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Shopping Guide PDF Print E-mail

When people go on vacation they love to relax, eat great food, go to the amazing beaches, check out the nightlife, and of course shop! When shopping in Playa del Carmen, and in other parts of Mexico, there are many things that people like to buy; local art, glassware, hand crafted pottery, silver, hammocks, Mexican Chocolate, and of course tequila! We have included some basic information and background to help with the process of finding the perfect souvenir to commemorate your trip to Playa del Carmen.

 


Local art, pottery, and glass ware:

Paintings on Fifth Avenue Playa del Carmen MexicoDepending on your style and tastes there are some amazing local artists here in Playa del Carmen, and the Rivera Maya. Due to our international community we have some world class art. There are foreign artists that create their interpretations of the area, and culture, as well as national artists who are exquisite at their trade. You can even buy Turkish tapestries here in The Rivera Maya, go figure! Many people also love the art form in the local pottery; from the earthenware, to the hand blown glassware, to the complexities of Talavera, many people like to bring home a piece of the pottery culture as a souvenir..

 

Mexican Glassware Playa del CarmenGlassware- Glassware was virtually unknown to the pre-conquest Mexicans.  The first primitive Mexican glassware was produced in Puebla in the mid 1500's.  For hundreds of years, with nothing more than a piece of molten glass, a long hollow pipe, and a few primitive tools, these artisans have produced glass items in a variety of shapes.  Originally, Mexican glass was called bubble glass because of all the bubbles produced when methods were not as uniform as today. The blown glass technique consists of blowing through a pipe onto a red-hot glass mass, heated in a special oven. As the artisan blows, he can start molding the piece by turning it around with the pipe. When the piece starts cooling, using the appropriate tools, any figures can be molded. Color is added to the glass to give it a wonderful look, as well as different tones and effects.  Some very experienced artisans add effect such as small bubbles in the inside of some pieces.


Pottery and ceramics- The ancient techniques used to make ceramics are still used today, but they are more prominent in rural parts of Mexico. It is remarkable how the artisans have been able to preserve their artistic techniques; coil building, open firing, and natural pigments over such a long period of time.

Puebla- Talavera is a direct descendant of the Arabic tradition, which began in Spain in the ninth century, when the influence of the Arabic culture passed on its techniques to peninsular potters. In Talavera de la Reina, Spain, it became very popular. It was then that it was brought to the Americas, especially the New Spain, as Mexico was called in colonial times. Although authentic Talavera is only produced in Puebla, other similar styles have been produced throughout Mexico, and can be purchased in various locations around Playa del Carmen.

Jalisco-The State of Jalisco has a long tradition of ceramic production. Here, there is more of a Persian influence, including pieces such as stew urns, using gold and silver. 

The State of Mexico- The State of Mexico's ceramics have been heavily influenced by the church. Here they create the well-known arboles de la vida, trees of life. Wire is used to attach the clay leafs and figurines to the "tree". It is called de la vida because it explains the origins of life. Usually there are figures of God, angels and Adam and Eve. Day of the Dead trees are also made using skeletons, and images related to the festivity. Some are made in terracotta, without glaze; others are painted in every imaginable color.

potteryMichoacán- Red ware, which is used to make everything from large cooking pots to rice dishes, is typical of Michoacán. These pieces are often adorned with small flowers and designs

As you can see, Mexican ceramics and glassware bring together the influences of pre-Hispanic, European, Arabic and Oriental cultures. Whatever technique is used, Mexican ceramics have an individuality and "flavor" that is appreciated for its art and quality worldwide. In Playa del Carmen the most commonly found pottery, ceramics, and glassware are the red earthenware, Talavera, and the blown glass ware. The red earthenware is relatively inexpensive, as well as the glassware, but you can spend a bit more on a Talavera piece such as a sink or mirror. Also keep in mind when shopping that if you venture up to the highway there are more bargains to be had then if you stay in the tourist area in and around 5th Avenue.

