When traveling to a new place, it is almost a requirement to buy a souvenir of our adventure. In the Caribbean, there are many options, some better than others, and here we will help you choose them. Let's get started!
If when taking a catamaran tour from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, you decide to take a stroll through the downtown of the island in your free time, some things you will find will be beachfront restaurants and beach clubs, bars offering all kinds of drinks, and, of course, stores, lots of souvenir stores on Isla Mujeres.
If you are coming from another country, you probably won't be able to decide between all the options. Therefore, we have created this guide with some examples of what you can buy in Isla Mujeres.
Here is our index 👇
Ceramics, glass and wood
Sculptures are usually good souvenirs since most are themed according to the destination. For example, in Isla Mujeres, you may find ceramic figures in the shape of whale sharks, tropical fish, and palm trees, characteristic elements of that place. The creativity of the sculptors has no limits.
In the markets you will also see plates, glasses and other works made of glass. They are very eye-catching and useful items to use in your daily life. You will also find sculptures carved in wood, which can serve as keychains or bottle openers.
Talavera is a type of glazed ceramic technique from central Mexico, and its manufacture dates back to the 16th century. This technique is considered an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and is sold throughout the country. Unfortunately, authentic Talavera is hand-painted and marketed particularly in Puebla and Tlaxcala, meaning that, if you see it in other places (such as Cancun or Isla Mujeres), it is most likely a replica.
A molcajete or stone mortar is a typical souvenir of Mexican craftsmanship, since they are used in the elaboration of the famous Mexican salsas. The original molcajetes are big and heavy, that is why in Mexico we have the saying “cargar hasta con el molcajete” (to carry even with the molcajete) which means to carry too many things with you.
Since airport filters do not allow you to carry-on molcajetes, you can buy a souvenir version, which you will usually find in a small and fun size.
Threads, fiber, and fabric
One of Mexico's specialties is embroidery (known in Spanish as bordados). Although they are native to the southern part of the country, you will find embroidery in almost every tourist place you visit in Mexico. These embroideries, mostly made by artisans from Chiapas, are exported to different destinations for commercialization.
Clothing, hats and accessories
Traditional clothing, made of linen or cotton, is another good purchase you can make. The beach vibes of these garments might be a little hard to find at home if you come from a place far from the sea. Some useful and stylish souvenirs can be woven bags, sandals, crop tops, knitted bathing suits or hats to protect you from the sun. Remember to secure your cap or hat when boarding a boat in the Caribbean Sea.
Regional art and lifestyle
It is becoming more and more common to find Bohemian style souvenirs, very artistic and natural. In the Mexican Caribbean area, you are sure to see stalls selling handmade crafts such as:
- Paintings made on the spot.
- Dream catchers.
- Lamps made with the bark of the fruit of the calabash tree, known as jícara.
- Ornaments made from coconut shells.
- Purses made from recycled materials.
THINK TWICE ⚠️
Since Cancun and Isla Mujeres are beach resort destinations, you'll notice that souvenirs “pulled out” from the sea are very common. Many of them pass through the hands of dedicated artisans and have long been sold to defray family expenses. However, the fame of these souvenirs has grown that much that their production has become massive and invasive to the natural environment. Let's look at some examples (which could be disturbing):
Starfish are living creatures that inhabit the sea. They are a fundamental part of the balance of the reefs and are extremely delicate. Unfortunately, every day we see fewer and fewer starfish in the sea due to pollution and extraction for sale. When a starfish is removed from the sea, it suffocates, dies, and is sold as a souvenir.
Unlike starfish, seashells do not suffocate when they come out of the water, but they are home to crabs that want to change shells. Every time we take a snail from the beach, we are probably leaving a hermit crab without the possibility of swapping to a larger home. In addition, removing them from their ecosystem impacts their biology, as the shells and snails fall apart and turn back into the sand.
Selling and/or buying corals could be a crime because many coral species are protected, especially in the Caribbean. Take care of the sea by avoiding all costs buying corals. Coral reefs are very delicate and important ecosystems for us. We need them!
Sand as a souvenir
Products made with sand sell very well in coastal areas. Usually, you will find it in sculptures or small bottles that say sand from Cancun. However, taking sand from the beach contributes to destabilizing the balance of the ecosystem. You may think that you are just a person taking a bit of sand, but the reality is that you will be part of the millions of tourists that visit the Caribbean and take a lot of sand with them. Also, remember that there is a limit to the amount of sand you can carry in your luggage.
Be especially careful with tortoiseshell products, as they are derived from the shells of endangered, protected turtles. Also, do not buy skins from local wild animals such as jaguars, pumas and deer, quetzal or flamingo feathers and stuffed animals. All of these are federal crimes.
TIPS FOR SOUVENIR SHOPPING IN CANCUN AND ISLA MUJERES
Here are some tips that may be useful when buying souvenirs in Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and other destinations in the Mexican Caribbean.
- Avoid generic souvenirs, such as the classic T-shirt or cap that says Cancun or Isla Mujeres.
- Avoid buying in chain stores. Department store souvenirs are impersonal, of poor quality, and usually imported from factories.
- Shop with artisans. Look for places where artisans gather to make souvenirs.
- Many say to try to find the lowest price, but if you are buying directly from an artisan, it is best to pay the right price for their work. Pottery, embroidery, and assembling pieces is complex, so you are also paying for the artisan's time and skill.
- Do your research on the place you are visiting and look for products native to the area. For example, if you go to the Mayan archaeological site of Chichen Itza, you will likely see the Pyramid of the Sun for sale, which is not found in Chichen Itza and is not even part of the Mayan culture. Don't be fooled!
- If you are looking to save money, stay away from central areas and tourist markets. On the other hand, if money is no object, markets in tourist areas can save you a lot of time.
- Do your research before you buy. Ask if it is original, legal, if you can take it on the plane and the way it is wrapped to be transported.
- Buy things that suit your style. Look for items that match your home decor or personal tastes. Don't bring something that will end up abandoned in a drawer.
- Plan your purchases. Set aside part of your travel budget to buy souvenirs, so you don't overspend.
We hope you have enjoyed this blog, and we invite you to leave a comment if you have any questions or would like to discuss a specific topic.