PORLAMAR, Venezuela — Margarita Island, about 40 minutes from Caracas or 2 1/2 hours from Miami by plane, is Venezuela's duty-free port.
Prices on standard duty-free items such as liquor and perfumes compare well to prices on the mainland or in airport duty-free shops. But the island's real bargains are the famous-label clothing, Venezuelan-made leather shoes and some gift items from major brands.
Most shops are in the island's capital city of Porlamar. Of these, the strip formed by Avenidas 4 de Mayo and Santiago Marino, two intersecting shop-lined streets, have the most to offer.
At the corner of 4 de Mayo and Santiago Marino, La Media Naranja, a famous boutique and landmark, is a domed building painted bright orange (La Media Naranja means the Half Orange). This is the place where shoppers often meet after visiting other shops.
You could begin your shopping in this super store that offers famous-label men's and women's clothing displayed in separate boutiques.
On the women's side are Valentino silk blouses ($64), Gianni Versace tailored suits in lightweight pink wool ($184) and apple green linen double-breasted coat dresses ($178), Ungaro houndstooth wool suits with black braided trim ($140) and Mani hip-length lightweight wool tailored jackets ($118).
Other fashion items include Gianni Versace's mustard-colored cotton skirt and overblouse ensemble, suitable for office or dining out, for $47.
In the men's shop (the entrance is on Santiago Marino) are Les Copains shirts ($21) in dozens of solid colors and stripes and cardigan sweaters ($43), Zegna blue-cotton sports jackets ($77) and green sports jackets by Ungaro ($97), Feraud woolen trousers ($65) and Valentino woolen suits ($200) and Gianni Versace suits tailored with unusually patterned silk ($150), plus socks, shorts and ties.
When you stand in front of the entrance to La Media Naranja's women's boutique, 4 de Mayo's main shopping strip stretches for about two blocks to your left and Santiago Marino's for about four blocks to your right.
There are fine shops in both directions, but few have street addresses. If you have difficulty finding a specific shop, just ask someone. People are friendly and helpful, and they'll probably escort you to the door.
But don't miss the following:
Anastasia sells French designer Francois Vainnay's feminine fashions, including floral-patterned cotton skirts ($36), blouses ($38), dresses (from $83), plus Eres' sexy bathing suits (from $35) and slinky midi-tops ($67).
Kickers is a great source for designer label casual and athletic attire, including shorts, sweats and T-shirts. Girbaud ($18) and Moschino ($19) shirts are good buys, as are youth-size sneakers by Ellesse ($5) and Enrico Coveri ($12).
Maria Pia has stylish shoes, including multicolored snakeskin pumps ($88), pretty purple leather platform sandals ($30) and jazzy sequined red linen sneakers ($34).
Vice Versa sells a large selection of Le Coq Sportif men's and women's athletic clothes (from $44), flexible plastic shoes in a rainbow of colors ($11) and Primicia's attractive made-in-Brazil- with-Italian-style luggage that looks like Mandarina Duck but costs half as much.
For the Children
Margarita Trading is an outpost of children's styles, where Buster Brown and Crazy Horse shorts sell for $27 and jerseys are $5.
Le Carrousel sells toys galore. You'll find Barbie Picnic Sets ($10), Captain Power ($19), Gobots Gift Packs (three creatures for $2), miniature Mercedes Benz Police cars ($20) and enough Legoland to build an empire.
Rattan has household goods and accessories, including amusing ceramic bird feeders ($26), wine glasses with azure stems (four for $16), and banana- or cornhusk-shaped oven mitts ($16).
It also sells Villeroy & Boch 86-piece Palatino pattern dinner service ($2,391), Bjorn Wiinblad's Sinbad the Sailor decorative porcelain plates (from $76), Studio Rosenthal four-pronged glass candlestick holders ($351) and Wirkkala's "paper-bag" vases made of fine porcelain (from $53). On the second floor is a huge toy department.
On Avenida Santiago Marino, on the other side of La Media Naranja, you'll find Patricia Nitti's men's and women's boutique featuring Italian labels. For women, there are Piero Pancetti suits and La Cordee silk ensembles (from $222), as well as stunning sequined gowns (from $109, reduced from $413). The men's boutique has Silver Crown linen suits in gray ($277) and Fradal woolen trousers ($33).
Reporter sells Feraud ($52) and Zegna ($33) shirts, plus Zegna ($110) and Armani trousers ($55) and other stylish menswear.
Andrea Pfister has nothing to do with the Italian shoe designer (just uses the name) and sells extravagant silk dresses (from $250) and a lot of Ferre handbags (from $150).
Tropical Italian Style