Just one hour outside of San Cristobal in the Mexican state of Chiapas, rests the small hilltop community of Amatenango. Here you can buy some of the famed chicken pottery direct from the artists at unbelievable prices. In fact this is where many boutiques from all around the world acquire their pieces for resale. So Allan and I took a road trip with friends to see this Mexican pottery for ourselves.
Purchasing Authentic Mexican Pottery in the Town of Amatenango del Valle
Although I had never heard of Amatenango del Valle before, our friend and travel companion from Playa del Carmen, Janet Lowe, mentioned her interest in going. Whereas she’s an artist and former potter, she came prepared with pages of notes on art in the San Cristobal region. Since Allan and I love buying unique crafts, we were thrilled to accompany her and her partner.
Getting to Amatenango del Valle
We departed San Cristobal de las Casas on a sunny morning in my rental car in the direction of Palenque. Admittedly I was apprehensive due to reports of indigenous hooligans stopping traffic and charging tolls for passage. Furthermore a few weeks ago some German tourists were recently robbed at night on the same road.
Regardless we asked around, and found the passage to be safe in the daytime. Actually the theft occurred several hours away from our location. Nevertheless, I did become nervous when the GPS led us through the middle of a small village with steeply inclined streets. Then it directed us down a dirt road with a drastic drop. The whole area looked intimidatingly closed up. I wondered if the rest of the trip would be on almost impassable streets.
Suddenly a friendly gentleman exited a nearby home and approached the car. We mentioned our destination, and he then directed us towards the correct highway. So we turned around and discovered the rest of the journey to be easy and hassle free.
In my travels, the friendliness of the locals never seems to surprise me.
And that interaction assuaged any fears of highway stops or robberies. Actually we passed several police officers monitoring traffic. One pleasant cop in particular pulled me over for passing another car illegally on a bridge. I gently explained my ignorance of that law, and apologized. He then proceeded to put on his police cap, shake my hand and ask his companion to snap a photo. I was then sent on my way with only a warning. Presumably my photo will be in the paper promoting the helpfulness of local law enforcement.
Arriving in Amatenango de Valle to Purchase Mexican Pottery
From a distance Amantengo looks like any other agrarian town flanked with corn stalks and roadside stalls. Yet upon closer inspection these wooden shacks are filled with pretty pottery that flow out onto the sidewalk. We parked at the first stall, and then gradually moved down the half mile artisan area.
The region is known for its hand-fired and acrylic-painted pieces that resemble chickens, birds and even jaguars. Some call it chicken pottery. Specifically we found various sizes of hen shaped bowls for eggs, plant pots shaped like peacocks and various other avian and feline creations. All the art is done by hand by the very artists selling the work.
Prices are unbelievably cheap. I bought 2 bird plant holders which were about 0.75 meters (2 feet) tall painted in two-tone blue for only $350 pesos total ($20 USD). In a major city you might pay ten times that for original art. The cost is so low I wonder how they even make a profit.
Bring an Extra Suitcase
We ended up purchasing 7 bowls and decorative items for less than $100 USD. Since we didn’t pack an extra suitcase, we decided to ship the items back to Playa del Carmen via Estafeta, an inexpensive domestic shipping company. However next time we will plan ahead with extra space in our luggage.
Since we plan on retuning to San Cristobal over the next year, we surely will return to Amatenango to buy more Mexican pottery as gifts. The cost is so low and quality so high, it would be foolish not to. Plus we absolutely loved the colorful pieces.
Amatenango: My New Go To Place for Mexican Pottery
From the friendly locals with talented, artistic hands to their marvelous works of art in clay, Amatenango is well worth the hour drive from San Cristobal. Additionally it’s on the way to the way to the El Chiflon Waterfalls and the Montebello lakes region. So you could make it a stop on your way to somewhere else. Certainly the beauty and authenticity of Amatenago merit your time.
READ MORE ABOUT CHIAPAS, MEXICO