Mexican Souvenirs: Things to Buy in Mexico
1. Taxco Silver
This is one of the most popular things you’ll find around Mexico, particularly in markets in Mexico City since Taxco is only about two and a half hours away. The silver itself is mined in the Taxco area and the city is full of silver craftspeople who mold it into all types of jewelry and housewares. While the mining is happening less and less in the area, it’s still home to tons of artisans and visiting the city is a popular thing to do if you want to see them at work (buses run from Mexico City every few hours).
One of the reasons silver from Taxco is so famous is because the tradition of making silver jewelry here goes back to before the colonial times. Even the Aztecs were making silver which they mined from the Taxco area to make jewelry which they gave to one another as gifts. Because of this, you’ll see a lot of silver jewelry around the country with Aztec influence – warrior motif necklaces, Aztec calendar earings, and plenty of jaguars.
How do you know if it’s truly from Taxco? Check the marks. Most artisans will imprint the words Taxco into their jewelry alongside their name or the universal 940 which you see on real sterling silver around the world. Not all artisans put Taxco on their silver, but if you see a name or a symbol on the piece, you can be pretty sure it’s from Mexico (see some examples here).
Go to reputable markets and shops, ask your hotel if they can recommend one. You can buy Taxco silver in most major cities around Mexico.
Alebrijes are one of my favorite things from Mexico. They are the literal dream child of artist Pedro Linares López and were first created in 1936. The story goes that Pedro was very sick. While he was lying in bed one day he had a dream that he was walking through a forest. While walking through the forest he saw tons of strange creatures.
They were chanting, “alebrijes, alebrijes, alebrijes.”
Then he met a man who told him to climb through the window to get out of the forest. He woke up and within a few days was miraculously better. It was then that he decided to make these creatures a reality.
Traditional alebrijes are hand-carved from wood, coated in paper, and then painted in bright colors. I always thought that they originated in Oaxaca, and many from this region claim that they were created not by an artist, but by the ancient Zapotecs.
Whatever story is true, Oaxaca is definitely where you’ll find the majority of the artisans who are making them by hand, but the art of making them has spread across the country and you can also find them in Mexico City, Chiapas, and other central and southern states in Mexico.
3. Talavera Pottery
This style of blue and white pottery is one of the most commonly exported styles of pottery in Mexico. If you’ve ever been to a Mexican restaurant in the US, you’ve probably seen this pottery before. It originates from the town of San Pablo del Monte as well as the cities of Puebla, Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali. Puebla is worth a visit for the history, the food, and the surrounding volcanos, but while you’re there, buy some Talavera pottery. It’s also incredibly easy to get there from Mexico City.
The reason Talavera only comes from these four cities and one town is because of the quality of the clay in these areas and the tradition of making the pottery which dates back to the 16th century. Traditionally, they only had the color blue, but as time passed they were able to incorporate yellow, green, orange, black and mauve into the pottery. Those, however, remain accent colors. It’s all about that blue and white pop.
Many people don’t know this random fact, but tequila is kind of like Port or Champagne. In order to call it Tequila it has to come from the state of Jalisco (where there is actually a town called Tequila) and it must be made solely with blue agave. Other types of “tequila” which are made with different agave are called mezcal (which is also delicious).
So if you want some good tequila, you should head to Jalisco’s capital city, Guadalajara (which also happens to be the home of mariachi music, too). From here you can take tours of different tequila farms and factories and learn all about how it’s made and what makes it so freaking delicious. You can sample different styles of tequila and learn about why some are clear and others are dark (depends on the barrels and how long it’s stored in them). And of course, you can buy some to take home with you (or drink in your hotel room, I won’t judge).
Can’t make it to Guadalajara? That’s okay (although I do highly recommend a visit), then you can enjoy plenty of mezcal. The best is said to come from Oaxaca (do you see a theme of great things coming from Oaxaca? Go there, it’s awesome).
Mezcal comes in a huge variety of flavors and colors. My favorite is the young mezcal, which is clear and very crisp tasting. You can have aged mezcal which is darker in color and much smokier. Some places even barrel them in old whisky barrels. Other places use French Oak, which gives it a wonderful, almost wine type of flavor (think Chardonnay).
Mezcal is all over the country, especially recently since it’s become something of an upscale drink. There are mezcal bars all over Mexico City – La Nacional and El Palenquito among some of my personal favorites.
If you can though, I highly recommend heading south and doing a tour of some mezcal places around Oaxaca. If you base yourself in the city, you can go into any tour agency and see what they offer.
While we’re on the subject of alcohol, we may as well talk about Pox (pronounced posh, not like chicken pox). Pox is a type of alcohol made from corn, wheat, and sugar cane. It was traditionally used by the Mayans for important ceremonies. The word pox comes from the Mayan language, Tzotzil, and means medicine or cure.
You’ll find it very easily in towns like San Juan Chamula and San Cristobal de las Casas. My favorite place to try was at a small bar in San Cristobal called Posheria. They had tons of flavors, including the original ceremonial style and you could buy bottles to take home with you (as well as seriously good truffles made with pox, too).
Read also: What to do in San Cristobal de las Casas
7. Black Clay
Black clay, which is called barro negro, is most commonly found in the state of Oaxaca. Using the clay to make pottery was popular amongst ancient peoples such as the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs. The craft was perfected by a woman known as Doña Rosa Real. She learned how to give it that beautiful shine that you see now on most barro negro pottery.
