One of the best things about wandering Antigua’s cobbled streets is admiring the colourful Mayan textiles on display, or dithering over which wooden souvenirs will fit in your suitcase. Guatemala produces unique art and some of the most beautiful garments in the world, and you’ll feel obliged to take some home with you. Antigua has several excellent markets where you can browse until your heart’s content – here are seven of the best.
Wandering through the colourful, chaotic Mercado is a great way to see the more authentic side to Antigua. It’s the only market actually aimed at locals, and you can buy everything here – from fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish to clothes, shoes and pirate DVDs. At the north end of the market, there’s the paca, a vast warehouse packed with unique T-shirts, and there are dozens of cafés serving cheap and delicious traditional food, so going when you have an appetite is a good idea. You’ll probably get lost navigating the maze of the covered market, but that’s part of the fun.
Located on Antigua’s 5th Avenida (the one with the yellow Santa Catalina Arch), Nim Po’t is one of the best places to find traditional Mayan clothing and textiles. This huge hall is a cooperative for artisans, with beautiful garments arranged by region, so browsing the intricate huipils, cortes and fajas is like a fun geography lesson. If you’re not hunting for clothes, Nim Po’t also has an extensive collection of traditional masks, wood carvings, kites, paintings and refrigerator magnets, so it’s an ideal spot for a bit of last-minute souvenir shopping too. Make sure you haggle!
Nim Po’t, 5a Avenida Norte, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, +502 7832 2681
Mercado de Artesanías
Many people consider the Artisan Market to be the main ‘tourist market’. Full of colourful textiles, traditional blankets, wooden masks, jade jewellery and woven purses, it’s an incredibly photogenic place to wander around. Because it’s a tourist market, you won’t find any animals here (dead or alive), and the stalls are arranged in an orderly manner, with clean, swept floors and a lovely entrance. Never buy anything at face value; vendors usually increase the price by three, so use that as a reference point when haggling.
Mercado del Carmen
Sitting next to the ruins of the Iglesia El Carmen, this market is one of the lesser-known artisan markets in Antigua and is much less crowded. It’s a good place to shop for souvenirs such as textiles, pottery and jade at a low price, and the blankets here are especially good value. The inside is chaotically laid out, and it can be difficult trying to find what you’re looking for, but that often means you’ll stumble upon some hidden gems. On weekends, the activity spills out onto 3a Avenida Norte, where many of the vendors have lovely textile accessories such as Mayan belts and headdresses for sale. The local chicken bus terminal is next door, so pop on over when you’re done.
Museo Casa del Tejido
Antigua is known for producing beautifully woven textiles, and Casa del Tejido is the best place to learn more about these traditional designs – always a good idea before you buy. The details and designs of Mayan textiles are far more significant than you might think, and you can discover the different styles of traditional Guatemalan weaves from various villages. Casa del Tejido is essentially a museum, market and workshop all in one, and is the only place in Guatemala where you can see, learn and buy textiles and handicrafts made by indigenous Mayans.
Centro de Arte Popular
To pick up some more artistic gifts, head to Centro de Arte Popular, a market and museum with a focus on the art from Guatemala’s Mayan heritage. Located close to Antigua’s main attractions and plaza, Centro de Arte Popular showcases the works of Guatemalan artists from several different Mayan ethnic indigenous groups. The artwork is displayed thematically to illustrate the various aspects of indigenous life, and there are Tz’utujil oil paintings, handmade pottery, religious crafts, traditional masks and wooden sculptures to view and buy.
Los Gigantes is another artisan cooperative, but this one is a bit pricier and more upmarket than some of the others. It’s all for a good cause, though: Los Gigantes is ethical and sustainable, creating handicrafts using earth-friendly materials and providing local artisans with a dignified way of earning a living. You can find a beautiful and varied range of high-quality natural handcrafted products here, from decorative vases, coasters, hot pads, and baskets made from pine needles to detailed teak and highland pine carpentry products.