Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Where to Go
- The Best of Nicaragua
- Nicaragua’s Best Surfing
- Hiking Nicaragua’s Ring of Fire
- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Nicaragua’s Great Green North
- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
- Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas
- Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua
- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
Nicaragua is a nation with a rich diversity of handicrafts as beautiful as they are practical. If you’re interested in shopping, the city of Masaya and surrounding pueblos present the nation’s best opportunity to admire — and acquire — elaborate pottery, intricately woven hammocks, wood carvings, ceramic miniatures, leatherwork, and embroidered guayaberas.
Increasingly these treasures are finding their way into Granada tourist markets and boutiques (start with the lobby of your hotel in Granada). For sheer diversity, Managua handicraft shopping is better, but the experience in open markets like Huembes isn’t as evocative. Here’s a brief guide to some of the items you’ll find in Nicaragua:
Nicaraguan hammocks are well made and reasonably priced: around $30–60, depending on size and quantity. Though you can also find good-quality hammocks at the Roberto Huembes market in Managua, the heart of Nicaragua’s home-crafted hammock industry is Masaya, and visiting the many family “factories” is as easy as walking up to the porch and saying “Buenos días.” Check the weave and the quality of the cord — stiffer cord tends to last longer and tighter weaves tend to be more comfortable.
The soapstone sculptors of San Juan de Limay (a small village north of Estelí) produce polished figurines inspired by animals, Rubenesque women, and pre-Columbian designs. Smaller pieces are simple to transport, but at Masaya, you can have larger pieces packed and shipped home. You’ll see iguanas, parrots, frogs, oxen, wagons, and more, plus ornately carved nativity scenes and chess sets, all carefully rendered in the salmon and ivory hues natural to the Limay soapstone (marmolina).
Nicaraguan pottery designs have continued uninterrupted from pre-Columbian times to the present. Today’s potters produce all manner of vases, bowls, urns, pots, and other forms in rich earthy hues, some delicately etched, some left crude. You’ll find fantastic mobiles and wind chimes of clay birds, bells, or ornamental shapes, like stars and planets. Get gorgeous, export-quality pieces in Masaya or San Juan de Oriente (Catarina and increasingly the other Pueblos are getting into the act now, too). Or find earthy, rustic pieces not too different from what the Nahuatls must have used up north: Jinotega’s black pottery or red clay pieces in Estelí and Matagalpa.
The carpenters and craftspeople of the small towns around Masaya turn out gorgeous wooden furniture. Rocking chairs called abuelitas (“little grandmothers”) or mecedoras are sturdy and comfortable, and if you ask, they’ll gladly disassemble them and condense their products into well-wrapped airline-suitable packages. You can also find them in Managua and Granada, though there you are dealing with middlemen and prices are higher.
The basketwork you’ll find around the country is an extension of the bamboo baskets you see stacked up with produce in countryside markets. Nueva Segovia and the northeast Miskito regions of Nicaragua, in contrast, produce curious baskets and urns from bundles of wrapped pine needles that have been bound into long coils, then wound in concentric coils. Look for them in Ocotal and the markets in Managua.
The first primitivist paintings from the Solentiname archipelago came into the world spotlight in the 1960s as an offshoot of Padre Ernesto Cardenal’s liberation theology movement on the islands. Instantly recognized the world over as an art form unique to Nicaragua, the vibrant paintings typically portray romanticized scenes of tropical Latin America: markets, oxen, trees laden with fruit, and skies full of toucans and parrots. You’ll have a better story to tell if you buy them from the source on the Solentiname islands, but if your schedule doesn’t permit, you can do just as well at the Galería Solentiname in Managua. Lower-priced pieces are available in Huembes market, but you’ll have to look harder to find the better works.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition