Mexican gifts and souvenirs are all the rage right now. Vivid designs, geometric patterns, and indigenous histories make Mexican handmade and artisanal crafts the perfect gift.
Whether you’re in Mexico looking for souvenirs to take back or buying a gift online, we explain the most traditional and unique Mexican gifts you should put on your shopping list and where to buy them.
If you are looking to buy online, just click on any of the images to find the product on Amazon.
Tequila or Mezcal Set
The world of refined tequila and handcrafted mezcals offers plenty of options to impress people with your Mexican gift. To make it a unique and traditional Mexican gift, here are some tips:
- Tequila is drunk from a ‘cabello’ glass, which is a tall shot glass. The most traditional tequila glasses in Mexico are handblown glasses with a colored rim, or talavera ceramic (traditionally blue and white). Some people chase tequila sips (never shots!) with lemon juice or a spicy tomato drink called ‘sangrita.’
- Mezcal is typically drunk with wider, squat glasses. This allows the mezcal to breath and reduce alcohol fumes. In the mezcal heart of Oaxaca, many cups have a cross on the bottom, inspired by Catholic church candle holders. Artisan mezcal rounded cups, like clay bowls, are also common, as are hand-carved jicaras, made from bark or fruit shells. These usually hold small amounts and are hard to hold, designed to focus you on the flavor in each small sip. Mezcal is usually served with orange slices sprinkled with smoked grasshopper (chapulin) salt, so it’s a nice touch to include a matching serving board, salt holder and plate.
Tip: Buy tequila as a gift if you like smooth, refined flavors; opt for a mezcal if you like smoky, strong-flavored spirits.
An ‘alebrije’ (a-ley-bri-he) is a surreal paper-mache figurine that combines parts of several different animals or fantastical creatures. It is Mexican folk art traditional that came alive in the 30s with paper Mache artist Pedro Linares Lopez in Mexico City. Pedro said he saw these fantastical creature while hallucinating with an illness. The word alebrije also came to him in the dream, and doesn’t have another meaning or etymology other than these creatures which have become a Mexican symbol. From Disney’s movie Coco, Pepita is an example of an alebrije.
These colorful ceramic pieces are emblematic of Puebla and Tlaxcala, where the quality of clay is better and the tradition dates to the 16th century. Talavera is unique for the use of natural clays, bold colorful decorations, and a specific white glaze. There are only a small number of workshops that are certified and verified to produce real Talavera; you will see the signature of the potter, the workshop logo, and a special hologram if it’s authentic. You will also find many imitation pieces which are cheaper.
Black Clay Pottery
For a traditional Mexican gift, black clay (barro negro) goes back to the pre-Hispanic era. Traditional pottery methods were used by Zapotec communities in Oaxaca, which had access to a greyish clay in the surrounding region. Historically, the clay was molded without a wheel or modern tools.
In the 1950s, local potter Alfarería Doña Rosa discovered that the clay turned black if polished before firing. The surface is polished with a quartz crystal to produce a black sheen. If you’re visiting Oaxaca, you can still see some family-owned workshops in San Bartolo Coyotepec, including the biggest workshop once created by Doña Rosa.
Tip: You will see black clay mezcal glasses and other serving dishes but often they are naturally finished and should not be wet, so we don’t recommend it.
Mexican Tin Decorations and Boxes
Mexican artisans have stamped, cut and painted tin art work (hojalata) since the 1500s. It is an especially popular Mexican gift to buy in Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende. It is common to see religious crosses and rustic hearts, although today you can find almost any figure. They are thin and light and make the perfect Mexican gift to bring back in your suitcase. They are designed to hang on the wall or sometimes as Christmas tree ornaments.
For more elaborate versions, the same technique has been applied to make picture frames, small tins, jewelry boxes, mirrors, and even Christmas trees. The hanging lamps are especially atmospheric as they cast shadows on the walls.
Textiles and Embroidery
Today, many textiles are still made and embroidered by hand by indigenous communities around Mexico. In recent years, many of these indigenous motifs and symbols have become trendy and have been used by major brands across the world (although Mexico’s Culture of Ministry is chasing these brands for cultural appropriation).
You can ethically buy textiles by visiting these communities and buying directly from indigenous artisans, although many sell to markets where you will find a great display of their work. We recommend trying the dresses first, as they tend to have a specific fit that isn’t flattering for everyone (and may not make the best Mexican gift if buying for someone else). Although, there is less risk with the tops, plus upscale Mexican designers are increasingly using these motifs in well-fitted designs. If you’re unsure, you can’t go wrong with handbags, purses, cushion covers, table runners, hanging textiles and bed spreads. Some of the most common motifs sold are Otomi textiles from Hidalgo, also known as tenangos, although you will come across many styles depending on the state and indigenous community.
The striped Mexican blanket has also become an international icon and today comes in both neutral and bright colors to match any design.
Mexico is a resource-rich country and today you can find both modern and historic jewelry designs. The town of Taxco is especially known for its silver trade and booming jewelry market – you’ll find a jeweler on almost every street.
Mexico Hoodies and T-shirts
Mexican hoodies jumped in popularity as people embraced the Mexican identity. Particularly, t-shirts and hoodies with phrases like ‘Mexico is the Sh*t’ or ‘chingon/chingona’ (awesome or cool) will be the perfect gift for any of your Mexican friends.
While these images are used in all sorts of merchandise today, it was originally a bingo game played with a game board. The cards have an iconic, vintage quality, with several similarities and names to tarot cards. Today you can also find many variations, although the original set is sometimes called the Don Clemente Loteria. For a funny twist, you can buy t-shirts, mugs and the like.
One of the most iconic Mexican symbols is the skull. Death is an accepted and celebrated part of life in Mexico, most seen in Day of the Dead but also in historic imagery and sculptures. Today, you can find artistically painted skulls in ceramic, wood, and all sorts of materials.
This unique art, also known as ‘chaquira,’ involves the time-consuming process of arranging small beads or yarn into intricate and colorful patterns. The native Huichol people (or Wixarikas) retreated into the mountainous Sierra Madre Occidental range at the arrival of the Spanish, and their isolation kept much of their culture intact. Today, they live in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Durango. Their art was a form of spiritual storytelling and to represent two worlds: the tangible one and their driven inspired one. Many of their figures are based on their deities – such as Eagles, Peyote, Corn and Deer – and other natural and spiritual elements.
You’ll see many scary and fantastic masks around the country, usually made of wood.