Where to find the best ceramics, mezcal, and huipils you’ll actually wear at home in the craft-capital of Mexico.
If words like “hand-crafted,” “artisanal,” or “natural dyes” make you reach for your wallet, brace yourself for shopping in Oaxaca city. The state of Oaxaca is home to a majority of Mexico’s indigenous groups, many of whom have strong craft traditions and whose influences converge in the capital city. It’s easy to feel that everything made here—from the clothing and housewares to food and booze—has a story and likely hundreds of years of tradition that led to its creation. You won’t have to look far to find beautiful things, so self-control will be your greatest challenge. Follow these shopping pointers to head home with the best of the best.
We’ve put our favorite souvenir shops on a Google Map that you can access while you’re on the road. To download this map, make sure you’re signed into your Google account when you click the link. It’ll automatically add the layer to your world map on both your desktop and Google Maps mobile app. To find the map again within your Google Maps, go to Your Places in the navigation bar and click on Maps.
The thing you’ll need bubble wrap for
Oaxaca does pottery unlike anywhere else, by pairing ancient techniques with unique clays found in the region. The two most famous Oaxacan pottery clays are barro rojo (an earthy, rust-colored variation), and barro negro (the iconic black version). On nearly every corner you’ll spot souvenirs made of both, but the best items to lug home are the ones you’ll actually use: small, minimalist plates, dainty mezcal sipping cups, and, for the ambitious, larger serving bowls, all of which look anything but boring in their striking, glaze-free hues.
In town, your best one-stop shop is Colectivo 1050, a socially conscious boutique just a few blocks from the main square that offers a curated selection of both types of pottery. (Plus, they take credit cards and ship directly to the U.S.) But those looking to dive deep should rent a car, or hail a taxi, and make a day of it: Head to Taller de Escultura y Ceramica Coatlicue, a 20-minute drive outside the city, where many of the city’s restaurants source their black clay dishware. You’ll pay way less than in town (smaller items hover around the $1 mark), and you’ll get to see the family who runs it hard at work. (The shop doesn’t have an online presence, so use this address for your GPS: Calle I. Aldama 103, 2da Secc Sta Maria Atzompa, 71220 Santa María Atzompa.) Then, drive another 40 minutes to hit Mujeres del Barro Rojo, a female-run shop in San Marcos Tlapazola that sources red clay pottery from various villages. Let them wrap your goods in yesterday’s newspaper so you can pack them carefully in your carry-on.
The booze you won’t find in airport duty-free
You can’t leave Oaxaca without a bottle of artisanal mezcal—the kind that’ll make your snobbiest booze-mongering friends jealous. Mezcaleria In Situ, a tiny bar just off of Avenida Jose Maria Morelos, is packed to the brim with hard-to-find renditions of the smoky drink. The rotating crew of barkeeps can guide you through a tasting before selling you a bottle of your favorite.
For an even more immersive experience, duck into the dimly lit Union de Palenqueros, where you can try distillations from smaller home-based makers throughout Oaxaca. The packaging, like the ambiance, is much less formal here—think plastic water and soda bottles with the label ripped off—so the conversation at customs might not be as breezy. But with an ultra-low price point (not to be taken as an indicator of quality), it’s worth seeing what you can get away with.
The buy worth checking a bag for
Oaxacan textiles are emblematic of the region’s artisanal prowess and the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle has been producing a majority of these textiles for generations. The best way to find what you want? Go to the source and spend an afternoon walking the main drag, Avenida Juarez. Many artisans’ workshops sit on that road and you can pop in to shop, watch them mix dyes from natural ingredients, weave massive pieces by hand. You can even commission custom pieces. The most traditional designs are made up of geometric shapes and animal forms, but keep an eye out for cheeky recreations of iconic pieces of art (Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude, in rug form, is a favorite).
If you’re heading to the calcified waterfall of Hierve el Agua, the city’s most popular day trip, make your stop in Teotitlan del Valle on the way back (it’s just off the highway). You can also visit the sprawling Mercado de Artesanias marketplace in the center of the city, but you’ll pay more and see less.
The clothes you’ll actually wear at home
Street markets pop up around the city’s main square most days, ready to help you get the classic just-got-back-from-Oaxaca look: white linen everything, colorful huipils (traditional embroidered tunic), and hand-woven huarache sandals. You’ll undoubtedly purchase some of those items, but the line between a killer find and one that will languish in your closet, unworn, is blurry. Compliment your market trip with a visit to Marchanta Oaxaca, which sells elevated versions of the above from contemporary Latin designers. You’ll spend more, but the payoff is coming home with more wearable pieces that will be notably different than everyone else’s buys. Keep an eye out for Mexican brands like Carla Fernandez, Zii Ropa, and Origen Textil. Be sure to browse their natural beauty products and the bold earrings they design in-house, too.
The market worth dedicating a whole morning to
Put on some closed-toe shoes and your favorite cross-body, and head into the city’s main marketplace: Mercado Benito Juarez. Start with the food stands and taste typical snacks like pan-griddled tlayudas and rich chocolate caliente, all while enjoying the unrivaled people-watching scene. While you won’t be able to recreate the whole experience back home, the building next door sells ingredients, many of which you can pack. Scoop up a ball of mole, fresh cheese, and a sealed bag of fried grasshoppers, known as chapulines—believe it or not, they’re a popular local drinking snack, and no doubt, a conversation starter at home. (Plus, you’re legally allowed to bring the above back into the U.S., so long as it’s sealed, clearly marked, and packaged, even the fresh cheese.) Of course, don’t forget to pick up a bottle of sal de gusano (agave worm salt) to serve with your mezcal.
See all our Oaxaca shopping picks on a Google Map that you can access on your phone