Buying Souvenirs in the Amazon Rainforest
| Cruise Tips
On your trip to the Amazon Rainforest you are undoubtedly going to want to pick up a few souvenirs to forever remind you of your once-in-a-lifetime experience. And whether you are heading for Peru, Brazil or Ecuador, it is perfectly possible to buy some interesting items to represent your trip.
When taking an Amazon riverboat cruise with Rainforest Cruises you will often find yourself starting your cruise in a city or town in Peru, Ecuador or Brazil. In many of these destinations, you can find handmade goods from local artisans. By buying locally you will be supporting these isolated communities, as well as take home a unique and quality souvenir from your trip.
A popular term in today’s travel industry is Ecotourism– tourism directed to natural environments that are often threatened, with the aim to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife. As a responsible tourist, it is your job to be aware of the conservation efforts in your area of travel and help contribute to its goal of conserving the natural environment and sustaining the well-being of the local people. Purchasing the right kinds of souvenirs can really help with this effort.
Many of the cities and towns in Peru are already thriving tourists destinations, and have a number of markets and shopping areas that are safe for tourists to buy local products, other Amazonian cities are up and coming, such as Coca in Ecuador and Trinidad in Bolivia. As with most tourist destinations, you have to be fully aware of what you are buying and who you are buying from. Wherever you plan to stop on your riverboat cruise or land excursion be sure to keep these important tips in mind.
Here are our Dos and Don'ts about Buying Souvenirs in the Amazon:
DO– Buy from the Artisan
Traveling to the Amazon is one of the only places in the world that you may meet indigenous people. You will also meet a number of farmers and local artisans that will be selling their goods to tourists. For many local artisans this is often their only means of income, so instead of buying from one of the “tourist centric” shops, try to buy directly from the artisan. The majority of handcraft artisans are paid very little in places like Peru to supply to these larger shops, so if you can locate a locals market then you are more likely to be handing your money to the person who actually made the item.
DO– Carry cash in small denominations
In market situations where there are lots of other people around the last thing you want to do is flash your cash. If you know you are going shopping just take what you are willing to spend, and make sure it is in small denominations so you don't have to ask for change from the vendor, and get large sums of money out in front of other shoppers. Often times, the vendor will not have enough change for you, it is best to be prepared ahead of time.
DO– Keep an eye on your valuables
When you are shopping in a busy market you can often become distracted by the task at hand and forget to protect your valuables, such as your purse and camera. Make sure when you head to a market or tourist center that you have your valuables zipped up inside a bag, or safely in your purse, and check everything is intact at safe intervals during your shopping trip.
DON'T– Try not to haggle too much
While haggling may be commonplace in most of Latin America and you should be careful when making your decision to hand over your money, especially if its too little. You should be considerate in your haggling and ensure that you pay a fair and reasonable price for the goods. After all, many of these artisans earn little profit from their creations and many live in very difficult financial situations. Be mindful and support the local communities that you are visiting, don't do them an injustice by offering them too little for their unique product.
DON'T– Buy animals or anything made from animals
By buying animals, dead or alive, or souvenirs made with animal teeth, fur, or other body parts you are supporting and encouraging the illegal trade of killing and selling endangered species in the region. In the Amazon regions it is more important than anywhere else that we protect these important and often endemic species. In places like Iquitos you may be asked if you want to visit a serpentario, always say no. These are not zoos or ecotourism reserves, at a serpentario you will see malnourished wild animals held captive in small cages in terrible conditions. These places are illegal and should not be supported.
DON'T– Just purchase from one vendor
If there are a number of vendors on the same street, try not to purchase all of your souvenirs from just the one. You may get a better deal by buying your items in bulk, but you will not be supporting the other independent sellers. Share the wealth and browse all of the options.
Stopping off on your Amazon adventure in various cities is a great way to experience more of the culture and lifestyle of the Amazonias. Here are some tips and items you might find on stops on your Amazon tour:
The Sacred Valley, Peru: A popular destination as part of a tour to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley is famous for its ancient Incan settlements and is still made up of local communities and villages. As part of the Machu Picchu trail it's also not short of markets and souvenirs. Urubamaba is the biggest town, but there is very little to see or do there, instead head for Pisaq, a big market town which has a thriving local Sunday market that begins at sunrise. Ollantaytambo, or Ollanta, is one of the nicest villages in the Sacred Valley and has spectacular views and some souvenir shops in its main square. These, however, can be a little bit more expensive than Pisaq and you can't be sure the profits will be directed back to the local artisans.
Manaus, Brazil: The starting point for most Amazon Cruises in Brazil, Manaus is as close to the Amazon as you can get while still being surrounded by modern civilisation. Here you can purchase native handcraft from local Amazonian tribes and native populations. The Mercado Municipal is a protected national monument and market on the Rio Negro, here you can buy local Amazonian fruit and vegetables, as well as a selection of native handcrafts. There are also a number of artisan markets in and around Manaus, including the Central Artesanato Branco & Silva, where you will find native woven baskets, hammocks and ornaments made of wood, seeds, vines, bark and other organic materials. You can also check out the Feira de Artesanato, with Indian necklaces, bracelets, and handbags.
Iquitos, Peru: One of two meeting points for a Peruvian Amazon river cruise, Iquitos is an Amazon River city that can only be accessed by boat or air. To purchase souvenirs you have a few options: Visit the Belen Street Market, which is located in a poor neighborhood but is a great example of real Iquitos life. The Anaconda Craft Market is also a popular souvenir market, with around 30 vendors selling hand-dyed shirts and masks.
Cuzco, Peru: The starting point of every Machu Picchu adventure, Cuzco is a thriving tourist hotspot in Peru. Many tourists spend at least a day or two in Cuzco to acclimatize and experience the Incan capital and its many souvenirs. Famous for weavings, sliver jewelry, pottery and beautiful watercolor paintings of local people. You can pick up souvenirs in Cuzco's main tourist market the Plaza de Armas. The problem with this market is that it's difficult to know where the goods have come from. If you prefer, you can head for some of the hillside neighborhoods of San Blas, just outside Cuzco, and visit some of the artist's workshops and galleries in person. You can also visit the nonprofit Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco of the Avenida Sol, a training center for the community on how to make good quality handcraft and profits go towards helping the rural communities in Peru.
Coca, Ecuador: Begin your Educadorian Amazon Cruise in Coca, a large city in Ecuador that lies in extremely close proximity to the Amazon Rainforest. Unlike the Incan city of Cuzco and other cities in Peru, Coca is relatively untouristy. This is , however, starting to change and as more people visit the Amazon from Coca, tourism is picking up. If you can get your hands on an Ecuadorian black hat, which will set you back around $70, then do. Their distinctive style, worn with a peacock feather for a special occasion, is a traditional part of Ecuadorian dress, a good quality hat will last you a long time. You may also find a variety of herbs and petals for various medicinal purposes and tea from the Amazon Rainforest.
The Amazon Rainforest: There are a number of projects that have been established to help Amazonian artisans distribute and sell their handmade eco-friendly products, with artists such as Violeta Villacorta from Peru who has been creating sustainable fashion designs and eco-clothing since 1993. She also works with nonprofit organisation Amazon Watch to protect indigenous peoples rights in the Amazon Basin and worked with Amazon women to create her original and creative designs, such as the Cofan and Ai people in Ecuador and souther Colombia, as well as the Awajun community in Peru.
Contact Us if you have further questions regarding souvenir purchasing, responsible tourism or ecotourism.