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Silver

Mexico, the world's largest producer of silver, followed only by Peru, and the United States, has produced perhaps as much as a third of the silver that the world has ever used. About 80 percent of the world's silver is produced as a byproduct of gold or other metals, but Mexico is one of the few countries that has primary silver mines. silverThe silver mines have their special place in Mexican mining history as well as a major role in the development of the history of the New World. The mines of Zacatecas, Arizpe, Guanajuato, Pachuca, Batopilas, Fresnillo, Puebla and Taxco are world renowned for their rich ore deposits, with the mines in Taxco being the oldest mines in the Americas. This being said there is an abundant amount of silver jewelry and other accessories, to be purchased here in Mexico. Although Quintana Roo is not world renowned for silver production there are definitely deals to be had. There are numerous silver shops sprinkled along 5th avenue trying to coax you through the door. Many have similar wares, but certainly compare and shop before you decide to buy. As a rule calculate how much a piece will cost by the gram, and here in Playa del Carmen, it shouldn't run more than about 25 pesos per gram (as of January 2011). If they are trying to charge more than that then you are being taken advantage of. Also keep in mind that there are some pieces that are not sold by weight and the bargaining is up to you.

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Hammocks

hammock2The word hammock evokes images of comfort, relaxation, leisure, freedom, and possibly just good old lazy procrastination. But when it comes to choosing one, are all hammocks alike? The answer is "no" there is much more to a hammock then meets the eye. The one that is most popular here in The Rivera Maya is the Mayan Hammock, or Yucatecan Hammock. The following information will be helpful in your quest for the perfect hammock!

Size: Purchase a 54 inch wide by 84 inch long   (approx. 137x213 cm) hammock to comfortably fit two adults (called a matrimonial), or buy a hammock that is at least 45 inches wide (approx. 114 cm) and between 76 (approx. 193 cm) and 84 inches long (approx. 213 cm) for single seating (called a single).

Thread count: Matrimonials should have 200 or more pairs of strings at either end, and singles can have significantly less. A great hammock will be tightly woven of nice, fine thread. The best are double or triple woven. Check this by stretching out the woven area, and there shouldn't be much of a hole between the threads in the weave. It is also important to check the edges; make sure there are about 15 strings (minimum 10) along each edge to hold the body of the hammock together. Always make sure you check the end loops to make sure they're good and thick and tightly wrapped. This is very important because this is where you hang the hammock from and you don't want to hit the ground while taking your afternoon siesta!

Cost: You really shouldn't pay more then about 500 pesos for a matrimonial sized hammock, but you will get an even better deal if you purchase more then one.

Where to buy: There are often vendors that roam the streets and beaches, but sometimes the quality of their hammocks is not the best. However, now that you know what to look for you can certainly see what they have to offer. Who knows you may find the perfect hammock! Also there are two small villages on the way to Coba that have various shops and artisans and you can get some great deals on hammocks. One of the best places to buy a hammock for both quality and pricing is the Valladolid prison, go figure! If you plan on visiting Chichen Itza you can incorporate this with a stop at the prison

hammock3The Mayan Style Hammock is one of the most popular and obviously readily available in Playa del Carmen and the surrounding areas.  This hammock's predecessor is the original hammock, which dates back over 1000 years. The same folks who built the Central American pyramids, created the most accurate calendar, developed an advanced writing system, and were generally brilliant astronomers and mathematicians - The Mayans, invented it. Their ingenious web-like design is still woven today by thousands of highly trained artisans. Many of them are direct descendants of this superior culture. Most string hammocks come from Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. The Mayan hammock, which comes from the Yucatan province in Mexico, is considered the best of these types of hammocks. String hammocks are reminiscent of tightly woven webs made of fine cotton in a weave that often consists of over a mile of string. This weave is very flexible yet incredibly supportive. It allows the hammock to shape and conform to any body size or shape. String hammocks allow perfect ventilation without any uncomfortable waffle side effects. The overall size and weight capacity of these string hammocks is unsurpassed.

