Shopping Like a Local in Old San Juan

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Sure, San Juan, Puerto Rico is widely known as the fashion capital of the Caribbean – it has the largest shopping mall in the region and boasts a clutch of international designer boutiques. But what about cruisers looking to buy something local and a little off the shopping beaten path?

Pick up local finds in San Juan.

Luckily, Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, Onboard’s own black-belt international shopper, knows where to go to get that one-of-a-kind garment or accessory that is both high-fashion and 100 percent authentic Boricua when cruising to Puerto Rico. For that, she goes over the bridge to the narrow cobblestoned streets of Old San Juan.

Stylish in San Juan

I’m always on the lookout for local merchandise that is beautiful, functional and has a great story behind it. So when I cruise to San Juan, I can’t leave without swinging by the ateliers of two of my favorite local artisans, Matilsha Marxuach and Guillermo Jeffs.

Tote-ally Cool

I love a Celine satchel and a Louis Vuitton tote as much as the next fashionista, but I suggest another “it” bag for your collection. When San Juan designer Matilsha Marxuach couldn’t find the perfect reusable grocery bag to take to the supermarket, she designed her own. And now her signature cotton tote, the Mercado A, has become a bestseller at her Old San Juan boutique, Concalma.

Capacious and comfortable to carry with wide webbing straps and an interior pocket, the Mercado A is just one of a large collection of canvas sacs which come in a variety of styles and limited-edition seasonal prints. Made by a collective of local seamstresses, Matilsha’s versatile totes transition effortlessly from Caribbean cruise to city streets. Que lindo!

Top It Off

A few doors uphill from Concalma on bustling Fortaleza Street in San Juan, you’ll stumble across Olé, a compact, easy-to-miss but must-see souvenir store. Olé is most famous for its impressive selection of Panama hats – more than 5,000 at last count.

Owner and milliner Guillermo Jeffs has been selling the classic straw toppers to cruisers for decades. He knows his craft and will be glad to explain how the Panama didn’t originate in Panama but in Ecuador, and that a Panama isn’t actually a style of hat but a particular method of weaving. His selection includes everything from a $50 entry-level hat to a $4,000 hand-woven model that’s a “Panamaniac’s” holy grail.

Whichever you hat choose, Guillermo will custom-fit the Panama to your head, employing his experienced eye – and a hat block and blow dryer! – to ensure the perfect fit. Then choose from more than 20 colors of grosgrain hat ribbon for a truly personalized look. 

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