Local Craft and Silver
There are inumerous places where to buy. Watch out since some of them are a lot more expensive than others. I noticed that prices were so much higher in touristy places and on those "by the road" houses that guides stopped into, ... and they all have pretty much the same things, ... Sometimes you should try to barter, most times you will get a discount or offer.
What to buy: If you enjoy arts craft you do have a huge variety of choice in Mexico. They have several objects carved in wood or stone. Most stone and wooden objects imitate ancient gods and rituals, ... but there are also animals, and much more.
Colourful blankets, Mexican hats and nests for hanging in balconies and gardens are also commonly found in all those shops selling souvenirs.
Another good choice for shopping in Mexico is silver objects. Apparently it's not expensive there and you can find lots of rings, necklaces, earrings, ... ladies stuff! And some of those silver things for smart houses. ;-) And other objects, such as baby toys, …
The original one or the cheapest
Beware that when travelling in organized tours they will stop in some factories that manufacture stone replicas and other works or some souvenir shops. They might say that these works are unique or cheaper than anywhere else - this might not exactly true, as i've seen some cases like this.
What to pay: Talk to other travellers and try to find out if they've seen same pieces and prices somewhere else.
Tequila is Mexico's famous drink. Like some other drinks you can find several types of tequila that range from cheap to expensive, depending mainly on who's producing it.
If you visit some shop that sells tequila (not souvenir shops!) you will notice that, like whisky, you can also buy old tequila, and "semi-old", being that price increases with tequila's age.
Markets and shops everywhere: Mexican crafts
What to buy: I defy even the most miserly or budget-conscious traveller to leave Mexico without buying something! The range of crafts produced is truly amazing, many of them very local. Some are very traditional and were being made long before the advent of tourism; others, that may seem just as traditional, are much newer in their inception but that doesn't make them any less attractive.
Whether you opt for the functional - great textiles, embroidered clothes, good quality basketware, hats of fine panama or more basic straw, ceramic tiles, leather sandals - or the ornamental - silver jewellery, pottery animals, ornaments covered in intricate bead patterns, carved and painted gourds, pressed tin work - the list is endless ... you're bound to be tempted sooner or later.
If you're a shopper from way back - bring an extra suitcase - empty - from home.
My favourite buys?
A superb Zapotec rug, made with traditional indigo and cochineal dyes - expensive but worth it - a set of Nativity figures to add to my collection of Christmas creches from around the world, a wonderfully elegant big-brimmed panama hat, the envy of all my friends back home and traditional hammocks from Merida .... and I'm not usually a great shopper!
My best buys?
Pierced tin Christmas ornaments for all my bookclub friends - the aim of the game being to find a present for each of them for less that $1 each. At 30c each, they were perfect.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
If you're looking for beautiful, traditional Mexican clothing that is almost heirloom quality, a stop at Lupita's is a must. Lupita Bravo de Whitehead has handpicked handmade cotton clothing from the Mexican states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas, as well as the city of Guadalajara and Mexico's neighbor, Guatemala
She also has a wide selection of chunky jewellry, traditional scarves, purses, and other accessories. The shop is tiny, but she has a suprisingly wide range of items. The downside is that Mexicans tend to be small, so I would say if you are more than a US size 12, you may be disappointed. The gracious Lupita will help you hunt for an item you are looking for, or her assistant Gaby, who is very helpful. They also do hemming on short notice as well.
What to pay: Prices are not cheap; these are hand-made, often one of a kind items. I purchased an embroidered Oaxacan dress, and it was approx $143 US . She does not take credit cards.
An Appetite for Sugarcane?
In many parts of Mexico, sugar cane is harvested and sold at vendor stands like these. Men use machetes to hack the cane into managable pieces. While I saw numerous children enjoying these "treats," a woman told me that chewing on sugarcane was relatable to chewing on a piece of old rope.
Good quality craft shops and weaving co-operatives: Woven treasures
What to buy: Traditionally in Mexico, women weave on a backstrap loom whilst men work on a foot-operated treadle loom. The backstrap loom was in use long before the arrival of the Spanish and whilst the weaver can produce wonderfully complex work on it to any length, the piece can only be as wide as the weaver's arm - though narrow pieces can be joined together to create a wider finished item.
