What to Buy in the Dominican Republic
Souvenirs are one of the best parts of any vacation, and the Dominican Republic gives you a wide array to choose from.
But, more than that, the Dominican Republic offers more than just souvenirs. Rather than trinkets that’ll sit on your dresser as a memory of your trip for the next twenty years, the Dominican Republic offers items that are worth more than just their sentimental value.
From high-end, unique liquors to the best cigars and coffee in the world, to beautiful jewelry available nowhere else, the Dominican Republic gives you a rare opportunity; a chance to bring back souvenirs that you’ll enjoy for more than just the memory.
For the most part, the best place to shop is Santo Domingo, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place to look for the items on this list. For anything that can’t be found in the capital city, we’ve given details on the best place to get ahold of it.
We’ve listed some of our top picks here, so do yourself a favor and start a check-list.
We’ve talked about Mama Juana in another one of our articles, but we’ll go into more detail, here.
Mama Juana is a uniquely Dominican liquor made by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and a special blend of herbs. These herbs were originally created as an herbal tea by the indigenous Taino Indians. Some claim that the added alcohol extracts the curative properties of these herbs. As a result, the drink is rumored to have a plethora of medicinal effects. Some of these include increased sexual potency, blood cleansing, improved circulation, and improved digestion. We don’t know whether any of this is true, but it can’t hurt to try. And hey, only those with a medical license are allowed to produce it, so that must mean something.
Regardless, Mama Juana tastes good. It’s compared to Port Wine or Amaro, but is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve had.
Now, if you want to bring some Mama Juana home, you have a few options. You could buy it pre-prepared and bottled, but if you really want to try something interesting, you can buy a bottle with just the herbs and bark, allowing you to play around with the exact proportions of the drink.
We know, we know—you can go to your local liquor store and buy yourself a bottle of rum. Maybe even get a few limes, make yourself a mojito.
But if you did, you’d be missing out on something amazing. The Dominican Republic is very quickly garnering world-wide attention for the matchless quality of its rum, and the difference between legitimate Domincan Rum and what you’ll find in a liquor store is night and day. It’s like comparing a high-end sports car to an old clunker—they’re both cars, but the similarities end there. In fact, some are now claiming that Dominican Rum is the best in the world.
If you’re really into your liquor, you can see about getting a tour of a rum factory. Otherwise, shoot for one of the bigger brands. Matusalem won a Gold Medal recently, and Brugal and Barcelo are just about as good.
Say goodbye to Cubans, folks. Now that the novelty of getting a rare Cuban cigar is fading, people are quickly realizing where the best cigars really come from: The Dominican Republic.
This isn’t terribly surprising. The base of any good cigar is high-quality tobacco, and the Dominican Republic treats the planting of tobacco as a matter of tradition and culture rather than an economic activity. Likewise, Dominican soil and weather is absolutely perfect for getting good tobacco, giving them an edge that they probably didn’t need.
You can get high end cigars for cheap in Dominican cities, and while you can find them cheaper in street-shops, some of these could be overpriced counterfeits. But, if you really want to get the most out of your trip, you should visit a cigar factory. Outside of being an interesting excursion, you can use a trip to a cigar factory to get yourself some nice, hand-rolled-right-in-front-of-you cigars. The best places for this are Santiago de los Caballeros and La Romana, both of which are flooded with good cigar factories.
Only found in the Dominican Republic, Larimar is a marbled semi-precious stone found in colors ranging from white and light blue to deep blue. It’s often called “Stefilia’s Stone,” and there’s evidence that its existence has been known since 1916. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that commercial mining began, when it was rediscovered by Miguel Mendez, who named it Larimar as a portmanteau of his daughter’s name (Larissa) and the Spanish word for sea (mar).
Larimar is used in jewelry all over the Dominican Republic, and you won’t find anything else quite like it. The blue colors are deeply reminiscent of the ocean, and looking down on that little Larimar ring you bought will always bring back memories of the Caribbean, while making a good fashion statement. For the most part, Larimar is set in silver, but you’ll find high-grade stones set in gold.
As for how the quality is judged—the more intense the blue color and the higher the contrast in the marbling, the rarer the stone. That said, it wouldn’t hurt to visit a museum to learn to tell the difference between real and fake Larimar, or to figure out how to judge quality on your own.
Dominican Amber and Blue Amber
While amber can be found elsewhere in the world, the Dominicans Republic is one of only two places with a substantial amount of it readily available for mining. What’s more, many claim that Dominican amber is much more beautiful than amber found elsewhere.
The reason for this is that Dominican amber is nearly always transparent and has a high rate of fossil inclusion. Not only does this set Dominicans amber apart from other forms of amber and precious stones by giving you a piece of jewelry with unique character and historical significance, but this quality has also allowed scientists to reconstruct the eco-system of the ancient Dominican tropical forests with extreme accuracy.
But wait, there’s more:
If you want something truly unique (and incredibly expensive) look for blue amber.
You heard that right.
Blue amber is extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that scientists know very little about it, as there’s not much available for extensive study. But, what we do know is that it is superbly beautiful. Diamonds and Sapphires can’t hold a candle to it, and one of the biggest reasons is that blue amber actually glows. No joke. Blue amber looks like regular amber under certain lighting, but will glow a deep blue color under others. So, not the other earring in that picture to your right.
Much like tobacco or wine grapes, where coffee beans are grown has a profound effect on their flavor. While places like Sumatra and Brazil are known for their coffee beans, don’t make the mistake of overlooking Dominican coffee. Especially given that many coffee enthusiasts refer to it as the best coffee in the world.
Dominican coffee is known for being full-bodied while still having low to medium acidity. For the most part, the beans are dark-roasted perfectly, and coffee-producers avoid burning them. As a result, Dominican dark roasts are superbly smooth, and lack the bitter aftertaste you’ll find in even the best dark roasts available elsewhere.
As Dominican coffee has yet to come into vogue, you’re almost guaranteed to find coffee beans there that you wouldn’t find at home.
While you’re unlikely to be able to bring these home with you, you’ll be missing out if you pass up a chance to try Dominican fruits. Outside of the fact that you can find fruits picked mere minutes before you eat them, tropical fruits grown in the tropics taste nothing like what you’ll find back home. In fact, you may never be able to look at a grocery store banana the same way ever again.
But, more than that, the best place to get good Dominican fruits is out away from the major population centers. Find local farm stands and road-side shops to visit, mingle with the locals.
If you still want something unique, however, there are some fruits common here that are hard to find elsewhere. Chief among them is the guava, known for being insanely sweet and flavorful. Outside of that, look for passionfruits, guanabana, cashew nuts, and sea grapes.
Finally, coconut water in the Dominican Republic can often be drank in its original gelatinous state, making it much more refreshing and flavorful.
Far as we’re concerned, this list is definitive proof that you should have a solid souvenir fund set aside for your trip to the Dominican Republic. The country has a little bit of everything for everyone, from the foodie to the liquor connoisseur, to the fashion enthusiast, so you can bring home a little bit of this beautiful country for all the important people in your life.
Written by Connor Johnson
Connor Johnson is a flexible content and copy writer located in the Boston area. He supplements his writing with in-depth research and general marketing skills. He can be contacted here.