Experiences

Shopping

Shopping in Latin America is incredible, offering such unbelievable value for money that it ranks up there with gastronomy, otherwordly landscapes and ancient civilizations as the continent’s top attractions!

An important part of any epic journey are the mementos we pick up along the way. Tangible takeaways from our exotic adventures to adorn our homes or share with our loved ones as gifts. These memorabilia also have the power to instantly transport us back to a cherished moment, evoking the sights, smells and tastes of foreign lands we have traversed. 

Shopping is a favourite pastime, particularly in Asia and set about with such vigour and passion that it could almost be considered a professional sport. On home ground with a finely tuned list of connections and contacts we know the up and coming designers or emerging artists, the perfect seamstress to work her magic or the best pastry shop when looking for a simple delicious treat to share at home. Navigating a foreign land is a different ballpark and we can fall into tourist traps and end up paying above the odds for items which will ultimately spend the rest of their lives collecting dust at the back of our wardrobes. With our insider tours and tips, we can help you to ensure that keepsakes you return home with are as special as your trip itself. Not only that, but that your money is going directly into the hands of the local artisans.

Bespoke shopping experiences
In many cities of Latin America, we can arrange private, fully customised shopping tours with local fashionistas, stylists or socialites who can take the guesswork out of your shopping experience. Be your interest in art, home décor, ceramics or fine leathers, on the arm of an expert guide you can enter hidden boutiques and artist’s workshops out of bounds to the average traveller. Hunt down beautiful, unique pieces, safe in the knowledge that you are paying the best possible prices, a day with an expert guide can pay for itself several times over. You also get to experience the city and local culture through the eyes of a kindred spirit. 
 
 
Outside of the cities, many rural areas are home to small villages of artisans whose highly crafted skills have been passed through generations. Regional pottery, textiles or leather goods are often best bought away from the large markets, directly from the artist’s workshops, we can arrange visits to many of these from women’s cooperatives specialising in textiles, to custom-made Panama hats, assuring the fairest trade and finest quality.
Carrying your items home
Luggage allowances, particularly on domestic flights can threaten to derail the prolific buyer’s dreams. We suggest travelling as light as possible, where possible to allow space for your keepsakes. International courier services such as DHL, Fedex and UPS can sometimes be costly but these can be arranged at most shops. Some countries will have their own local alternative with more reasonable international shipping charges, such as Estafeta in Mexico. For bulkier items many of the high-end stores will have their own relationship with freight brokers to ship overseas, and prices are sometimes surprisingly reasonable. Please also be sure to check and adhere to government entry allowances for alcohol and tobacco on your return, or even restrictions on food items or produce from animal and plants, particularly when transiting back through countries such as Australia where regulations are strict.
 
 
What to buy
Latin America is a vast and varied terrain with each country renowned for different produce. That said, whilst they vary from region to region, certain areas are united in their production of world-class vibrant textiles, colourful ceramics, silverwork, precious gems and alpaca clothing. Below is a compilation of some of the finest goods to carry home and where best to buy them.

Homeware and furnitureRecent years have seen some exciting local designers emerge within Latin America, often with very affordable pieces, both mid-century and fresh, contemporary designs from across the region are beginning to hold spots on the international stage. Many designers are influenced by current global trends whilst upholding pre-colonial aesthetics and ancient craftsmanship. In Gustavo Quintana and Estefanía de Ros's Guatemala City-based studio Agnes, the Living Stone collection is an exploration of the contrast between past and present and the result of two years spent researching pre-Columbian techniques.

In Brazil, Morito Ebine's stylish chairs are made entirely from Brazilian wood, down to hardwood pins in place of screws, make a beautiful talking piece for any room. Across the entire region we are seeing some really exciting and innovative ideas, based on bygone skill sets and leading the pack are Mexico and Brazil, where we can advise on the best stores whose carefully curated collections feature the best in homegrown talent. Buenos Aires too, offers some good options and heading out of the city, to the Pampas, some of the rural villages of Argentina's cattle lands such as San Antonio de Areco are excellent, unexpected homeware sources. 