You can take a tour of her original workshop which is still producing pottery today. It’s part of the tour of Monte Alban that you can take from Oaxaca City and is well worth a visit. I bought a beautiful pair of earrings there for only $5. You can also buy other types of jewelry, bowls, statues, plates, and vases there for a very reasonable price.
If you can’t make it there, keep your eyes peeled for the black clay pottery in markets around Mexico City or in the Yucatan. Be sure to ask where it was made (the clay is mostly only found in the state of Oaxaca) and look for that shiny finish that makes it so beautiful.
Another stone that you’ll find around Mexico is amber. It is mined in Chiapas and that is one of the best places to buy it in my opinion (if for no other reason than to support the local artisans close to the source). You can definitely find it all over Mexico, it is something that people are very proud to sell and is often used in different types of jewelry (bonus points for buying some jewelry with Taxco silver AND Chiapan amber!).
One of the reasons Chiapan amber is so sought after is because it is some of the clearest amber available in the world. Some pieces allow you to see all the way through to the other side. It’s also quite common to find amber pieces that have fossilized insects inside them. Your very own Jurassic Park piece.
9. Rugs & Other Textiles
Rugs are a pretty popular souvenir from Mexico, but do you know where the best place to buy them is? Oaxaca (just another reason to go to Oaxaca, just sayin’).
In the Oaxacan town, Teotitlan de Valle, you’ll find artisans making rugs on looms, dying wool and cotton with flowers and bugs and clay. It’s beautiful, but it’s also somewhat expensive. If you want an authentic rug from Teotitlan de Valle you know you’re getting quality that will last, but you will likely pay upwards of $100 USD for something only as big as a welcome mat.
Luckily, you don’t have to go all the way to Teotitlan de Valle to buy the rugs. There are stores all over Oaxaca City where you can buy them. There are also a few artisan shops in Mexico City, FonArt and Fabrica Social Boutique come to mind, where you can get pieces that were made by the people of Oaxaca (and the money you pay actually goes to them).
If you do make it to Oaxaca though, I really recommend getting on a tour that takes you to Teotitland de Valle. Seeing it all being done in person is really something special.
Okay, so, this is totally subjective. Ask someone in Mexico where the best Mexican coffee is grown and they’ll tell you one state. Ask someone else and they’re sure to give you a different answer. My absolute favorite coffee is from Oaxaca. Chiapas also grows exceptional coffee and almost all coffee that comes from Chiapas is naturally organic.
You can also find coffee from Vera Cruz, Jalisco, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Guerrero, and Colima. Although these states grow some decent coffee, I’ve found that most good baristas around Mexico City prefer beans from Oaxaca or Chiapas – that’s enough to convince me which beans are best.
You can quite literally buy Mexican coffee from anywhere in Mexico. To be honest, if you live in the US, you can probably buy Mexican coffee in your local grocery store. However, if you’re looking for some small batch, artisenal coffee to take home with you and you aren’t going to be visiting Oaxaca or Chiapas on your next trip to Mexico, I recommend visiting a small coffee shop and asking for a bag of their beans.
Obviously, try their coffee first. If you like it you can then buy some of their beans. I’ve never been in a coffee shop that wasn’t willing to sell a bag of beans!
If you’re in Mexico City, check out spots in San Juan Market or Cafe Jarocho in Coyoacan for great beans.
11. Small Mexican Souvenirs You’ll See While Visiting
If you walk around Ciudadela Market or other artisenal markets in Mexico, there are a few things you’ll find in abundance. Painted skulls and other small pieces of pottery are everywhere. The skulls are an ode to Day of the Dead while the pottery is pretty, but kitschy. I have some of it myself, so I’m not knocking kitschy.
You’ll also see sarapes, or colorful blankets. These are definitely nothing like the pieces of art you’ll get from Oaxaca, but the rugs are usually made of wool and are a beautiful piece to take home with you. I’ve been to many a Mexican restaurant and home where people have sarapes draped over chairs for their guests to use or at the end of the bed for an extra blanket at night.
One of my favorite Mexican souvenirs are the leather shoes which are known as huaraches. Almost every market that I’ve been to in Mexico that sells souvenirs, sells these woven leather shoes. I have a pair myself that I wear constantly and they are comfortable, stylish (in my opinion), and they last a long time. Expect to pay anywhere from 250-400 Pesos depending on where you are in the country and what size your feet are.
What Mexico Souvenirs to Avoid
I would never outright tell you not to buy anything just because it’s “inauthentic” (whatever that means) or because it’s cheap. I try to buy local and support small businesses wherever I travel, but sometimes you want that one dollar statue that you know is made in China but will totally remind you of your trip in Mexico. Go for it.
I do, however, think it’s important to be aware of a few things that you may see, that you probably shouldn’t buy because um, well it’s illegal.
- Obviously, do your best to avoid buying drugs in Mexico. People will try to offer them to you in very touristy places like Puerto Escondido, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, San Cristobal de las Casas or other busy tourist towns. I’ve had people walk past and whisper “marijuana” or “cocaine” to me and I simply keep walking and act like I didn’t hear it. Purchase at your own risk.
- Black Coral is something you may see being sold around the Yucatan and Riviera Maya. Please don’t buy this. It’s highly endangered and is illegal to sell in Mexico (so having it on you while you travel around is a pretty big no-no, too).
- Anything that comes from the ocean, in general, should be avoided because Mexico works hard to protect its marine life, so whoever is selling it to you is doing something they shouldn’t be. As well, by purchasing it, you are directly adding to the demand for pieces that have come from the ocean.
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