Oaxaca is an artisanal gift lover’s paradise, given that many of the products most heavily associated with Mexico are produced there. If you want to remember your trip to this expansive but impoverished state, you should be sure to invest in the work of local artisans and give something back to the community. With that in mind, here are the top ten unique souvenirs that will last you far longer than your Puerto Escondido tan.
Many tourists will follow, at one point or another, the route that takes you through the textile producing villages in Teotitlán del Valle, and this is the perfect place to pick up that handwoven statement rug or wall hanging you’ve always wanted. Here, artisans (many of whom don’t speak Spanish and converse instead in their native tongue) spend hours weaving vibrant rugs; while the prices are high, once you’ve seen the work that goes into them, you’ll surely be able to understand why.
If pots are more your thing, then the San Bartolo Coyotepec region of Oaxaca is the place to be to get your hands on the famous barro negro pottery. These highly polished clay pots make for the perfect souvenir, but if you prefer something a bit more colorful, then you can also find traditional barro verde (green pottery) in Santa María Atzompa and even barro rojo (red pottery) in San Marcos Tlapazola at the Tlacolula market.
We’ve already mentioned rugs, but textiles in general are to be found in abundance in Oaxaca, so you should definitely be able to hunt down something to suit your taste. From the traditional huipil blouses, often elaborately embroidered and made from lightweight fabric, to other styles of blouses and the famed rebozo shawls, you can also find skirts, shirts and silk embroidered handkerchiefs if you really want, too, and each region has its own distinct style.
While Jalisco lays claim to tequila, Oaxaca is the land of its pungent, smokier brother mezcal. While you can typically find mezcal across the country, what could be better than grabbing a bottle from its state of origin? We recommend heading on a mezcal tour to see how it’s traditionally made before purchasing a few bottles. Similarly, taste test liberally before committing to your favorite bottle, because depending on the agave used and the aging process the mezcal has undergone, the taste can vary wildly.
Mezcal isn’t the only drink that Oaxaca is known for though, as the state is also one of Mexico’s principal coffee producers, particularly the Pluma Hidalgo region. If you’re teetotal, it can make for a great alternative of a souvenir, and if you drink, considering stocking up so you can nurse off that mezcal hangover the following morning! While you can get coffee in all sorts of markets and stores across Oaxaca, try and find somewhere that will grind it for you as you watch – that way, you can tailor it to your needs.
Moving away from beverages and onto one souvenir surely everyone can agree is a steadfast favorite of many travelers, we now come to chocolate. Although many people think the Belgians invented chocolate, it was actually the indigenous civilizations of Mexico and while production in the country is low, the quality of the chocolate in Oaxaca, in particular, is high. Try and find somewhere that sells artisanal, handmade chocolate either in powder or bar form — you won’t regret it!
Perhaps the most iconic artesanía to be found in the state of Oaxaca, these charming hand carved wooden figures are found across Mexico but should really be bought in Oaxaca if possible. Typically produced in the areas of San Antonio Arrazola and San Martín Tilcajete, they’re slightly surreal looking animals, carved and then painted by hand in a range of wonderful colors. These are time-consuming pieces to create, so make sure you pay what they’re worth.
Oaxaca is one of the states which vies for the title of mole inventor; however, many award that title to bordering Puebla. Even so, the range of moles you can buy in Oaxaca (there are supposedly seven principal varieties) is overwhelming and once you’ve fallen in love with this dish you’ll want to take it back and share with family and friends. The best way to do this is to buy the pre-prepared powder which can be found easily in markets. Follow the instructions on the label and you’ve got your very own mole!
These artisanal products are definitely not for everyone, given that they can be bulky to carry around and don’t exactly complement most people’s décor. Having said all that, they would make for a fantastic talking point and are beautiful examples of skilled craftsmanship in Oaxaca. A labor passed from father to son, they’re handmade and are predominantly found in Santa María Huazolotitlán.
A typical artisanal product of the indigenous Mixteca group, products made from palm leaves are common in Oaxaca. Whether you decide to grab a lightweight hat on the go or perhaps even a handwoven bag, they’re easy to transport and are a way of showing support for local people and trade. You may be most familiar with palm leaf products in the form of chuquihuites or tenates though, which are the woven baskets used to transport tortillas and other dry food stuffs.