The Markets of Masaya, Nicaragua
“Let’s go to the local market. Forget the tourist one. Why pay more?” my new hotel friend said. I had met her and her husband and another fellow from a different hotel on a hiking trip to the Mombacho Volcano. During a stop at a lookout I heard the couple talking about the markets and invited the other fellow along so I unceremoniously piped up “Mind if I come too?” Suave, I am.
I’d wanted to check out the markets but didn’t want to go alone. Guide books have it bad for the old artisan’s market in the town of Masaya, about 30 minutes west of Granada. Known as El Mercado Viejo Craft Market, I’m just going to call it the tourist market. But we wanted to see where the locals went. Forget the sanitized versions meant for gringos, give us the real deal.
The four of us had lunch after our hike and talked about what we were hoping to find to bring back home. One was looking for a leather computer bag. Another was looking for a hammock. I was looking mainly for something to hang on my walls at home. Art is one of the things I look for when I travel. I love being able to see my trip reminders every day when I’m home.
Staff at Los Patios Hotel arranged for a driver to take us there, stay with us, and drive us back after for $35 USD. Sure, it would’ve been cheaper to take the bus but this was way more convenient and, for us, it was worth it.
Getting Overwhelmed Under Hammocks
We pulled into the small parking lot at the municipal market and almost immediately after getting out a young local man attached himself to our group asking what we were looking for. The leather bag was mentioned so we dove into the depths of the market, led by our new guide, or whatever he was.
Immediately, wordlessly, we adopted a stick together policy. No shopper left behind. The market was dark and cramped and if you were separated from the group you’d end up like Alice in Wonderland after the dog sweeps away the path, except surrounded by leather goods, hammocks, and tortillas.
Our guide kept pulling us to one stand then another. We’d have to duck under bags, shirts, and hammocks hanging from the ceiling, dodging mystery puddles on the dirt floor aisles. It was hot and not the place to be if you were claustrophobic. It was certainly not a place where a tourist could just leisurely wander and look at things. I was hesitant of pulling out my fairly new iPhone so I have no photos of this market. After twenty minutes we’d had our fill. We were overwhelmed so we backpedaled and asked to be taken to the tourist market.
Sometimes Paying More is Worth It
There, it was brighter, the aisles were wider and uncrowded. We were free to split up and meander looking at whatever interested us. Prices were indeed higher, a particular hammock at the tourist market was $25 while it was $15 at the local market, but you’re paying for a more relaxed shopping experience. And honestly, the products are pretty much the same. Some things looked mass produced, like tshirts and knick-knacks, while others like leather goods and ceramics were more than likely handmade but still in large enough numbers that you’d see them at multiple stands.
If you see something you like, you’re going to want to ask “¿Cuánto cuesta?” / “How much is it?” There may be wiggle room here so just hmm and haw and move on to look at something else or outright suggest a lower price. I bought myself a leather messenger bag (iPad sized, not laptop) for $15 less than what they first told me. I’m sure I could’ve haggled for lower but it’s a good quality bag and, in Canada, would go for twice the price. I figure I’m helping the local economy by being a bad haggler.
If you’re looking for souvenirs like hammocks, ceramics, art, or leather, and you’ve got some time, my advice is, visit the tourist market first, take your time to browse and see what you want. Maybe even snap a pic if something tickles your fancy. Find out the prices. Then head to the local market, find yourself a guide and show him the pic of what you’re looking for. You’ll end up with the same goods for a lower price.