Mayan string hammocks without staves are very lightweight and compact so they are easy to transport, store, and carry. They are popular among backpackers, sailors, and rock climbers - on and off the wall! Mayan hammocks are especially convenient as an extra bed or great furniture inside. They can be attached and removed at leisure to permanent screw hooks anchored in wall studs or ceiling beams. The main concern with string hammocks is their susceptibility to careless damage. Sharp objects or edges, buttons and zippers can all be enemies to the string hammock when the user is careless. So if you are the destructive type you might consider a hammock that sustains more abuse. String hammocks absorb moisture but dry quickly so they are not as vulnerable to rotting as the other hammocks; however, it is important not to store the hammock if even slightly damp. The beautiful colors that are the trademark of Yucatan string provide a beautiful and unique aesthetic appeal. In time, with exposure to the sun, they fade like your favorite jeans.

Hammock information courtesy of www.hammocks.com

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Mexican and Mayan Chocolate

cacao2 Mexican chocolate is made from dark, bitter chocolate mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes nuts.  The end result is a "grainy" less smooth product.   Chocolate is frequently purchased in "disks" although it is also available in bars and syrups. And there is nothing like making hot chocolate from this delicious concoction! But behind this lovely chocolately treat is a long rich history of the cacao bean. The word chocolate is said to derive from the Mayan word xocoatl; cocoa from the Aztec word cacahuatl. The Mexican Indian word chocolat comes from a combination of the terms choco ("foam") and atl ("water"); as early chocolate was only consumed in beverage form. Chocolate has been drunk as a beverage for thousands of years.

Chocolate grows on trees, appearing in its raw state as melon-like pods on the 40-60 foot (approx. 12 to 18 meters) tall trees known botanically as "Theobroma cacao," which means "food of the gods." This tropical tree has grown wild in Central America since prehistoric times. It also grows in South America, Africa and parts of Indonesia. The cacao tree produces a fruit about the size of a small pineapple. Inside the fruit are the tree's seeds, also known as cocoa beans.

Archeologists tell us that the Olmecs , the oldest civilization of the Americas (1500-400 BC), were probably the first users of cacao, followed by the Maya, who consumed cacao-based drinks made with beans from their plantations in the Chontalpa region of what is now eastern Tabasco. A drink called 'chocolatl' made from roasted cocoa beans, water and a little spice, was their most important use but cocoa beans were also valued as a currency.

Because cocoa beans were valuable, they were given as gifts at ceremonies such as a child's coming of age and at religious ceremonies. The Maya had very many complicated religious beliefs with many gods. Merchants often traded cocoa beans for other commodities, cloth, jade and ceremonial feathers. Mayan farmers transported their cocoa beans to market by canoe or in large baskets strapped to their backs, and wealthy merchants, employing porters to carry their wares, ventured as far as Mexico the land of the Aztecs, so introducing them to the much prized cocoa beans.

If you would like to experience the yummiest of Mayan chocolate while visiting Playa del Carmen, stop by Ah Cacao which is located on the corner of Constituyentes and 5th Avenue.It is also located on 30th Street between 5th and 10th Avenue.. If you would like to buy traditional Mexican Chocolate it can be found in all major markets and shops.

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Tequila

tequila1Mention tequila and one may think about Mexico, sipping on margaritas, and perhaps the odd shot or two! For some it may remind them of things that they never thought they would do like dancing on tables, kissing total strangers...you get the picture. Often people say that tequila gives you a "different" buzz than other alcohols. Most likely, after they have had a few! By the way, there is no proof of this.

So if you are a tequila aficionado or a naiveté there are some complexities to tequila that are not immediately apparent. For example; what is the difference between anejo, reposado, white, or gold tequilas and what about the crazy worm in mescal? Is it tequila? As you can imagine, this research entailed only the highest of standards drinking many shots until the wee hours of the morning!

So what is tequila made of? The best tequila's are made of 100% blue agave , which is a large plant that is harvested for its core or "pina" that is made into tequila. All 100% agave tequila must be bottled in Mexico.  This pure tequila can come in three forms: Blanco, reposado and anejo.

