In a land of artisans and beautiful natural materials, it’s important to know what to buy and where. From hats to knits to jewelry to ceramics, here’s your Cuenca shopping guide.
Despite its name, the Panama hat is native to Cuenca. Historically, this style of hat was exported to Panama, and then shipped internationally from there. Head to the Panama Hat Museum on Calle Larga to learn about the hat’s production and to purchase one of your own. The finer the thread, the higher the quality and the more expensive the hat. You will find hats ranging from $20 to $500.
At the Casa de la Mujer, you will find an indoor market full of small treasures. Here you can purchase traditional baskets, jewelry, handmade shoes, small instruments, wooden products, and much more. Expect slightly higher prices than at the San Francisco Market, but great quality.
San Francisco Market (Mariscal Sucre and Padre Aguirre)
If you’re looking to buy more affordable ponchos, scarves, knits, or blankets, the San Francisco Market is your place. Vendors come from the Otavalo region, famous for its fabrics, to sell their products in Cuenca. If you have room in your suitcase, consider purchasing one of the uniquely patterned blankets, ponchos, or alpaca sweaters, each of which you can buy for about $20. You may want to get one for yourself, too, given the sometimes-unexpectedly cold days in Cuenca.
Whether you’re in the market for Ecuadorian coffees, jams, chocolates, or oils, Ambrosia is sure to have something to suit your needs. You will also find a variety of lotions, soaps, and accessories.
Manos del Mundo is one of Cuenca’s first fair-trade souvenir stores. All of the products are handmade in Ecuador and one-of-a-kind. You will find beautiful art, textiles, alpaca products and more. The prices are a bit higher but all products are of high quality.
Mascha is a small boutique that sells diverse products from local artists. Here you will find small gifts like T-shirts, scarves, stuffed animals and beauty products. The products are more modern and funky than you might find elsewhere, but it’s still a great way to support the local markets.
Galerias el Tucan (Presidente Borrerro 7-35 y Presidente Cordova)
This two-floor souvenir shop is my favorite in town for its diverse selection of items. The first floor is full of handicrafts such as jewelry boxes, purses, nativity sets, and jewelry. Upstairs you will find some clothing for adults and children, knit scarves, gloves, hammocks, and blankets.
The Hippie Market (Benigno Malo y Gran Colombia)
The “Hippie Market” is a small square full of a dozen individual stands selling their artisan products. The government arranged the market to support individual artists and provide them with a decent place to sell their work. Come here for smaller items such as stone jewelry, wire figures, and dream catchers.
Eduardo Vega is one of the most well-known ceramic artists in Cuenca. His gallery is located in a house at Turi, near the city’s touristy lookout point. From the main overlook spot you can walk down the hill and find it as the first house on your left. Whether you’re looking for art, home décor, or dishes, Eduardo Vega will not disappoint.
Artisan Guitars (Padre Aguirre y Presidente Cordova, in front of the San Francisco church)
San Bartolome, a town outside of Cuenca, has a long tradition of making guitars by hand. Craftsmen from this town come to Cuenca every Thursday afternoon, close to the Plaza de San Francisco, to sell these one-of-a-kind pieces. You can also take a trip to the town, which is part of the “route of the guitars,” to buy a special Ecuadorian guitar. The price you pay for a handmade guitar here is much lower than the market price abroad.
Gualaceo (45 minutes east of Cuenca)
Gualaceo is an Ecuadorian town known for its leather goods and hornado (roasted pig, which can be found at the downtown market). This is where Cuencanos go shoe shopping. You can find great boots and shoes of all kinds at one of the numerous shoe shops around town. I’ve had great luck at one called Rise (Davila Chica 10-78 y Vicente Pena Reyes). Prices of leather or synthetic styles range from $10 to $60.
Chordeleg (1 hour east of Cuenca)
Chordeleg is a small town outside of Cuenca that is well known for its jewelry. It is a traditional Ecuadorian town, with a square in the center and shops surrounding it. This is the place to go for silver. Traditional jewelry styles here feature large earrings, rings and bracelets with the filigree technique, which is the art of delicately molding wire. While some simple pieces can cost $10, you can also find very high-quality jewelry at a luxury price point. Chordeleg is one hour outside of Cuenca, just 10-15 minutes past Gualaceo by car.
Aside from these spots, keep your eye out for the city’s open-air street markets, known as ferias. The largest ferias are in the first days of November for Fiestas de Cuenca, and in the second week of April. Artisans also come together at the regular Mercart, which takes place around the city on a monthly basis.
Have any other favorite spots to shop around town? Share them with us in the comments section below.