Alpaca and vicuña clothingPerhaps the most iconic creatures of South America are its camelids; domesticated llamas and alpacas and their wild cousins the guanacos and vicuñas. All camelids produce fibre of varying quality, and the most popular animal for this purpose is the alpaca and its clothing has long been a staple of local attire. Revered for its warmth and softness, the fibre actually makes for a great all-weather, hypoallergenic fabric. Popular throughout the high-Andes countries of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, it is Cusco, Peru which holds the crown, or in this case chullo hat. For guaranteed authenticity we can point you in the direction of high-end retailers who only source sustainably farmed wool to ensure that your ponchos, sweaters, shawls or gloves are bona fide.

For those looking for something extra special, the vicuña, the smallest and rarest of all camelids has the finest fibre of any animal in the world. Clothing from this highly coveted fibre was once reserved for Incan royalty only. Raw vicuña can fetch up to six times the amount of cashmere but for the ultimate in luxury this ‘cloth of gold’ is unrivalled. We recommend shops which shear vicuñas sustainably, with a portion of sales proceeds going to help conserve the species and the indigenous communities that harvest the wool and protect these beautiful animals.

Textiles and tapestriesThe rich tapestry of Latin American history and culture is no better depicted than in the physical tapestries of the region. From pre-Columbian times, intricate weavings and needlework have been prevalent on the continent. The most impressive surviving examples from this early period come from the Andean Indian cultures of ancient Peru. These skills have been passed down through many generations. The simplicity of the looms is a testament to the skilled manual labour of the weavers, predominantly women.

Whilst many of the gorgeous, colourful textiles of the region are now mass-produced in factories, nothing beats the intricacy of a traditionally hand-woven garment. Some of our favourite examples of textiles to look out for are: the huipil, the traditional embroidered blouses of the Maya women in Mexico and Central America; the geometric molas which form the clothing of the kuna women from Panama; the Aguayo carrying cloths used throughout the Andes region, most notably in Peru and Bolivia, local Aymara and Quechua women use these woven cloths to carry their babies on their backs.

Silver, Gold and Semi-precious StonesGold and Silver have played an integral role in South American society throughout pre-Columbian, colonial and modern periods. Examples of ornaments, temple decorations and personal jewellery created in these precious metals can be found throughout the ancient empires of the region including the Aztecs and Incas. It was with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, for whom the riches of Latin America served as a treasure trove, that large-scale extraction of these great deposits of minerals through the operation of mines came in to play. Silver in particular, remains a prized local resource and Latin America is one of the best places in the world to buy beautifully styled pieces of high-quality silver, particularly when paired with the beautiful gems of the region.

For the greatest abundance of world-class gemstones in Latin America, Brazil takes the sparkling tiara. The country names its second most populous state, Minas Gerais (General Mines in English), for its position as the country’s mineral storehouse. So named after the gold in the region which was first discovered in 1698. Whilst the richest gold sources were all exhausted in the 18th century gold rush, the state is revered to this day for its semiprecious gems, such as aquamarine, amethyst, tourmaline, and topaz. It is also an important source of industrial diamonds and large quartz crystals.

Meanwhile Colombia is the largest producer of emerald in the world, attracting traders from across the globe and as competition drives costs down, the most affordable country in which to buy some of the purest stones. The Andes mountains of Chile are one of the world’s major sources of the deep-blue lapis lazuli.

LeatherIn a region that loves beef, plenty of stores sell the by-product. Few countries in the world offer the selection of leather goods available in Argentina especialy If one is on the lookout for quality, well-designed product, in particular women’s shoes, accessories, and handbags (and an equally diverse range for men), few places in the world can rival ​Buenos Aires’s selection. Some stores can customize jackets and other articles, so it is worth asking if something strikes your eye but is not in your size or color. Most shops can cut and stitch product this in a couple of days, but to avoid disappointment, start shopping early on. 
 
Inspired by its rich gaucho and horse riding culture, designer stores have sprung up from the polo fields of central Argentina, selling exquisite leather products from handmade belts, wallets, travel bags to high quality leather laptop cases and even dog collars.

