Looking for ceramics while in Nicaragua? Head to the tiny village of San Juan de Oriente, where practically everyone is a potter. As you wander the village’s narrow streets, stopping at different workshops along the way, you’ll see all kinds of pottery, including handmade necklaces, vases, plates and ceramic animals based on Nicaraguan folklore. Founded in 1585, the pretty village was originally known as San Juan de los Platos (Saint John of the Plates), because village artisans used to create the plates that were used in local religious festivities.
Some of the artisans favor traditional pre-Columbian designs, while others work with modern geometric shapes reminiscent of M.C. Escher. It’s worth taking the time to visit each workshop, most of which are in the potters’ homes, because each family has its own distinct style that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Many of the pieces have only had a little help from the potter’s wheel, and the materials used to make the ceramics are as local as it gets: even the clay comes from the shores of Laguna de Apoyo. If you’re lucky, a local artisan may just show you how to bake clay and shape pottery yourself.
If you’re in town on the week of June 24, enjoy the town’s lively festival dedicated to local patron saint John the Baptist, which promises a party full of fireworks and traditional chilillo dance events.
There are regular buses connecting Masaya with San Juan de Oriente, about five miles (9 km) away.