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How to Shop for Blown Glass in Mexico

Colorful blown glass ranks high on the souvenir list of veteran tourists to Mexico. You can shop for classic pieces in the more exclusive city shops or have your own designs custom-made in factories in Puerto Vallarta and outside Guadalajara.

Buy one more piece than you need, just in case of breakage.

Get a detailed receipt when you leave a deposit to begin a custom order, and check in periodically to ensure that your order is running on schedule. Production is often backed up, so leave yourself enough time to have the details worked out through an interpreter, and to have your order completed prior to departure.

Upscale boutiques usually have fixed prices and accept credit cards as well as hard currency. Bargain when having items custom-made, and be prepared to pay in cash pesos or possibly U.S. dollars.

Even thick blown glass is extremely fragile. Pack in tissue and bubble wrap when possible. Put as many pieces as you can into your carry-on luggage and check others in a hard or sturdy suitcase; duffel bags may spell disaster.

1. Buy off the shelves in Mexico City. The Bazar Sabado (Saturday Bazaar) at the Plaza San Jacinto is home to boutiques that sell high-quality glasses, dishes and figurines made by Mexican artisans. Prices are often higher than when purchased directly from local merchants.

2. Visit Tonala and Tlaquepaque outside of Guadalajara for a large variety of blown glass items. Check with the tourist center or city office for information on the area's glass factories. It's possible to have your own designs made, but as these factories cater to large industry, it may take some savvy negotiating to get your small order put through.

3. Visit the intersection of Insurgentes and Basilio Badillo in Puerto Vallarta, where you'll find a tiny but reputable factory that has catered to local industry and countless tourists for a number of years. You may buy off the shelves or have your own creations made during your stay. Many people just come to watch the artists spin hot globs into works of art.

4. Bring an interpreter, if necessary, on your first visit to a factory to ensure that details like design, price and pickup date are clear. Provide neat, detailed drawings instead of relying on flimsy descriptions that sort of describe what you want made. Mexico uses the metric system, so all dimensions for custom designs should be given in millimeters and centimeters.

5. Understand that prices may vary depending on the glass's color or the item's shape. Red glass is typically more expensive than blue or green glass. Fancy or intricate goblet stems, vase rims or pitcher handles may run your bill higher than a more basic design or one that's familiar to the artists.

6. Leave room in your bags to hand carry your purchases home. The small fee incurred for the extra weight of a large glass purchase is cheaper than the astronomical cost of having a package shipped out of Mexico.