Handicrafts in the Yucatán

The Yucatán is famous for its beautiful handicrafts created by artisans in nearby villages. The open-air markets in Cancun are excellent places to find these crafts. 

The hammock is the Yucatán’s most famous export and after you have had a nap in one of them you will know why they are considered the finest in the world. They make a cool, comfortable and portable bed. Local Maya are born in hammocks and spend the rest of their lives in them – in fact, many find our beds quite uncomfortable. Hammocks come in a variety of sizes and colors: singular (singles) sleeps one; matrimonial is big enough for two people, while familia fits the whole family. A good hammock should stretch out to five meters and be three to five meters wide. One third of the hammock should be the woven part with a minimum of 100-150 triple loops, especially for a matrimonial. The tighter the weave the stronger and more comfortable the hammock. There is an ongoing debate whether nylon, linen or cotton is more comfortable – it’s up to you to decide. To judge whether the hammock is the right size for you hold one end of the woven body to the top of your head and let it drop. The other woven end should be touching the floor. If it doesn’t the hammock is too small for you. Prices for good hammocks start at around $15. Beware vendors selling hammocks at really cheap prices, as they are inferior with poor material and craftsmanship. 

panama hats.jpg (19843 bytes)Panama hats made on the peninsula are famous for their light weight and strength. They are made from the jipijapa palm and are considered to be among the finest hats in the world because of their tight weave and flexibility. A good Panama hat, called a finos can be rolled up and stuffed into a pocket without breaking or creasing. Most the Panama hats are woven by residents in the village of Becál working in caves beneath their homes where the humidity keeps the reeds flexible. Prices vary according to the quality of the reed and amount of time taken to weave the hat. Prices for really good Panama hats start at $65.

Huipils are the beautiful cotton dresses worn by the local Maya women. They are embroidered along the square neck and bottom hem with colorful designs and flowers. Often a lace-finished petticoat is worn which peeks out below the huipil. Each woman puts her own village design on the dress as well as her own special pattern. Today many of the dresses are machine embroidered but hand-embroidered dresses can still be found at higher prices. For men there is the classic guayabera—long or short-sleeved dress shirts made from cotton or silk in white and pastel colors. These shirts make an elegant substitute for a formal tie and jacket anywhere in the Yucatán peninsula. 

Because of the different kinds of palms in the area, woven baskets and mats are plentiful. Many villages weave them with their own designs and patterns creating baskets that are both beautiful and practical. Throughout the craft markets you can find woven plant holders, clothes hampers, wastepaper bins, food storage and handbags in all shapes and sizes. Prices are quite reasonable. 

Other handcrafted items include leather goods, silver jewelry and the talavera ceramics famed for their distinctive style. Anything made from tortoiseshell is contraband and will be confiscated since the endangered turtle is a protected species. Don’t buy tortoiseshell products. Also be careful with black coral. You must purchase it from a recognized dealer who will supply you with a certificate to get you through customs. 

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