Thursday, October 12th 2023

How to Get Around Mexican Markets

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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How to Get Around Mexican Markets

Going to a Mexican market—or any market in a developing country—can be one of the biggest attractions for foreign shoppers. The sights, the sounds, the smells, they all invoke new adventures, experiences—and yes, in some cases, indigestion. But that’s part of the fun.

In this article, we’ll cover what’s up with your local Mexican market, the types of things you can find there, dos and don’ts of any Mexican market, and also how to stay safe when there are so many people about.

Ultimately, going to a Mexican market is definitely one of the best parts of living in this country with so many amazing things to explore.

The Basics of Mexican Markets

How to Get Around Mexican Markets

Markets have been a part of Mexican culture since before the Spanish conquest, and they continue to be today. Mexican markets draw thousands of tourists each year and they've become a part of many expat’s lives. But when you’re new in town, you likely know that your first time at a market in Mexico can be a little scary. Market stall vendors will sell anything they think Mexicans want. During the rainy season, umbrellas will be sold five minutes after it starts raining. When it’s cold out, you can find serapes and atole, and you can expect to see decorations and costumes days before any Mexican holiday. And if there’s some massive political scandal, you can even find joke t-shirts with satirical commentary within days. Mexicans of all classes depend on these markets. Many market stalls are family affairs, with the parents running the business and the children growing up in the hustle and bustle of the daily commerce.

Beyond the vendors themselves, office workers will stop by at lunch for a cheap meal and restaurant owners depend on markets for their fresh produce. Street food chefs depend on the cheap ingredients to make a profit off their product. Just think of all the people who depend on street food to eat that day! In many ways, it could be argued that Mexico still revolves around the Mexican market, just as it did hundreds of years ago.

You can experience Mexico firsthand through the market, get a good meal and cheap knick knacks, try an exotic fruit, and buy local, organic products like honey, flowers, and chapulines. Every town in Mexico has a market—often several—and they’re all different. Whatever that region’s specialty cuisine, the best versions are found at the Mexican market.


A Brief History of Mexican Markets

Markets have been a part of Mexican society since the Mesoamerican Classical Period. The Aztecs and other indigenous peoples had open-air markets called tianguis from the Classical Nahuatl language, where cacao beans could be used as currency. Other markets had a well-established barter system. The Spanish conquistadores noted that 30,000 – 80,000 people visited the market at Tlatelolco—many of whom spoke different languages. Maize, beans, chili peppers, tomatoes, herbs, honey, dogs, deer, turkey, pottery, and cooked food were all served at the market of Tlatelolco.

Today, markets have evolved significantly to reflect the times. Some markets are still open-air, and they operate once or twice a week, while other covered markets are daily markets. Nevertheless, the smells and sounds have likely changed little since before the Spanish conquest.

Going With A Local

For your first time going to a market in Mexico, we recommend that you go with a local. English is barely spoken—if ever, even in the most touristy markets—and a local will likely know some good spots to help you find what you’re looking for. Oh, and be sure to bring a big tote bag to help you carry goods, you likely won’t get a bag at every market stall.


Markets in Different Mexican Cities

How to Get Around Mexican Markets

Mexico City

Mexico City has a plethora of markets. You can visit the Coyoacan Market for arts and crafts, baked goods (and don’t forget to try the tostadas). Or you can visit Milan 44 which has surprisingly luxurious commodities, and La Lagunilla, which is known for its selection of antiques. You can also check out the San Juan Market which has a reputation for carrying exotic foods like game meats and edible insects. Another great market is the Medellin Market. Located in Colonia Roma, you can find foods from all over Latin America. (You have to try the Cuban ice cream if you go!) Products from all over can be found at the many mercados of Mexico City.

The most impressive, however, is El Central de Abastos, which is one of the largest markets in the world. This market is also a distribution center. It takes up 370 hectares of space (the size of over 900 football fields) and it’s divided into 8 different sections. It’s definitely not recommended that tourists visit this market, however. This is only for market experts accompanied by locals.

