Secret Hacks to Survive the Craft Market in Jamaica

Hacks to Survive the Craft Markets in Jamaica

A visit to the craft market in Jamaica can be hit or miss. And, the mixed reviews on Trip Advisor don’t help.

So what’s the deal? Should you visit the craft market?

If you love to haggle, you will be in heaven. You will likely enjoy the back and forth that goes into a price as well as the deals that can be had.

If you don’t like to haggle, make sure you understand what to expect; otherwise, this experience might be a miss for you. On the other hand, you could miss some great bargains.

If you care about helping the local economy, you should visit.

Read on to figure out how to navigate the craft market experience in Jamaica.

Souvenir basket from the craft market in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

What can you expect to find at the craft markets?

The craft markets sell the usual touristy type souvenirs like T-shirts, bags, key chains, and other trinkets. Many items now bear the “Made in China” label, unfortunately. If you are only interested in one-of-a-kind authentic hand-made items, this is probably not the experience for you.

Except for the paintings, carved wooden items and some of the knitted or crocheted items, most of the items here are not hand-made. You aren’t going to find top Jamaican artists selling their wares here; but, the work of some of these self-taught artists and wood carvers at the craft market is quite good.

8 Hacks you must know before you go to the craft market in Jamaica

1. If you are a bargain shopper, don’t buy from the first booth that you come across. They all have basically the same items with all ranges of prices for the same thing. There are some vendors who will quote a price and tell you that that is their best price. Others will expect that you will try to bargain with them.

2. Don’t pay the first price you are told but also try to be fair. This is how vendors make a living and no, they aren’t getting rich off tourists by peddling their wares. The average vendor makes very few sales per day. This is the prime reason some vendors can be pushy. They need a sale. Some guests like the experience. Others hate it.

3. Don’t tell anyone your name and do not accept any “gifts”. If you do, your name might magically appear on a carved object. I have heard stories of visitors name’s being carved on items, especially some of those bamboo vases or other wooden items. The person now sees their name engraved on an item and feels obligated to purchase it. Don’t fall for that.

4. Avoid buying vases or mugs made from the green bamboo. They are beautiful to look at but they dry out fairly quickly. When they do, they will leak! So, unless you really want a holder for pens and pencils, forget it.

5. Accept that there is no such thing as a peaceful walk through the craft market. It is not uncommon to hear calls of “Pretty lady, come and see my stall. It doesn’t hurt to look” or “Nice gentleman, come and see if you see anything for your wife”. The vendors are well-meaning and are trying to get sales. Tourists, however, expect more personal space and aren’t accustomed to being asked to go to everyone’s stalls especially if they all have the same things. This difference in expectation is what results in some tourists feeling harassed.

6. If you don’t want something or don’t want to enter a stall, just say, “No thank you. I’m just looking” or “I’m alright”. Generally, that is enough for them to leave you alone. I don’t go in all the stalls but I generally nod, smile, and keep on walking to at least show some respect for the vendors that I am passing.

7. Do not act excited about finding anything. If you do, you no longer have the upper hand.

8. If you break something, you just bought it.

Please do not assume that a visit to the craft market represents authentic Jamaica. It is one small piece of the Jamaican experience and is not always one of our shining examples of Jamaican life. Usually, it is the pushy vendors who get remembered and we tend to forget the gentle kind hard-working souls who are also present.

When Darrian was about 8, he was crazy about Angry Birds. He wanted a replacement hat for his Jamaican angry bird and none existed at the time. We will never forget the kind lady, who in about 10 minutes crocheted four hats with the Jamaica colors and attached black yarn for the hair and then sewed it on the top of the angry bird to replace the lost Jamaican angry bird hats. He was so thrilled.

There was a time when the Angry Bird had more hair! Hat was made by a lady at the Ocho Rios craft market.

She had charged a very reasonable fee. I was half expecting her to want to charge us more once she had finished and saw how happy Darrian was; but, she didn’t. I complimented her on the great experience we had with her. She went on to say, “Miss, we just have to keep trying. There are a few bad eggs that make us all look bad.” I think she is right.

What do I do when I go to the Craft Market in Jamaica?

In fairness to our readers, I have a confession to make.

Perhaps I am not the best person to be writing about the craft market. Why? I do not like bargaining or haggling over prices. I am simply not good at it. I prefer having a set price. If I am happy with the price, fine. Otherwise, I move on.

Given my admitted bias, here are my extra hacks for getting the most out of a visit to the craft market.

If I am looking for something specific and special, especially something that I have looked for at other places and haven’t found, I say so. They are usually surprisingly helpful in directing you to the right person, if the item is available in the market. Note that this does not work if you are looking for common items that they all have. If you are looking for something that you have seen at other places, look around a little before you tell them what you are looking for. You might run into it on your own sooner than you think.

If I am just browsing and they bother me trying to get me into their stall, I tell them, “I’m just looking. When I see what I’m looking for I will know it.”

If they persist, I say, very politely and firmly, “I’m alright, thank you”, and I keep on walking. Usually, that is the end of it.

I never “promise” anyone I will visit their stall. They will hold you to it.

I follow the “look but don’t touch” policy. I may point to an item I am interested in; but, I only touch if I am truly interested in purchasing it. If you touch something, the vendor’s expectation of a purchase increases. I really hate disappointing them.

Once I have found what I want, I decide on the price that I want to spend.

If the price I am quoted is generally what I had decided on, I usually just pay their price. Or, I might ask if that is their best price. I try not to quibble too much over a few dollars.

If the price I am quoted is more than twice what I had in mind, I don’t go further with the negotiation because it is unlikely that we will find a price that will make us both happy. If the person was grossly overcharging me, then I wouldn’t want to buy from them anyway. If I undervalued the item, I wouldn’t want to disrespect the person. Respect is a very important concept in Jamaica, and offering a ridiculously low price can be perceived as disrespectful or being taken advantage of. Take this for what it is worth, because, as I said, I do not like to haggle over prices.

I buy from the vendors I “like” the most. I do not buy from vendors who are too pushy and won’t respect my desire to be left alone. I don’t put up with sob stories because I have no way of knowing if the stories are true or not. I do not buy from people who started off with outrageous prices. In short, I only buy from people who display the behavior that I wish to encourage. 

So, now that you know the ins and outs of what to expect from a visit to the crafts market in Jamaica and you are armed with the secret hacks, you will be able to decide if it is worth it to you to visit. Plus, you will be well prepared to make the most of this unique shopping experience in Jamaica. Happy shopping!

‘Til next time.

Think and dream Jamaica!

Sherry, Darrell and Darrian

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About the Author Sherry

Sherry & Darrell, owners of Mais Oui Tennis & Spa Villa in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, consider themselves unofficial ambassadors for Jamaica. They look forward to using their insider knowledge to help guests create priceless vacation memories. Feel free to say hi!

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About the Author Sherry

Sherry & Darrell, owners of Mais Oui Tennis & Spa Villa in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, consider themselves unofficial ambassadors for Jamaica. They look forward to using their insider knowledge to help guests create priceless vacation memories. Feel free to say hi!