a variety of ailments -- is made in Trinidad by the House of Angostura, which also produces local rums. Perhaps the most famous drink made with Angostura bitters is the Manhattan, a mix of bitters, whiskey, and sweet vermouth. A small bottle of bitters fits neatly into your luggage, making it an ideal holiday gift from the islands.
The Caribelle Batik Factory on St. Kitts, located in an old sugar plantation, is bursting with colorfully dyed fabrics and clothing, from sarongs to dresses to pillow covers and wall hangings. Prices are pretty reasonable, too, so you can bring home a unique gift without breaking the bank. If you can't make it out to the factory there's also a nice retail store in the Kittsian capital of Basseterre.
Androsia is a batik fabric and clothing manufacturer located on the island of Andros in the Bahamas. Androsia has a complete line of women's, men's, and children's batik clothing, resort wear, and cruise wear as well as accessories, home goods, batik fabric sold by the yard, and fabric fat quarters for quilting.
Other than sunshine, the Caribbean's most famous export is rum, and this liquor distilled from molasses (a byproduct of sugarcane cultivation) remains the most popular souvenir for Caribbean travelers. Rhum shops are popular throughout the Caribbean, so when you give the gift of rum you truly are providing a taste of authentic Caribbean culture. You can often visit the distilleries where these strong spirits are made: When in Barbados, pick up a bottle of Mount Gay Rum, first produced in 1703, or the connoisseurs' choice, St. Nicholas Abbey Rum. If you are in Bermuda, you'll need Gosling's to make a Dark n' Stormy. Puerto Rico is home to Bacardi, known for its light rums. You can find local rums in just about every Caribbean island.
The Guavaberry shop in Philipsburg, St. Maarten is one of the island's most popular tourist destinations and the best place to pick up a bottle of St. Maarten's folk liqueur, made from a rare and bitter local berry found in the island's interior. In addition to rum blended with guavaberries, the shop stocks guavaberry honey, hot sauces, and other products.
Made from the peels of the laraha fruit grown on Curacao (a type of bitter orange), this liqueur is famous for giving color to drinks like the Blue Hawaiian and the blue margaritas you'll find at many bars. The blue variety is the most famous, but, in fact, the liquor is colorless when distilled, so you can buy Curacao that is green, red, clear, orange, or flavored with coffee, chocolate, or rum raisin.
Got a favorite Caribbean island you want to keep close to your heart? Island Charms produces original jewelry crafted in the shape of islands like Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Grand Cayman, St. Croix, St. Martin, and St. Thomas, with more on the way. Made of sterling silver or 14k gold, the islands are adorned with Swarovski crystals denoting the location of capitals or major attractions. They can be worn as charms or necklaces. If you've got something different in mind, check out these top Caribbean islands for duty-free jewelry shopping.
Guava cheese doesn't actually contain any cheese -- it's the quirky name for an authentic treat found in Caribbean islands like Trinidad and Nevis and made of fresh guava and cane sugar, plus flavorings like cinnamon or lime juice.
The charming island of Bequia, part of the Grenadines and an hour's ferry ride from the main island of St. Vincent, has a long tradition of miniature model boat building, and these delicate pieces of artwork carved from local gum trees make a fantastic -- if somewhat pricey -- gift for any sailor or boat lover in your life. Ranging in price from about $130 to $8,000, the boats are produced by small companies like Sargeant Brothers and Mauvin's Model Boat Shop (both located on Front Street in Port Elizabeth) and can be shipped home via DHL.
The St. Croix Food and Wine Experience book features recipes from celebrity and island chefs, but it's more than just a cookbook -- it's a keepsake, full-color island guide to St. Croix. The book features more than 70 recipes, chef profiles, historical and cultural information on the island, and a guide to enjoying wine in the tropics. Recipes are from celebrity chefs including Govind Armstrong, Anita Lo, Tim Love, Kevin Rathbun, Liza Shaw, Ana Sortun, Roberto Trevino and more than a dozen talented island chefs. The photography by Ted Davis is stunning.
Grenada is known as The Spice Island and remains a major producer of spices like ginger, nutmeg, clove, vanilla, clove, and cinnamon. You can pick up packages of fresh, aromatic spices to bring back home at the markets in Grenada's capital of St. George's, at Grand Anse beach, near the cruise port, and at many souvenir shops.
Natives of St. Croix the world over can spot each other by one distinctive piece of jewelry: the St. Croix Hook Bracelet. The bracelets literally link "hookers" back to their homeland, but you don't need to be a Crucian to own a hook bracelet, designed and sold for decades by Sonja Ltd., of Christensted.
Tortuga Rum Cake
You've probably seen these famous rum cakes in your local supermarket around the holidays, but you can buy the freshest cakes directly from the Tortuga Rum Co. Ltd. shops in Key West, Fla., and George Town, Grand Cayman. The company also sells Tortuga Light and Gold rums and other rum products.