Bajio/Central Mexico

Carnitas, or chunks of pork braised in lard, are the specialty in Central Mexico and throughout the high-altitude plateau known as “El Bajío”. But you can also find barbacoa, quesadillas, pozole, birria—and especially that goat’s milk caramel: cajeta.


Oaxaca is known for its indigenous products like quesillo (called queso Oaxaca in the rest of Mexico), chapulines, and all the delicious moles that Oaxaca is known for. You can get coffee and cacao—either prepared or as freshly ground beans. And you can also get tlayudas, the original Mexican pizza, flaky, crunchy, cheesy, and delicious.


The state of Yucatan is known for its tacos de cochinita pibil, which is a type of pork, marinated in achiote paste (made from ground annato seeds), and slow-cooked in a pib, or an underground pit. This is an old Mayan recipe that was taught to them by Pacific islanders. But you can also find panuchos and salbutes and all other manner of delicacies.


In puebla, you can get camotes, which are like candied sweet potatoes. They come in several flavors, like orange, strawberry, and vanilla. You can also get mole poblano paste to make an incredible mole at home. And in the fall, you can find chiles en nogada—the specialty of Puebla—which is a poblano pepper stuffed with sweet mince and topped with a walnut salsa and pomegranate seeds.


What You Can Get At Mexican Markets

How to Get Around Mexican Markets

The Food Is Everything

You can find just about anything at a Mexican market, but the food is everything. You can’t be afraid to try the food. You’ll find every single local dish, some regional dishes, and if you’re in Mexico City, you can try foods from all over the world. Be sure to come hungry and stay for lunch! Every market sells Mexican food classics like empanadas, tortas, huaraches, sopes, all kinds of tamales, molletes, quesadillas, elotes, tostadas, and of course: tacos.

The best thing you can do to find some great food at a Mexican market is wait in the longest line. Wherever there’s a long queue, that’s going to be an excellent meal, you won’t get sick, and it probably won’t break the bank either. Meals are usually about $40 MXN pesos. Don’t be afraid to point and say, Quiero eso (or “I want that” in Spanish).

You can get local products like balls of organic cheese—sold by the farmer who made it that morning. And it’s not just savory meals, think of all the sweets. Homemade marzipan, mango in chamoy, a fruit conserve called ate, baked goods, and confectionery. Little sugary morsels of every color and size are available, many shaped in cute designs with hints of piloncillo or fruits like guava.

*A Note on Food Safety: We get that you might not feel comfortable eating street food or food from the market. As much as we recommend being adventurous, it’s not easy to break preconceptions. Regardless, there are tons of packaged foods to enjoy!

*A Note on Eating Street Food: Don’t eat in the middle of the aisle. If there are no tables available, stand to the side and find a secluded space to eat.



Many people want fresh juice available at the market with their meal as well. Not just fresh squeezed juices, but smoothies and blended drinks. Juices are very inexpensive, typically about $20 MXN pesos, and they’re super healthy! You can even pick the exact fruit that you want blended into your juice. It’s the market, anything goes.

You can get red juices that are made with beet, carrot, celery, and orange juice, or get a green juice made with prickly pear cactus (tuna in Spanish), pineapple, or even nopal cactus.

*A Note on Green Juices: Be warned, green juices often come with cilantro in Mexico.

*A Note on Other Drinks: You can get other drinks too, like tejuino and tepache (Mexico’s fermented pineapple juice drink).


Markets in Mexico double as the local mall with tons of the latest fashions, as well as classics like jeans and t-shirts. You can find socks and shoes, belts, and other accessories; dresses, blouses, skirts, and other women’s clothing; and traditional articles of clothing like serapes, huaraches (not to be confused with the food of the same name and shape), and guayaberas.

You’ll find stuff for kids, like superhero- and cartoon-themed shirts for any gender. And best yet, you can find cheap baby stuff! Say goodbye to paying exorbitant prices for clothing on Amazon, get them at the market.

