Antigua is probably the best city for shopping in all of Central America. Options range from high-end jewelry and clothing stores to fine art galleries and open-air street vendors selling locally produced crafts and textiles. There are shops to fit all budgets and tastes.
The streets closest to Plaza Mayor are peppered with souvenir stores hawking T-shirts and key chains, shops selling high-end jewelry, top-notch art galleries, and more. About 3 blocks west of Plaza Mayor is the mercado municipal, or public market, as well as an organized handicraft and artisans market.
In general, prices are higher in Antigua than anywhere else in Guatemala. The higher-end stores have set prices, and rarely budge on them. However, the handicraft and souvenir outlets, as well as the larger markets and street vendors, will all bargain.
Jewelry -- There's a glut of shops and street vendors selling jewelry around Antigua. Many specialize in jade and are truly superlative, and at the better shops, you can even design a custom piece.
Markets -- While the prices at Nim Po't are fairly solid (they will offer slight discounts for bulk purchases if you ask), the prices at the other two markets listed are very negotiable. Be pleasant, but persistent, and you should be able to walk away with your goods and a heavier wallet.
Textiles -- In addition to the places listed, the Casa del Tejido Antiguo also has a well-stocked shop. Moreover, all of the listings in the "Markets" section have ample offerings of traditional Guatemalan textiles.
Before You Buy -- If you're planning to head to the large and hectic markets -- whether here, in Chichicastenango, or around the country -- to bargain and shop, it's good to get an idea of what to look for before you dive in. I recommend visiting Casa de Artes or Nim Po't before setting out in search of any arts, crafts, or textiles. The folks at Casa de Artes carry high-end pieces, and their staff is very knowledgeable, so you can learn the difference between a quality piece of work and something that's mass produced. Be sure to ask where the different styles are from, and see if any specific town or region strikes your fancy. Their selection of huipiles is top-notch.
Green with Envy: The History of Jade
The ancient Maya, Olmec, and Aztecs all treasured jade, more so than gold, and because of its durability, it was often considered strong currency in the afterlife. The name comes from the Spanish conquistadors who dubbed it piedra de ijada (stone of the kidney, or loins) when they saw the Maya use it to cure kidney disease. This was soon shortened to jada, or jade.
There are two distinct silicate rocks that are truly considered jade -- nephrite and jadeite. Guatemalan jade is jadeite, which is the harder and more brilliant of the two. It's scarce and thus more valuable. Contrary to popular belief, jade is not always green. In fact, it comes in a wide range of colors, from lavender to black.
Be careful when buying jade, as jewelry made from lesser stones is pawned off as true jade. The more reputable shops in Antigua offer guarantees that their stones are authentic, and many can document the actual mine from which the stone was extracted.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.