Best in shop: Where, what to buy in handicrafts

MEXICO CITY -- It is too late for Christmas, but travelers heading to Mexico will find one-of-a-kind gifts any time of year.

Mexico has something for everyone -- from traditional handicrafts to sophisticated fine arts. But it's the country's textiles and handicrafts that make Mexico a special destination for shopping.

The beauty of Mexican handicrafts lies in their diversity. Most handicrafts are regional in nature, a product of the climate, natural resources and history of a particular area.

Mexican artists use a wide array of raw materials for their creations, from the more common wood, clay and papier-mache to unique items such as tin and corn husks.

Many of the crafts are produced much the same way today as they were centuries ago, with techniques passed down from generation to generation.

Under the auspices of the National Council for Culture and Arts, Fonart stores ( carry a diverse selection of folk art and hand-crafted furnishings from Mexico. The stores are located in most major tourist destinations.

Mexico's great variety of textiles and handicrafts makes it a standout destination for shopping. The following is a sample of Mexico's more popular shopping destinations:


Oaxaca is one of Mexico's top destinations for handicrafts, with enough markets and galleries offering local crafts to fill several shopping days.

Oaxaca is home to a number of Mexico's most-valued creations, including black clay pottery; hand-woven, patterned wool and cotton rugs and blankets dyed in brilliant colors; and baskets made from reeds and grasses.

But Oaxaca is best known for the fanciful wood figures of animals and people, both real and mythical, known by the Spanish word alebrijes.

Local artist Manuel Jimenez is considered the father of the Oaxacan woodcarving movement.

Other well-known craftsmen in that genre include Gerardo Ramirez, Epifanio Fuentes, Manuel Jimenez, Justo Xuana and Jacobo Angeles.


This colonial city 80 miles east of Mexico City is the place to buy the hand-painted, tin-glazed ceramics known as talavera.

Talavera takes many forms, from hand-painted pottery and dishes to the colorful, painted tiles adorning the interiors and facades of homes, churches and municipal buildings.

The pottery comes in many colors, although the royal blue-and-white combination is by far the most popular.

Talavera pottery is expensive because each piece is unique. Cheap imitations are common, but originals are signed at the base, indicating they are from Puebla and identifying the workshop that created the piece.

A good place to shop for talavera is the Mercado El Parian, where local onyx carvings, clothing, leather goods, marionettes and other crafts are also for sale.

The Museo Artesanal del Estado de Puebla has a large collection of arts and crafts from all around the state of Puebla; it also sells pottery and other goods in its small store.

Most notably, the talavera factory of Uriarte offers tours in the morning for visitors.

For more information, call (011) 52-222 232-1598 or visit


Mexico's second-largest city is also home to the Mercado Libertad, the largest indoor market in Latin America.

More than 1,000 vendors sell local blown glass, leather goods and handicrafts produced in the city and its surroundings.

Just outside the city limits, the town of Tlaquepaque is famous for its folk and fine art, in particular fine ceramics, pottery, blown glass, brass, copper and leather goods.

Tlaquepaque's highlights include La Avenida Independencia, which is lined with shops, and the Museo Regional de la Ceramica, where works by master potters are on display.

Visitors can see artisans in action at the blown-glass factory La Rosa de Cristal, open Mondays through Saturdays.

Zacoalco de Torres, a small town located just south of Guadalajara, is home to the famous equipales furniture, a tradition that dates to pre-Hispanic times.

Equipales comes from the Aztec word icpalli, meaning "seat," and this traditional furniture is made of pigskin, willow and cedar wood, woven together with natural fibers.

It is a popular style all over Mexico and considered an important part of the culture of the country.

San Miguel de Allende

Set among the hills of central Mexico, this colonial town has long been a haven for artists, musicians and retirees from around the world.

Its local specialty is wrought iron and metalwork, including tin lamps, plates, trays, candelabras, picture frames and mirrors hammered by hand and often painted in bright, translucent colors or detailed with brass or copper.

Local artisans also produce designer clothing, sophisticated leather accessories, wood carvings, glass boxes and silver filigreed jewelry.

The town's colonial furniture is some of the finest produced in Mexico.

Two markets of note here: The Mercado de Artesanias features vendor stalls selling excellent local arts and crafts. The open-air Mercado Ignacio Ramirez is where less-expensive souvenirs can be purchased.


The colonial town of Taxco clings to a mountainside in central Mexico. Known as Mexico's silver capital, Taxco has hundreds of shops selling handmade jewelry, frames, jewelry boxes and flatware.

Semiprecious stones such as topaz, opals, garnets, turquoise and amethyst are set in jewelry or sold loose.

Casa Humboldt, a state-run store, is a good place to get an overview of silverware and other local crafts.

The Spratling Museum features pre-Colombian artifacts and an exhibit on local silver mining.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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