The villages of the Central Valles are particularly noted for the fine weaving done there by men and women and you will find a huge variety of work available for sale - from eye-catching (if not down right gaudy) tourist-oriented pieces to rugs and other pieces that will cost you far more but are really masterly works of art. The town of Teotitlan near Oaxaca is particularly noted for the weaving done there, and Oaxaca itself has some very good shops selling woven goods. Particularly worth looking out for is the MARO co-operative on 5 de Mayo which sells all sorts of work done by local craftswomen, including their weaving. There was another small weaving co-operative outlet selling village Indian women's work at the far end of Plazuela Labastida, up the hill near the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
If you are a purist about these things, you will want to buy something made with traditional natural dyes , such as cochineal (deep red), indigo (deep blue), onion skins ( yellows and greeny-golds), wild walnut shells (dark brown) and alder bark (orangey tones). Bright colours are usually synthetic chemical dyes - the difference is quite easily apparent once you really start to look.
- Arts and Culture
flea market: Puerto Vallarta
South and Central PV are divided by Rio Cuale. All round the river and on its small island (Isla Cuale) there are rows of touristy goods and 1/3 price compared to those directly on the beach and probably 1/10 of what is charged in Nuevo Vallarta - the North zone.
The flea market is between a solid and swaying bridge right past Isla Cuale. It is a two story building with mass manufactured touristy junk although it is my hope that those few items which I got were hand carved...
The whole area is colorful, loud and shortly thereafter very annoying as everyone tries to grab your attention and sell their wares at the optimum price. Avoiding any eye contact with vendors proved to be the best technique for me.
What to buy: I am all for alabaster masks - asking price about $80 for a medium one - bought for $15.
All other small junk for family and friends shouldn't be more that $3-5. Mexican patterned blankets which are sold on the beach for $20 - here are for $5. There are tons of beautiful clay and glass wares but think about how exactly will you transport it back home without breaking them?
Arte Mexicano Nopal
The gentleman that owns this shop has stuffed it full of quality hand-crafted items, mostly from Oaxaca. The shelves overflow with distinctive black ceramics, hand-carved masks, copperware, plus other items. Browsing makes time go very quickly indeed, and you must go several times around the store as it seems every time you turn around, there's a new item that you missed.
What to buy: If you're in the mood for wood carvings, it seems he has a huge selection, from rustic containers, to masks. There's also a large selection of cooking spoons made from the Cuachalatate tree that he swears will last 20 years.
Sipalito Arte Popular
Sipalito has a gorgeous array of items from all over the Michoacan State. Their jewellry collection of fabulous, and they also have a large variety of rebozos, which are traditional scarves. I found the rebozos, though of high quality, to be only of thin cotton and very bright striped colors, so if you're into something a bit warmer and for more variation in design, hit the local market.
What to buy: The owners have a large collection of items squeezed into a small space; everything from furniture, to straw animals, and giftware. They also have some funky fun items, such as Frida Kahlo-themed straw bags.
What to pay: Prices are not cheap, as these are unique hand-crafted items. You get what you pay for; however, I thought the prices were fairly reasonable.
Galeria del Arcangel
One of the first quality handicraft stores in Patzcuaro, this huge store offers anything your heart desires. If you are a fan of rustic chic, like I am, you will fight urgings to bring down a shipping crate and fill it up.
There is a large selection of handmade wooden furniture, ceramics, wooden masks, some clothing items, glassware ... you name it, they have it. The staff are very pleasant and helpful and wrap items automatically for travelling. It's almost worth buying something just to get one of their unique straw-handled shopping bags.
What to buy: Have a look at their website, and fall in love like I did!
What to pay: We found they will bargain a little, unlike other high-end crafts stores. They also take credit cards, which is very helpful when items are pricey.
Mercado, street stall or even small stores: Tricks for the trade
Bargaining is a characteristic of Mexican commerce. Even in stores with "fixed" prices bargaining may be productive. For tourists it is best to act as if all prices are negotiable. The best places for negotiation are markets, stalls and small stores, but certainly you should bargain with street vendors, tour operators and corrupt police officers if you plan to pay the bribe.
What to buy: Buy what you need. Buy what you want. But in most cases, I would suggest that you should be shopping for things in Mexico made by Mexicans. Look for unique handcrafted items and beware of the existence of machine manufactured substitutes or imported substitutes brought in specifically for the tourist trade. In a "warnings tip " I gave some of the don'ts, here are some do's:
1. Be prepared to take some time to enjoy the process.
2. Look, touch, smell and ask about lots of the items even it is only with sign language. Try to learn more about quality and its relationship to price.
