Handicraft Heaven: Nine Unique Gifts to Buy Along the Inca Road

Leave room in your suitcase for these irresistible items

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Crafts in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru have ancient pedigrees and contemporary appeal. Decorating gourds is a 4,000-year-old practice; weaving palm leaves draws on techniques reaching back to 3,500 B.C. and the region’s much admired textiles date back 3,000 years. All these treasures are handmade. All reflect the land’s rich natural resources.

Items assembled by Carmen Arellano in Peru, Ruxandra Guidi in Ecuador and Sara Shahriari in Bolivia.

This article is a selection from our new Smithsonian Journeys Travel Quarterly

Travel through Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile in the footsteps of the Incas and experience their influence on the history and culture of the Andean region.

Honey

Local communities are granted the right to keep bees on the protected land of the Pomac Forest, an arid tropical preserve on the northern coast of Peru. The amber-colored honey they collect comes from the nectar of the flower of carob trees. Noted for its woodsy aroma and buttery flavor, the honey can be bought at regional markets.

Blanket

This handwoven manta, or blanket, was crafted by a weaver from the Chawaytiri community near Cusco, Peru. It is ennobled by natural dyes and a pattern passed on from generation to generation. Others like it are at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, Av Sol 603, Cusco.

Gourd

Mates burilados—engraved gourds—are traditionally used as drinking vessels, bowls or spoons. This gourd from the Seguil-Dorregaray family atelier displays a narrative of the tropics where humans live in harmony with toucans, snakes, and other animals. Av Los Precursores 449, Lima.

Handbag

Artisans in the village of Eten in the northern Peruvian region of Lambayeque made this handbag with macora palm leaves twisted into straw. The leaves are washed in soap and left to soak. After rinsing and drying, they can be worked into strands and woven by hand. At regional markets.

Hat

Though it’s called a Panama hat, the Homero Ortega toquilla, as it’s known locally, has been made in Cuenca, Ecuador, by five generations of the Ortega family. The traditional art of handweaving these hats began in the early 17th century. Benalcázar N 2-52 y Sucre, Quito, and Avenida Gil Ramirez Dávalos 386, Cuenca.

Salt

The town of Maras, Peru has mined peach-colored salt since pre-Inca times. During the dry season, workers fill pools with salt water from a subterranean stream. Once the water evaporates, the salt is ground, supplemented with iodine, and packaged for sale in regional markets.The town of Maras, Peru has mined peach-colored salt since pre-Inca times. During the dry season, workers fill pools with salt water from a subterranean stream. Once the water evaporates, the salt is ground, supplemented with iodine, and packaged for sale in regional markets.

Sweater

Artesanía Sorata sits halfway up Sagarnara Street in La Paz. The cooperative enables indigenous artisans, who make pieces like this child’s alpaca sweater, to achieve a higher standard of living. Casilla 4365, Calle La Bolivia, Boqueron 1050 La Paz.

Plate

The distinctive geometric shapes decorating this plate are the signature designs of Julia Sarabia, daughter of the famed Bolivian ceramicist Mario Sarabia. It—as well as a charming collection of art and handmade jewelry—can be found at Ceramic Sarabia, located in La Paz’s wealthy southern district. Calle 4, No. 7 Mallasa, La Paz.

Chocolate

For hundreds of years, the Hacienda La Concepción in Ecuador’s Los Rios Province has produced highly prized chocolate. The families who maintain the ancient “cacao arriba” trees also preserve the traditional methods of harvesting, drying, and fermenting the beans. At República del Cacao, Reina Victoria y Joaquín Pinto Esquina, Quito; Calle Larga 8-27 y Luis Cordero, Cuenca.

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