You’ll probably be disappointed with the thin selection of local crafts on offer in the DR. Typical are the tacky “faceless dolls of Higüerito” sold in souvenir shops across the country, glazed clay statuettes of featureless, pale-skinned women in Victorian garb. Your best bet for an ostentatious piece of local folk craft is to buy one of the elaborate papier-mâché Carnival masks, though finding them can take some effort if you’re not in Santo Domingo (where you can pick them up in Zona Colonial gift shops). Try in one of the major Carnival towns, preferably La Vega or Cabral and ask around. They’re easier to track down just before or after February; if you come during the festivities and see someone wearing a particularly interesting one, ask and they may well sell it to you at the month’s end for around RD$300.
Another good option are the stores that specialize in jewellery made with larimar, a turquoise, semi precious stone found only in the DR, and amber, which is mined in the Cordillera Septentrional. You’ll find outlets across the island, but if you go to the locations where these substances are mined, it’s possible to get large chunks of the stuff for a few pesos; local miners sometimes even sell bits of amber with insects embedded inside them. Beware, though, that many souvenir stores try to rip off tourists with fake amber or larimar. The museums of larimar and amber in Santo Domingo (as well as the amber museum in Puerto Plata) will show you how to identify fakes. A good place to go for quality jewellery is Harrisons, a high-end Dominican jewellery store with outlets all over the country; you’ll find an array of beautiful craftsmanship at these stores for half the price the same piece would cost at home. They’re also working hard to preserve the nation’s dwindling coral reefs by removing all of their black coral in favour of black jade, another indigenous, semi precious stone.
The most popular souvenirs of all are the local cigars, considered by aficionados to be the equal of Cubans. They’re easy enough to purchase at souvenir shops across the country, but for a freshly rolled packet that’s boxed while you watch, you’ll have to go to one of the major cigar towns that surround the city of Santiago, such as Tamboril or Moca.
Rum is another major takeaway for visitors, as the local dark, aged rums are among the world’s finest. You can find gift packages of Barceló and Brugal’s very best ron añejo at stores across the country and in Puerto Plata you can get a decent discount on Brugal’s aged rums at their bottling factory tour.
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