Santo Domingo Shopping
Calle El Conde
in the colonial city
has it all.
The stores have an excellent selection of Dominican products, everything from jewelry, cigars, fine art and handicrafts to rum and coffee. These few blocks offer the most concentrated display of quality merchandise in the DR, perfect for one-stop shopping.
Amber figurines in the shapes of elephants, owls and other animals are prized presents, especially if they've been carved from a single stone and not made from pieces pressed or glued together.
Dominican amber is considered some of the world's finest. With a texture that reminds me of smooth plastic, amber is actually the resin of a tree that apparently died out about 25 million years ago.
Dominican amber not only comes in the familiar yellow but also in red, blue (a variety found only in the DR) and black, which at an estimated 50 million years is the oldest type.
Another interesting semiprecious stone is larimar, a sea blue stone that, like blue amber, is found only in the DR. Larimar still isn't well known outside the DR so it sells for a fraction of amber's price.
Amber jewelry in gold settings from US$39 to US$1500; and larimar in silver from US$10 to US$200. Prices in some stores are fixed but at many El Conde shops you're expected to haggle. Discounts of 10% are easy to obtain, 20% a little harder. True bargains require discounts of 30% and more. Overall, good amber jewelry costs about 25% less than in the States.
Felipe & Co. located near the Museo de Amber is the Dominican version of a Pottery Barn, packed with decorative ceramic plates, wall hangings, wooden Taino replicas, various handicrafts and large tacky portraits of old people sucking on pipes. I don't comprehend the artistic appeal of the pipe sucking; at least it's better than bullfighters on velvet.
Burning money is the natural thing to do at Boutique del Fumador, where hand-made cigars are the specialty. You'll discover much about the cigar-making process, that it takes between 3 and 4 years to grow and age each Caoba brand cigar before it's ready to be smoked.
A tour of the facility includes entering a humidity-controlled paneled room that holds thousands of cigars. Every cigar is aged there for at least 6 months, some as long as two years. The aroma inside the relatively small room is staggering, enough to give you a slight buzz.
The Boutique del Fumador's cigars range between $3 and $5 with a 10% discount readily offered for boxes of 25 despite the "fixed price" sign on the wall. For a wider brand selection, including Arturo Fuente, Montecristo and Macamudo, try the nearby four-story Columbus Plaza at Merino 206, a street running perpendicular to Calle El Conde.
Just north of Parque Colon is the Plaza Toledo, one of the DR's most noted art galleries. Located at No. 613, Calle Isabel La Catolica, this combination gallery and café was started by an American from Tennessee.
The gallery, located in an old two-story home, is packed with Haitian and Dominican pieces, especially paintings. Its haphazard order may make you feel like you're rummaging through an attic.
Which is a nice feeling.