CeramicsThroughout the history of Latin America, as with most of the world, pottery has formed an intrinsic part of society. The clay mouldings of ancient empires display, at times, weird and wonderful history, as anybody has witnessed the erotic pottery collection of Lima’s Larco museum can attest to! The centuries-old art form of Latin America still thrives today and the beautiful, jars, vases and trinkets of the region can add a dazzling injection of colour to any home. Much of the modern-day work is renowned for its detailed process and hand-painted geometric or ancestral symbol. Regional variations are great, our favourite spots to pottery shop include Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

AntiquitiesFor truly one-off mementos with a story to tell, pre-loved vintage items or antiques often make for the best conversation pieces, particularly coming from a continent so rich in history. From Art Deco lamps to mid-century sideboards or antique Maya silver, the various antique shops, fairs and flea markets of the region are the best spots to browse for hours, delving into the local fashions through the ages and finding the diamonds in the rough. In Rio, on Saturday mornings a large flea and antiques market, the Feira de Antiguidades, sets up near Praça XV in Rio’s Centro and it is a great spot for picking up Art Deco pieces.

In Buenos Aires, San Telmo is revered for their antique stores and the Sunday feira is worth a visit, the flea market extends for a mile from the original antiques site almost down to Plaza de Mayo. In Mexico City, Coyoacán, once the neighbourhood of Frida Kahlo, is a fantastic spot for retro finds from fashion to furniture, particularly at the Bazar Santa Catarina, situated in the garden of the same name. 

A few of our top shopping experiences
Northern Sierra, EcuadorEcuador is actually one of the best spots for shopping in South America, not just for their range of textiles, ceramics, alpaca clothing and chocolates mentioned. They are also (despite the name, coined from their popularity with construction worker’s building the Panama Canal) the inventors of the iconic Panama hat or paja toquilla. Our favourite area for contentedly browsing has to be in the northern Sierra – the Andean stretch north of Quito. Not only is this area home to the famous Otavalo market, scattered nearby are a range of artisanal towns each with their own forte, such as Cotacachi where the specialty is leather.
 
 
Buenos Aires, ArgentinaWhilst the northern Andean or Maya regions may be more famed for their artisanal goods, where ties to the indigenous culture remain stronger, the Paris of South America should definitely not be overlooked. Buenos Aires offers some of the best independent boutiques, markets and antiquity stores on the continent. Unsurprisingly, it is revered for being the best leather shopping destination in the world and leather craftsmanship is second to none. It also happens to be home to our favourite bookshop on earth, Ateneo Grand Splendid, a (barely) converted in theatre. Whilst in town be sure to pick up some alfajores, sandwich cookies filled with the delightfully creamy dulce de leche and often coated in chocolate. We can arrange shopping extravaganzas with a specialist trend hunter who works with the freshest emerging fashion designers and hand picks the best appointment only showrooms and designer gems to help you get the most from your shopping experience. 
 

Chiapas, MexicoThe lesser visited state of Chiapas in Mexico is home not only to some of the most impressive Maya sites, such as Palenque but is a hidden gem too when it comes to shopping. The stunning town of San Cristobal de las Casas hosts markets which are not to be missed, selling traditional blankets, jaguar wood carvings and woven baskets to adorn your home. The area is most famed for its weaving and for expertly crafted, woven textiles, the hill town of San Andres should be your first stop. The artisans here are renowned for producing the finest work when it comes to back-strap weaving and brocading. That said, each of the mountain villages that scatter Chiapas has its own weaving styles and patterns, from the refined line patterns of Chamula to the simple floral designs of Huistan, we can arrange for you to tour the area to appreciate the differing techniques and designs, choosing your favourite intricate pieces to take home. Weavers also congregate at the weekly Sunday market of San Juan de Chamula which is worth a visit. 
 

Buy only Fairtrade products
There are over 1.5 million farmers and workers spread across more than 70 countries participating in Fairtrade and there are thousands of Fairtrade products from wool, leather, flowers and even silver and gold. We highly encourage that we all support these products. It is not only about fair prices for everyone but also about decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring businesses to pay sustainable prices which must never fall lower than the market price, this helps alleviate any injustices from conventional trade which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. This enables families and villages to improve the quality of their lives. Our simple shopping choices can help farmers and other producers control their future and lead more comfortable and dignified lives everyone deserves.

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