An alternative way to fund your holiday – offset the costs with savings on some amazing-value souvenirs!
1. Textile, Crafts and Leather Goods
Crafts are a fantastic buy almost anywhere in Latin America. The distinctive, often highly intricate designs and impressive workmanship are much-prized by collectors and traders, and if you can buy them while you are there you’ll be astonished at the mark-ups for similar products on the UK market! Meanwhile Argentina’s famous cattle ranches make it the ideal place to purchase high-quality leatherware for bargain prices.
Local markets are usually the best places to look for crafts, or if you have an interest in a particular item you may even be able to visit a village that specialises in its production, such as Cochas Chico in Peru where seemingly every inhabitant from the age of five and upwards is a master of extraordinary carved gourds. Other crafts to look out for include the woven belts and textiles of Guatemala (visit Chichicastenango market), the colourful molas of Panama, alpaca goods from Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and Mexico’s unique folk art.
2. Cuban Cigars
In a country not short of icons, the cigar is one of Cuba’s most enduring images. Even if you have no interest in the product itself, a tour of a cigar factory is a must while you are there: you’ll see every stage of production, and, endearingly, hear the lector (reader) employed to keep the workers entertained in a tradition dating back to the 19th Century. If you do want to buy, don’t expect them to come cheap – cigars are by their nature a very expensive luxury good – but it’s unlikely you’ll ever get a better cigar for a better price than those you will find in Cuba. The finest (and hence costliest) brand is Cohiba; Partagás and Montecristo are also highly-regarded. Just be careful to buy them from authorised stores and keep your receipt for customs.
3. Fine Wines and Spirits
A souvenir that will bring back the flavour of your destination in months to come, high-quality wines and artisan spirits can be very affordable in Latin America. In Argentina, head to a vineyard or simply one of the many premium wine merchants and you’ll be spoiled for choice – don’t leave without at least a bottle or two of sumptuous Malbec, Argentina’s signature red.
Look out for top-quality varieties of local spirits too: an artisan tequila or mezcal from Mexico can be a real treat – as can a tour of one of the distilleries, where you can often try free samples in an extraordinary range of flavours. In Peru and Chile, the most celebrated spirit is pisco, which is tricky to get hold of in the UK but a must if, like us, you become an aficionado of the magnificent pisco sour cocktail while you are there! Meanwhile in Brazil try the cachaça, and when in Central America, if you like rum make sure to pick up some of the local produce – amongst the world’s finest. We particularly recommend the 7 Años Flor de Caña from Nicaragua.
4. Precious and Semi-Precious Stones
Colombia is the world’s leading emerald producer, and with exceptionally high gem quality and relatively low overheads it can be an excellent place to buy them if you know what you’re doing. Meanwhile Brazil is a good place to buy semi-precious stones – you’ll probably get the best deals in the state of Minas Gerais (with beautiful colonial towns to make it worth your journey), but the ubiquitous H. Stern stores across Brazil can also offer good value. Chile is one of the cheapest places to buy lapis lazuli and you will find many shops in the Bellavista district of Santiago.
5. Bikinis and Flip Flops from Brazil
If you’re a beachwear connoisseur, you’ll want to leave plenty of time for shopping on any trip to Rio. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the world’s top bikini brands are clustered along the streets of Ipanema – the spiritual home of designer beachwear. Some of our favourite brands are Salinas, BumBum Ipanema and Água de Coco, and while they are by no means cheap (and, ahem, you don’t get a lot of fabric for your money), they really are the best of the best and are much better value when bought on location. Similarly the world’s most fashionable flip-flops, Havaianas, are far cheaper in Brazil than back home – the simpler designs will set you back around £5, whereas they sell for about £20 here. Make sure you pick up a few pairs as once you switch to Havaiana flip-flops you’ll never want to wear any other style!