The state of Oaxaca has the richest, most inventive folk-art scene in Mexico, and the city is its chief marketplace. You’ll find the highest-quality crafts mostly in smart stores, but prices are lower in the markets. Some artisans have grouped together to market their products directly in their own stores.
Oaxaca’s crowded commercial area stretches over several blocks southwest of the Zócalo. Oaxacans flock here, and to the big Central de Abastos market, for all their everyday needs.
The Art of the Artisan
Oaxacan artisans’ techniques remain fairly traditional – back-strap and pedal looms, hand-turning of pottery – but designs, motifs and products are constantly evolving in response to the big demand for Oaxacan crafts. The ubiquitous fantasy animals carved from copal wood, known as alebrijes, were developed within recent decades from toys that Oaxacans had been carving for centuries.
Other special products to look for include the distinctive black pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec; blankets, tapestries and rugs from Teotitlán del Valle; creative pottery figures made in Ocotlán and Atzompa; assorted jewelry; and huipiles (indigenous women’s sleeveless tunics) and other colorful textiles from numerous indigenous villages. Many shops can mail things home for you.