Mexico is one of the most colourful and culturally rich countries on the planet. Here, culture changes with regions, and so do food, clothing and experiences on offer. So it is only fair that those who make it to Mexico, want to bring back souvenirs to remind them of a beautiful holiday. Not to say anything of the friends and family who await your return on the lookout for their share of fridge magnets and postcards!
But in markets flooded with trinkets, how do you spot the precious ones worth taking back? How can you pick up something that will have your friends wishing you went on more holidays to bring back souvenirs for them? If you are stuck with the same questions, look no further! Here are the top 10 souvenirs that you can pick up while strolling around Méjico.
FOR THE GASTRONOMER:
Tequila’s lesser-known but equally wild Mexican cousin, is also made from the agave plant.Its deeper, smoky flavour is distinct from tequila. It will make for an interesting addition to your spirits collection and amp up your cocktails. Authentic Mezcal is rare to come by outside of Mexico, which makes it a truly valuable souvenir to take back.
On the subject of rare indigenous liquor, one cannot leave Mexico without this one. A peculiarity of the Riviera Maya region, it dates back to the great Mayan civilization. With changes introduced by Spanish conquistadors, its modern form is made using honey, star anise and rum. Can’t you already smell it?
Mexican food is all about its richness, deep and spicy flavours and use of local ingredients. So once you taste the real deal, it will be hard to go back and not miss it. Achiote will help you to bring back some Mexican kick to your own kitchen. It is a fruit used to spice and colour food. The deep, rich red colour characteristic of authentic Mexican food is more often than not due to Achiote. Its mild, peppery flavour is not overwhelming and can be easily incorporated in your food.
4) Mayan Chocolate
At first, it may seem like a lazy gift to pick up for friends back home. It’s only chocolate, right? Well, not really. Mayan Chocolate is not your off-the-shelf, overly sweetened variety. The cooking variety of deep, dark flavoured Mayan Chocolate can elevate the flavour of any dish you put it into. As for the ready-to-eat kind, you will find dulcerias (Mexican confectionary stores; yes they have that!) lined with interesting options. You can find variants spiced with chilli, which is a Mexican speciality. After all, who can do chocolate better than Mayans, the first ever to cultivate it?
FOR THE FASHION-LOVERS
Want to feel like you belong while strolling around mexican cities? Buy a pair of comfy huaraches from a local artisan and you will fit right in. These sandals are hand-made from leather and have characteristic braided straps. They go well with casual vacation outfits and are comfortable to walk around in for long. You may want to pick up a few while you are in Mexico because authentic craftsmanship is difficult to come by elsewhere.
6) Huichol jewellery
This distinctly Mexican style of jewellery is produced by the Huichol people with tiny, colourful beads. They produce jewellery for both women and men, from dainty pendants and necklaces to more elaborate pieces. The brilliant colours and excellent craftsmanship can brighten up any outfit, casual or formal. You’ll always have a story to tell when sporting your Huichol jewellery.
7) Mexican Embroidery
Mexico’s love for colour and vibrancy is translated in its embroidered textiles They are used to craft handbags, dresses, jackets and several other apparel. You will find crossed stitches to be a popular variety, used to make animal and plant motifs, mostly in cotton thread. An interesting service even in small Mexican apparel stores is on-site alterations. So if your heart is set on a beautifully hand-embroidered dress that is too big for you, chances are that the store will offer you instant alteration.
FOR YOUR HOME
8) Talavera Pottery
If your idea of a fitting souvenir is something that you can set down in your living room to
be an ice-breaker for conversations, then you will be delighted to find talavera pottery. It is polished, brightly coloured earthenware that has a long history in Mexico. It is hand-made and painted by the craftsperson, so every piece is unique in itself. Artisans craft everything, from small teacups to large bowls and vases. So you are sure to find something that fits perfectly in your home.
Probably the most popular Mexican symbol, the sombrero is a wide-brimmed hat to shield one from the cruel Mexican sun. But if it is too extravagant for your outfits back home, you can always get one for decor. You will easily find good-quality sombreros around Mexico, in a range of colours. You can also find them in all kinds of sizes, from wee keychains to large enough to cover walls!
10) Mexican blown glass
It is one of the oldest and most respected craft forms in Mexico. Its uniqueness comes from the skill of the craftsmen, who make it by hand and no two pieces are alike. Another famous feature is the blue-hued rims, most commonly seen in Margarita glasses. Glass is blown to make usable pieces like glasses for wine, tea or shots, as well as decorative pieces like large pitchers and vases.
Now that you know what to buy in Mexico, let’s address some FAQs!
a)Where should you buy?
Local flea markets are the best bet to go souvenir shopping. They are a big trend in Mexico and most tourist locations have them, like La Ciudadela in Mexico City, Coral Negro Flea Market in Cancun and Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato. Shopping in these markets will give you a wide variety of goods and prices. Plus, you will be helping the local economy by directly buying from artisans. If you’re lucky, you may even strike up an unforgettable conversation with the locals which will enrich your experience more than any souvenir can.
Watch these videos to get an immersive idea of flea market shopping in Mexico:
b) How much should I pay?
Getting hoodwinked into paying more is a risk that you will run when shopping for souvenirs in any tourist location. But researching the prices beforehand or talking to a trustworthy local about it may help you avoid a scam. As a rule of thumb, avoid shopping for souvenirs at the airport or in souvenir chain stores. Their prices are always jacked up to fleece tourists (a woven Mexican blanket available in the local market for $2 will cost you around $25 in these places). The local sellers are haggle-friendly, and you may get a good deal with a friendly bargain.
It is advisable to head out early (9.30 am onwards) so you can avoid the harsh midday sun and stroll the markets at your leisure. Plus, more chances of finding sellers in a good mood looking to make the first sale of the day even at a bargain.
Additional tip: It is advisable to carry cash when you go shopping in local markets because small vendors there may not have card machines. But always beware of pickpockets.
c) How do I avoid fakes and scams?
To make sure that you have a happy shopping experience in Mexico, vigilance is key.
- Check for labels on textiles or tags on products that have them. If they are made outside of Mexico and being sold unbelievably cheap, they are in most probability, mass-produced fakes.
- If buying spices or vanilla, buying them whole (instead of as powders, or liquids or essences) will be a better bet because it is hard to adulterate those.
- Walk around markets and explore several shops to compare prices. It will also give you leverage to bargain.
- Don’t blindly trust hotel owners or taxi drivers who are too excited to take you shopping to a particular location or store. The prices there are most likely inflated to include their commission.
So,whatever it is that may interest you, Mexico will have something to make you happy. Despite the popularity of Mexican culture worldwide, and availability of Mexican ware in other countries, those made by local artisans remain unparalleled in quality. So you are sure to go back with a heavier suitcase than you came with!