Arts and Crafts
The paintings that are pushed in your face around all the tourist areas of the Dominican Republic are bright, colorful depictions of rural life duplicated ad nauseam; most of these are actually Haitian paintings, and mass produced. Most of the crafts available are the heavily duplicated faceless peasant woman dolls and anything made of shells. For the real Dominican deal, you’ll need to search harder for the galleries and stores that carry the fine arts and crafts by established and emerging artists.
The Swiss Mine (Ciudad Colonial, Calle El Conde 101, tel. 809/221-1897, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Sun.) has a good collection of paintings in the back, in addition to the jewelry in the front of the store. Some are Dominican and quite good. If you’re looking for guidance in what to buy, ask the Swiss owner for help. She has a good knowledge of what she’s selling, many opinions, and advice on the topic.
What is a Tennessee expat doing in the Dominican Republic? Selling unique art, that’s what. Plaza Toledo Bettye’s Galeria (Ciudad Colonial, Calle Isabel La Católica 163, tel. 809/688-7649, 9 a.m.–6 p.m., closed Tues.) has colorful paintings (the good kind) donning the walls as well as jewelry and home furnishings like mirrors and interesting knickknacks.
Galería de Arte María del Carmen (Ciudad Colonial, Arzobispo Meriño 207, tel. 809/682-7609, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. daily) has been in operation for decades and has a good selection of original paintings. The staff is friendly, helpful, and very knowledgeable about the art pieces and the artists themselves.
Cándido Bidó Galería de Arte (Gazcue, Dr. Báez 5, tel. 809/544-5310) sells the works of this celebrated Dominican artist and other painters and sculptors. You can’t miss it; it is the bright orange and blue house inspired by Bidó’s signature colors.
Books and Maps
Librería Pichardo (Ciudad Colonial, José Reyes at El Conde, 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.) has been around a long time. Located half a block off of El Conde, it looks like just a newsstand from the front, but if you go inside, you’ll find stacks and stacks of mostly Spanish-language books.
If you’re looking for foreign-language dictionaries and maps, Editorial Duarte (Ciudad Colonial, Arzobispo Meriño at Mercedes, tel. 809/689-4832, 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.) is a good stop to make. It has a good selection of novels in Spanish as well.
Mapas Gaar (Ciudad Colonial, Espaillat at El Conde, tel. 809/688-8004, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily) is the best map maker in the Dominican Republic. Its store and offices are on the third floor of an office building just off of Calle El Conde. It has a good selection of regional, city, and road maps.
Clothing and Accessories
All along El Conde, you’ll find various shoe, clothing, and accessory shops—even some great fabric stores. The prices for fabric are very good. Should you want to explore the rest of the city’s shopping, the options are endless. But there are a couple of malls and stores worth highlighting. Plaza Central (Av. 27 de Febrero and Av. Winston Churchill) has a great variety of services and stores, including clothing, music, jewelry, nail salons, and a food court. For higher-end shopping, head to Plaza Acropolis (Av. Winston Churchill and Rafael Augusto Sánchez, tel. 809/955-2020). It has haute couture Ferragamo heels and sensible Nine West pumps. The clothing runs the same gamut. Not quite a budget option, though.
For leather goods handmade in the Dominican Republic, head to Fiori on the second floor of Plaza Central (tel. 809/567-1298, 9:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), which sells women’s and men’s bags, wallets, belts, and briefcases, all designed in and made from real Dominican leather.
Joyería Diquiabre Gift Shop (Plaza Central, first floor, tel. 809/563-4646) has all the typical gift shop items—jewelry, T-shirts, paintings, lacquered frames—but the prices are a bit lower. These are not rock-bottom prices on amber and larimar, but they are better than in the Ciudad Colonial.
Karla Reid (Plaza Central, first floor, tel. 809/732-6443) has a nice collection of good quality casual, dressy, and beach wear and fashionable accessories. The clothes are suitable for those who are more toward the hip side of the classic/hip scale of fashion.
