August 23, 2010

Cancún Shopping: The Mercados

Cancún is a great place for shopping. There are several malls, a handful of markets and a plethora of smaller stores in between. Brand names items may sometimes be bought a lot more cheaply than back home; while handcrafted products might provide that perfect souvenir of Mexico.

In today's blog, we'll be having a little skim around the mercados (markets). There are two major mercados in downtown Cancún, and many smaller ones. Each have a different feel to them and many specialize in certain kinds of merchandise. The vendors will expect you to haggle to secure the right price.

Mercado 23

(Pron: mare-cah-doh vain-tee tres)

Open: 7.30am - 6pm

Mercado 23


Mercado 23 is the place to go for local produce. It was the first market created in Cancún and it is where the residents go shopping. There are fewer tourists there and, accordingly, many of the vendors are monoglot Spanish speakers.

This local feel is also reflected in the merchandise on offer. This tends towards those items which are only useful if you live there, for example, fresh food, hardware, clothes and shoes. However, pressure from the many new malls and supermarkets means that Mercado 23 is slowly taking on more tourist trade. Those looking for souvenirs will be able to pick up some pottery, pinatas, hammocks, small pieces of jewelry or Mexican clothing, otherwise you would be better off at Mercado 28.

Where Mercado 23 really comes into its own is with the fresh fruit and vegetables.Mercado 23 Those more used to buying such produce in supermarkets have possibly never smelt fruit and vegetables. (Supermarkets coat them in a very thin layer of wax, so they survive longer on the shelves.) The scent of the food, at Mercado 23, will therefore be guaranteed to start the mouth watering for some healthy food.

This isn't the only food there though. Gigantic pork scratchings; dried and cured herbs, grains and beans; meat; and confectionary are all on offer at local prices. For those with a sweet tooth, then the candy stores, supplying contents for the pinatas, are truly something to behold.

There are restaurants and small food vendors here too. The meals are cheaper than most in Cancún and are authenically Mexican. Their main customers are, after all, the local people.

Stall-holders will haggle for prices, but it's not as aggressively as at Mercado-28.


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Mercado 28

(Pron: mare-cah-doh vain-tee ocho)

Opening times: 9am - 8pm

Mercado 28


Mercado 28 is the place to go for souvenirs of your Mexican vacation. It is the largest market in Cancún and, while the other markets specialise, this one has everything.

Its brightly colored streets are home to a variety of shops and stalls, ranging from bric-a-brac to quality items. This is the place for handmade Mexican crafts, art, books, calendars, hammocks, herbs, rugs, blankets, pottery, handbags, baskets, statues, hats; as well as silver jewellery.

Dotted here and there are the food vendors offering some of the most delicious fare in the city. The seafood is especially good; it's caught on the same day and prepared on site. More mainstream establishments include banks, ATMs, Internet cafes, pharmacies/drugstores and the post office. Mercado-28 is a vibrant place, where those with an eye for a bargain can be sure to get it. Some of the cheapest items, tickets/tours to local attractions and food in Cancun can be found in this market.

There are over 100 shops, packed around a large square, which make up the Mercado 28. Mercado 28 The buildings wind through maze-like aisles, covered over for shade. It should be noted that this is a vast area, so, if travelling with a party of people, arrange a time and place to meet up again later on. You can and probably will get separated in the market, then never find each other again. There are quiet areas to sit back, chill out, watch a bit of street theatre or a band, soak up the local atmosphere and sip a cold drink.

Though primarily tourists are the main customers here, there will be many local people too. They are likely to be heading for the restaurants and cafes on the site. Originally, Mercado 28 was a market for local people, but they gave in to the demand from the tourists for more souvenir type goods, while the stores catering for local produce tended to congregate in Mercado 23. Nevertheless, the eateries are the same establishments that have always been there. The food and prices in them are authentically Mexican, rather than gearing towards other nationalities.

Please note that you may be approached here to buy recreational drugs. Just say 'no gracias' and walk on by (assuming that you don't want to take up their offer).

The easiest way to get there is via bus from the hotel zone. The market is then two blocks away. (Taxis will likely take you to their friend's stores.) The return bus can be caught from near to the Walmart. The maximum time it will take to get there on the bus is 45 mins and that's from the most southern tip of the hotel zone.


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Mercado Ki Huic

(Pron: mare-cah-doh key-wick)

Opening times: 9am - 10pm

Mercado Ki Huic


Ki Huic is one of the historic markets of Cancún and is set out as a maze of aisles in the open air. It is billed as a crafts market and it deals primarily in souvenirs for tourist trade.

This is the place for tequila shot glasses, serapes, blouses, shirts, silver jewellery, handicrafts and curios, though there is also a bank, a money exchange and some restaurants.

Haggling is expected here, but as it's a smaller market than Mercado 28, the bargains might be harder to achieve. Still there are 100 stalls here, so there's plenty for visitors to see.


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Mercado Coral Negro

(Pron: mare-cah-doh co-ral nee-grow)

Opening: Every day, 8am - midnight.

Mercado Coral Negro


Coral Negro is like a smaller version of Mercado 28. There are only 50 stalls there, compared to the hundreds in the larger markets. There are no price-tags and the vendors will quote whatever they think they can get away with. It is up to the buyer to then haggle their own price. (Tip: The stalls deeper in the market sometimes have better deals than those on the edges.)

Where Coral Negro does come into its own is with the jewellery. In the depths of its market is the jewelry quarter, enclosed within sliding glass doors and air-conditioning inside. Here every surface glitters and sparkles with Mexican silver and gems of all shapes and sizes. Note: When buying silver, look for the .925 hallmark. That ensures that it's genuine.

Mostly though the market is filled with souvenir items, like handicrafts, hammocks, sombreros, t-shirts, charro suits, Mexican candy, carvings, local art, tequila and hammocks. There are also people offering to braid your hair or to give you a temporary Henna tattoo. Inside, there may also be spray paint artists, offering planetary landscapes for you to take home.

As with Mercado 28, you may be approached by people selling illegal drugs. The same advice applies.


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