Where: Salta & Jujuy, Andean Northwest, Argentina
What’s in Store: Hollowed out Giant Cactus make great crafts like lampshades
Bag a Bargain: Prices are low & subject to bargaining, but you can really help the poor local economy
Remember: Check with customs first or your gift may be confiscated as contagious!
Where It’s At
Cactus plants have long been used by Indigenous people in the Americas as a source of water and food (the soft fruit of many species is eaten as a delicacy in salads) and of course the thorny plant is the nemesis of Wile E. Coyote whose intimate experiences landing in the prickly bush is popular cartoon material. Jokes aside, this desert succulent has other uses, including the design and manufacture of cactus crafts that make innovative use of this common South American plant for all kinds of interesting things.
The giant cactus, or Cardón as its known locally, grows abundantly in the region surrounding these towns and if you’ve ever fancied a lampshade or trashcan (or something that is usable as both) made out of these towering cactus trees than you can shop to your hearts content when visiting Salta or Jujuy, the center of the cactus craft industry in Argentina. Locals collect the cactus and slice sections off the hollow stem; the fibrous material being tough and durable is resistent to wear and tear.
Bag a Bargain
Families have set up shops where you can browse through their creations in an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. This region is one of the poorest in Argentina and local handicrafts are often the only means of survival so bargaining is expected; that being said with prices so low it’s wise to be sensitive and not bargain too hard. It helps to know some Spanish (the numbers at least) to make this experience more enjoyable.
Shipping these surprisingly sturdy items home is a good idea as they tend to be large and awkward to carry on long trips. Most shops can arrange this when you buy and for travellers nervous about shipping long distances and wanting to hand carry them home, shops are be flexible about pick up so you can travel around the Andean Northwest before returning to pick up your purchase.
On return home, customs may be a problem for travellers especially from agricultural regions like California, Australia and New Zealand as customs agents may be concerned about unwanted hitchikers like worms and beetles, so checking first with the current regulations is wise if you don’t want to have the cactus craft confiscated. Fumigation on arrival is one solution but don’t rely on this as your carefully selected treasure may be taken away and destroyed.
History and background the the Province of Jujuy, home of the Giant Cactus.
main image: By Quinn Dombrowski – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53431660