Visit Loiza for Some Authentic Hand-Crafted Souvenirs
The town of Loiza has a long and interesting history. The African heritage of the area is seen all around town — in the music, dance and art. The Loizeno people are proud of their ancestry, and the local artisans often use it as a primary theme in their artwork.
Unfortunately, even though Loiza is just next door to San Juan, the average tourist doesn’t venture east past Piñones so they never see Loiza.
If you really want to take home a meaningful and authentic hand-crafted souvenir from Puerto Rico, skip the Made in China stuff that you’ll find at the airport. Instead, take a short trip to Loiza where you can learn a little history, and buy directly from the artists.
Loiza is one town east from Isla Verde, just a 5-10 minute drive from the hotel district. While the history of the area dates back a few thousand years before Columbus’ arrival, Loiza became the town it is today due to the settling of African slaves (both escaped and freed) during the 1600-1800s.
Even after all these years, the African influences are very noticeable and celebrated. The music (Bomba and Plena) can be heard almost every weekend in the area. African influences in the food and artwork can be found all around town.
If you want to experience the arts of Loiza, taking a trip to some of the more famous local artisans’ workshops in town along Road 187 is a wonderful experience. They will explain to you all about their town and its history, and how it influences their lives and works.
Artesanias Castor Ayala
This little yellow “store” is hard to miss — it is decorated inside and out with beautiful coconut Vejigante masks. Vejigante are traditional figures used in the local celebrations (namely the annual Saint James Festival in July). They are elaborately-dressed with brilliantly-colored costumes, and scary-looking carved coconut shell masks, with long pointy horns.
Raul Ayala, with help of the rest of the family, continues the legacy of coconut mask carving that the Ayalas are known for. The family also is famous for their local Bomba music and dance (Ballet Folklorico Hermanos Ayala).
Their store is more of a museum, housing a lot of memorabilia, art and history of the family and Loiza. Hand-painted walls depict the traditional local sights.
When we stopped in, we were greeted by one of the family members and she explained a lot of what was on display — the masks used in the Saint James Festival, the meanings behind them, the African traditions, Bomba/Plena, etc.
I was surprised at how reasonably-priced the masks were. You can get a hand-carved half mask for about $40, and the whole masks start at about $85 and go up (depending on how elaborate they are). Each mask is hand-carved and painted, and signed by the artist. In addition to their masks, they also have a few other types of handcrafted souvenirs.
Artesanias Castor Ayala is open every day, from 10am until 5pm.
You can call them at 787-564-6403 or 787-886-1654 for more information.
You can visit their Facebook Page for more information.
They are located on Road 187 KM 23.5 in Loiza.
Samuel Lind Studios
Just a couple 100 yards away, down the small side street to the north, you will find Samuel Lind Studio. This 2-story wooden house is beautifully covered with flowering plants, and is home Samuel Lind’s working studio and art gallery. As you walk inside, you are almost overwhelmed by the colors and beauty of the art. His work is mainly inspired by his life in Loiza, its nature, people, beauty and heritage.
There are loads of paintings in all styles from graphic to still-life, funky almost cartoonish posters for Loiza events, to seriously lifelike pieces and sculptures in many different medias. He was working on a large bronze sculpture while we were there — truly amazing to see.
If you have been to the Botanical Garden in Cagaus, you have already seen one piece of Lind’s work — he made the huge bronze sculpture displayed in the African section of the garden.
Lind is a quiet and soft-spoken man. He welcomes you in, and will tell you about his work, his inspirations, and Loiza. He is proud of Loiza and its heritage, and it shows.
Most of the works in his studio/gallery are for sale, and range in price to very reasonable for lithographs/posters up to big bucks for original paintings and bronze sculptures.
The studio is generally open Wednesday to Sunday, from 10:00am until about 3:30pm, when Lind is home. It would be best to call ahead to make sure the studio will be open when you want to visit.(787) 876-1494 or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can visit their Facebook Page for more information.
The studio is located on the side street, almost across the street from Artesanias Castor Ayala (see map below).
Some Other Notes
The town of Loiza has had its share of hardships over the years. It is a economically-depressed area. So use common sense when visiting and exploring the town.
Some other things to see in the area include
- It has a wonderful town plaza, with the interesting Saint Patrick’s Church, and a small Tourism Office right near the church.
- You can make a quick stop at the small Maria de la Cruz cave.
- The Piñones area has restaurants, a walking/bike path, kayaking in the lagoon, and some beaches along Road 187.
- Other than that, we enjoy riding around and getting interesting photos, or making stops at the local fruit stands.
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