Souvenirs are available all over the country, but you'll find the best range in the markets in Guatemala City, Antigua and Chichicastenango. The latter is Gautemala's largest handicrafts market and a tourist attraction in its own right. The main street of Panajachel also turns up some surprisingly good bargains.
Although most of Guatemala's finest beans are exported, some are (thankfully) held back for the local market. To get the finest, freshest beans available, visit a coffee farm and/or roaster and buy from them directly. Cobán, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and Antigua produce some of the world's greatest coffee and support growers and roasters.
Beloved of the ancient Maya, jade is mined in Guatemala today and you'll find it both as jewelry and as miniature sculpture. Colors vary from light cream to the deep green traditionally associated with the stone. Antigua has some good shops where you can see the stone being worked on-site.
Guatemala has some terrific leather goods. Fine briefcases, duffel bags, backpacks and belts are sold in most handicrafts markets. Cowboy boots and hats are a specialty in some areas, and custom work is welcome – head for the village of Pastores just outside Antigua for the best work. The craftsmanship of these items is usually phenomenal, and the prices astoundingly reasonable.
Guatemala's intricate, brilliantly colored textiles are world famous. Weaving is a traditional and thriving art of the local Maya people. Clothing – especially the beautiful embroidered huipiles (tunics), cortes (skirts) and fajas (sashes) of the Maya women – as well as purses, tablecloths, blankets, hacky-sacks and many other woven items, are ubiquitous and good value, some for practical use, some more for souvenirs.
The largest craft markets are in Chichicastenango, the Mercado Central and Mercado de Artesanías in Guatemala City, and the Mercado de Artesanías in Antigua. Fine textiles of an infinite variety are also available in Antigua's shops. Elsewhere, in places such as Nebaj, Sololá, Santa Catarina Palopó, Santiago Atitlán and Todos Santos Cuchumatán, you can obtain local textiles at weekly markets or a few permanent stalls.
As beauty of Guatemalan textiles becomes known worldwide, Maya women are taking steps to protect their generations of accumulated artistic knowledge, as well as the value of the labor it can take to create a garment. As traditional designs become appropriated by everyone from international fashion houses to Guatemala's national tourist board, initiatives such as that of the Women’s Development Organization of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES) are trying to protect their intellectual property from exploitation and provide income for the creators.
In Guatemala, we recommend buying from weaving cooperatives where possible. Not only do the following associations of craftswomen pool the cost of materials, provide the artisans with a place to work and seek markets for their products, they also instill a sense of value among the weavers and help them get a fair price for their work. Most also give visitors a chance to observe the weaving process and a few offer instruction in the craft.
Ceremonial masks are fascinating, eye-catching, and still in regular use. In Chichicastenango you can visit the artists in their morerías (workshops).
It's best to use an international shipping service if you want to ensure the relatively safe, timely arrival of your goods. A 10kg package sent from Antigua to California by UPS, for example, will cost you around Q2500 for express (two-day) service.