Blanco: This young non-aged tequila has the most distinct agave taste because it is not stored in wood barrels for long. Typically, they taste somewhat floral, herbal with a peppery bite to them.  *Note that it can also be labeled as plata or silver

Reposado: Literally means rested and is aged a minimum of 2 months. They usually have a light to medium golden color with a smoother taste due to the aging in wood barrels.

Anejo: Meaning aged, this tequila is aged a minimum of 1 year and usually not more than 3. These tequilas are usually darker with a smooth, mellow taste. Similar to enjoying a fine scotch it is often served in a brandy snifter. Mmmmmm, a definite favorite whether it is served straight up or in a margarita!

Tequila that is not 100% is known as mixto.

Mixto blanco = non-aged

Mixto gold = not aged and has added color and flavors

By definition, all tequilas are mescals but not all mescals are tequilas.  Mescal, like tequila, is distilled from the agave plant family but of a different variety called espadin. The process in which it is made is also different. The agave is roasted, not cooked, like tequila. This accounts for the smoky taste.  And what about the worm? Legend has it that the worm that lives in the plant carries the magical spirit and carries it to the drinker. This is really an ingenious marketing tool as the worm contains only a bit of protein!

tequila2 Now, how does one drink tequila? This may seem silly but so many times people use the typical shoot ‘em back style which is wrong in so many ways.

First of all, many bars serve fine tequila such as a 100% reposado as their house tequila. (We'll talk brands later) These tequilas and the finer anejos are not meant to be shot back with salt and lime. They are meant to be savored and sipped, perhaps even on ice. Many tequila aficionados claim that good tequila should not even be served in a shot glass.  If you really must shoot it back you may as well buy a cheaper one.

So these are the basics of types of tequilas and how to decipher what is on the label.  But what do you buy? By all means, you may need to go out and do some research of your own but here are some of my favorites:

Gran Centenario: Both reposado and anejo are excellent at a reasonable price; a favorite among tequila fans that is served in most bars.

Herradura: They make only excellent, 100% blue agave tequilas that are a favorite among Mexicans. That's got to tell you something.

Jose Cuervo: Commonly served in bars is a very well known brand with a wide price range. My pick would be Cuervo 1800 Anejo or Reposado. If you want decent tequila for mixed drinks Tradicional is priced reasonably.

Sauza: Another common brand that is served in most bars as their house tequila is Hornitos that is pretty decent.  Sauza Conmemorativo is a better quality, smoother tequila.

Don Julio: A little more pricey, but excellent tequila whether you choose the blanco or anejo.

So whether you are a margarita connoisseur, an upscale tequila sipper, or a shot taking professional, there is a tequila for every one! So hopefully after this information you can hold your own in a tequileria, and truly enjoy the tequila experience. There is certainly more to tequila then meets the eye.

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More Shopping Options

moreshopping Of course not everyone is looking for local arts and crafts, and there are plenty of other options for shopping.   There are trendy clothing shops, Brazilian bikini shops (hhmmmm, don't worry you don't have to have a Brazilian to buy a Brazilian bikini!), a Rolex store, Sunglass Island, and the list goes on. With Paseo del Carmen , Centro Maya,  Plaza Las Americas, two Wal-Mart’s, City Club Sam's Club ,Chedraui Puerto Aventuras,  and Commercial Mega, there are plenty of places to shop, both for souvenirs, or food and sundries, while you are visiting Playa del Carmen. In the past we had to go all the way to Cancun to find what we needed, and go to a myriad of locations to find a certain item for a recipe, or flips flops that lasted more than one day. But with the huge influx of growth and demand, Playa del Carmen has put itself on the map for services available to locals and visitors alike. 

 

So welcome to Playa del Carmen, and shop ‘til you drop!

 

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When people go on vacation they love to relax, eat great food, go to the amazing beaches, check out the nightlife, and of course shop! When shopping in Playa del Carmen, and in other parts of Mexico,  there are many things that people like to buy; local art, glassware, hand crafted pottery, silver, hammocks, Mexican Chocolate, and of course tequila! We have included some basic information and background to help with the process of finding the perfect souvenir to commemorate your trip to Playa del Carmen.