Dominican-owned Multi Centro La Sirena (Av. Winston Churchill between Ángel S. Cabral and Gustavo Mejía Ricart, tel. 809/682-3107, 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun.) is a multipurpose department store with everything you will need at great prices. It’s an especially good option if you are visiting for an extended amount of time. Inside are household objects, clothing, personal hygiene items and other necessities, and a full-scale grocery store.
Ladies with a severe passion for shoes will have a ball in Santo Domingo. If there is one thing the women in Dominican culture know, it’s how to build an outfit from the shoes up. You’ll find a lot of shoe stores with great prices on El Conde, but if you’re looking for something special and are willing to spend a little more time and money, go to D’Bertha Shoes (Av. Sarasota 19, Ensanche La Julia, tel. 809/482-0914 or 809/482-0924). Yes, it is a special taxi ride, but those who love shoes understand the lengths one will go to for the perfect pair of strappy sandals. And chances are you’ll find them here. This shoe store is the locals’ little darling and has a fantastic selection of styles (mostly high heels, but you’ll find some sandals and comfortable shoes), bags, and belts. This recently relocated store has upped the ante on shoe addiction by making the interior of their store pretty enough to hang out in, and the staff is very helpful once they’ve realized you’re a serious shoe-aholic. Don’t forget to check out the purses. Spanish and English are spoken here. D’Bertha’s is so popular, they had to open a sister store, Puntapie (Gustavo Mejía Ricart 229, tel. 809/227-1088 or 809/683-6057), which kicked onto the scene with silvers and golds, playful fuschias, sequins, and oh so many other expressions of feminine elegance. More bags, clutches, and purses. Have fun!
Flor Ámbar Gift Shop (Calle de las Damas 44, tel. 809/687-3793, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.) has a good selection of amber and larimar jewelry as well as other types. Other gift options include paintings, framed butterflies, coral, and fossils. Maps are for sale by the register.
Even if you don’t end up buying a piece of larimar jewelry, visiting the Larimar Museum (Calle Isabel La Católica 55, tel. 809/689-6605, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.) will be worth your time. The store, located on the ground floor, has a wonderful selection of good quality pieces, and there’s a very educational larimar museum upstairs. The very friendly staff members speak multiple languages and are very knowledgeable. The store also sells a lot of amber pieces.
Be mindful of purchasing jewelry and accessories made from tortoiseshell or coral. Certain species of turtles and coral (especially red coral) are endangered.
Get your haggling hat on! Whether you’re just going to dig around or actually want to purchase something, the Mercado Modelo (Av. Mella between Tomás de la Concha and Del Monte y Tejada, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) is a feast for your eyes and an overload of your senses. Located north of the Ciudad Colonial in a two-story building, this is a true litmus test of your bargaining skills. Wood carvings, Haitian paintings, music, cigars, and jewelry galore are only a small fraction of what you’ll find at this market. Definitely dress down to come here, otherwise you’ll be a target for high prices. The neighborhood isn’t good after sunset.
The Pulga de Antigüedades (Ciudad Colonial, Plaza de María de Toledo, Calle General Luperón, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Sun.) is a great flea market where prices are marked a lot higher with the expectation that you’ll haggle.
Despite the preconception that Cubans are not to be competed with, many cigar aficionados would argue that Dominican cigars are the best in the world. Whatever the official word, they are readily available, and choosing some to take home can be a fun task. A full box can run up to US$120, but definitely shop around first. Calle El Conde has several stores.
Boutique del Fumador (Ciudad Colonial, El Conde 109, tel. 809/685-6425, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Sun.) is a factory outlet for Caoba, Montecristo, and Cohiba cigars located right on the Plaza Colón; you can watch the cigars being rolled.
To simply purchase cigars, Taíno Cigars Shop (Ciudad Colonial, Calle Isabel La Católica 52, tel. 809/221-5684, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) offers fair prices on many cigar brands and accessories.
You will most definitely see men roaming the streets with stacks of merengue, bachata, and salsa CDs for purchase. These are pirated copies. To be on the safe side, head to El Conde, where you will find good, reputable music shops (and the CDs will actually have music on them!). Musicalia Outlet (Ciudad Colonial, El Conde, tel. 809/221-8445, 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) has a good selection of many different genres.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Dominican Republic.