The Carretera Panamericana (Hwy. 190) rolls past the small pottery-making village of Amatenango del Valle, where passersby are treated to an incredible display of classic Tzeltal Maya artisanship; most notable are the rustic clay doves, some tiny, some measuring over one meter (3.3 feet) in height.
Though the men of Amatenango del Valle tend to wear western clothes—jeans, boots, and cowboy hats—the women still wear traditional clothing. Changed little over the centuries, the clothing includes a loose red and yellow raw cotton shirt that has been embroidered with wool yarn and a dark-blue checked skirt, often a length of cloth that has been wrapped around the body. Women also typically wind a bright-red ribbon in their hair.
All of the pottery made in Amatenango del Valle is created without a wheel. Pieces made from natural gray clay are sun-dried and then fired in an aboveground open fire rather than in a kiln—a technique dating to pre-Hispanic times. Unfortunately, the pottery is not as durable as some, but the pieces are a wonderful souvenir if you can get them home.
A number of San Cristóbal –based tour operators stop here on the way to or from the Lagunas de Montebello , but if you are driving it is easy to visit on your own. Driving past town, you’ll see jars, doves, and other pieces set up right on the highway’s shoulder. If you stop, the owner of the particular collection of pieces typically will come running out of her home.
You can try asking to see the artist’s workshop—not all artisans are open to this (or are working at the moment you pull up)—but it makes for an interesting few minutes. As elsewhere, ask permission before taking pictures.