3. Smile, laugh, shake hands.
4. Feel free to praise without indicating a commitment to buy or even bargain on what you see.
5. Show that you are interested in buying, but are not committed to it. You are more than 'just looking'. You may notice that if you carry a bag that looks like you just bought something you will be offered better prices. (Remember never accept a first offer.)
6. Check out other shops for similar items.
7. Always offer a price lower than you are willing to pay. (How much lower depends on how comfortable you are with your understanding of the market price and your style of bargaining.)
8. Consider buying more than one for a discount.
9. Show interest and disinterest at the same time. "I like it, but it has this flaw. . .and your price is too high." (This can be done non-verbally.)
10. Walk away if you can not get a price you want to pay. (If you are not leaving the market, you might just pass by on your way out to give the vendor a second chance at your best offer.)
Also you will find that a final offer is more effective if it is a single bill or handful of bills and coins which empty the wallet or pocket.
11. Know the exchange rate.
What to pay: Only pay what you want to pay but expect to spend every peso you have in your pocket and then some. I have sometimes used being pushed to my dollar reserve to my advantage. For example, I have on occasion used the dollar exchange as a last step to speed up reaching my price. Lets say the exchange rate is 11 pesos to the dollar. The vendor has reached a price of 125 pesos and I have only come up to offering 105 pesos but would agree to 110, yet it now looks like we have reached that little impasse which threatens the deal. Rather than walk away, or make a final offer of 110 and walk away, I pull out a crisp new 10 dollar bill and offer it as payment in full. The vendor understands but probably pulls out a little calculator to try to show that $10 is only 100 pesos. Still he or she eventually agrees for "his friend". I do not know why this works, but it does. Maybe it is just the single bill effect. Good luck.
Small religious article shops: Rosaries for Catholic friends
If you have any Catholic friends there is a type of small shop that most tourists are likely to miss but can provide you an opportunity to pick up some nice presents. These are shops that sell religious articles. There are, of course, all levels of quality and many items from outside Mexico, but I would direct your attention to hand made items from Mexico.
In Puebla, I once purchased a dozen rosaries for an older Catholic friend who regularly visited the Catholic shut-ins of our town. Her daughter was one of my travelling companions on this trip. The daughter added the perfect touch when she approached a priest at the cathedral by herself and using hand gestures and a few words of high school Spanish was able to get the priest to bless the rosaries for the poor shut-ins.
What to buy: Rosaries by the half dozen or, of course, anything else you see of meaningful beauty from Mexico.
What to pay: If you stick to things made in Mexico, you will find the prices quite reasonable if not shockingly inexpensive. I have no idea on how the prices of imported items would compare with the price of those same items in the USA.
Daily market or special market day: Bargaining and markets
Bargaining for your price is expected in market places in Mexico. Every town has a market or market day. Bargaining is also common in shops especially when they are owner operated. Even established stores with "fixed prices" may give you a discount if you just ask. This is not convenient if you just want to decide and buy, but it can be fun.
What to buy: Make sure the item is made in Mexico if this is important to you. People are importing goods made in Peru and Guatemala to sell to tourists in Mexico.
The price ultimately reflects the sellers desire or need to sell and the buyers desire to purchase. These are often influenced by the quality, the demand, the uniqueness of the item (availability), and lastly by the knowledge and persistance of the buyer and seller.
Buy what you like, but try to determine the market value before you close the deal.
What to pay: Rich crazy tourist -- pays a wildly excessive asking price.
Tourist who has checked the store prices and knows how to say no will generally get a slight savings to the store price which might partly reflect lower quality.
Foreigner fluent in Spanish with lots of time for bargaining can pay about what a rich Mexican will pay.
The buyer who knows the quality, knows the going lowest price, can walk away, is persistant, is friendly, and who finds a motivated seller with a need for cash, will get the best price.Related to:
- Budget Travel
How to buy from the street vendors: Negociate, negociate, negociate
There are lots of street vendors in Yucatan. They all sell more or less the same stuff: hammocks, maya carpets, statues and masks, silver jewelry.
What to buy: It's up to you.
What to pay: There are no fixed displayed prices. The vendors make up the price on the spot, based on how you look, what car are you driving or what cashflow needs they have :-)
YOU MUST NEGOCIATE.
We wanted to buy a big hammock. The first price that lady gave us was about 120 USD. We said it's too much and got to leave. She started praying us to say another price. We left. The next vendor was selling the same stuff for about 45 USD! We negociated it down to 25!!!
Don't get fooled. They are asking for HUGE starting prices, but they are also pretty hungry, so they will lower the prices dramatically.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
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