Beyond clothing, you can also get all manner of textiles, like backpacks and luggage—and even just spools of fabric. School supplies like binders and notebooks are also available. Everything you could possibly need is available at low prices at the Mexican market.

*A Note on Brand Names: Don’t buy brand name gear. It will likely fall apart the next day. This doesn’t only go for sunglasses and speakers, but shoes and purses as well. However, if you get an off-brand or non-branded item, those will last you an eternity. They’re just different business models, and the manufacturer that makes off-brand gear can’t afford to make faulty equipment or cheap clothing.

*Note: Also, check the manufacturer tags. There are some “authentic, Mexican knick-knacks” that were just made in a factory in China. If it has no tag, ask yourself, Does it look handmade?


Produce and Natural Products

The freshest ingredients can be found at the local market as well. From fresh fish filets and shellfish on ice; to agave syrup and other local products like raw cacao, spices, coffee; and even traditional medicines. All manner of seasonal Mexican fruits and vegetables that are available in the area can be found at the markets in Mexico. You’ll get the best deals on both fresh and dried chiles, tomatoes, cuts of meat, and dairy products at your local market than any supermarket—and chances are that it’s fresher.

*To see our guide on Mexican fruits, click here.

*To see our guide on Mexican vegetables, click here.

Odds and Ends

After everything we’ve already covered, our last section focuses on everything else!

I know, it’s nearly impossible to list everything you can buy at a market in Mexico, from Catholic effigies and candles, to soaps, pumice, and alum stones. You can get souvenirs from your trip, incenses and balms, and handcrafted artisan pieces of all shapes and sizes and from every tribe in Mexico. The only way to see what they have is to go there.


Tips for Shopping at Mexican Markets

How to Get Around Mexican Markets

Go With A Local

If it’s your first time going to a Mexican market, then you might want to go with a local. They’ll likely know what’s the best place to have lunch, they’ll be better at getting good prices out of the stall owner, and, most importantly, they can translate.

Don’t Rush, Browse

You’ll see the same stuff at different stalls, so be sure to walk around and check out the whole market first. Ask for prices, but compare them to other vendors you find. You’re not running a marathon, you’re taking in the place. They’re good at getting you to impulse buy, so be sure to walk around first. This could save you in the long run if, for example, you find a top that looks similar but is much higher quality at the stall around the corner. You didn’t impulse buy the cheap one, but got one that lasts for years to come.

Check out the entire market before you buy anything. Learn how the market operates—how other people are purchasing goods. Buy something small so you get a feel for it, like a $5 MXN peso sweet. Ultimately, this isn’t a race, it’s an experience.

Know Some Basic Spanish
  • Hola (Hello)
  • Perdón (Pardon, excuse me, sorry)
  • ¿Cuánto? (How much?)
  • Know Your Numbers
  • Gracias (Thank you)
  • Cambio (Change)
  • Foto (Photo, this is the international word, don’t say “picture”)
Mexican Markets Are Crowded

There are lots of people at Mexican markets, so be ready to say perdón a lot, if only to get by people. There will be lots of walking, and other busy shoppers, so be aware of people around you, and be courteous. Remember, as a tourist or an expat, you’re a visitor there. Be kind and you’ll be met in turn.

Don’t stand in front of a stall for too long if you’re not actively purchasing something. The people behind want to see what’s for sale also, and they likely want to buy something, so let them go first if you’re just browsing.

Ask Before You Take A Photo

I can’t stress this enough, and when I was doing my research, every article mentioned this point: Ask before you take a photo. If you don’t speak Spanish, say the word “photo” in a questioning tone (it’s far more international than the word “picture”). It’s a big faux pas to take a picture without asking first. You’ll even see “NO FOTOS” signs posted in some more touristy markets.


Yes, we come to the age-old question: Do I haggle? It’s like the question, Do I tip? Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide. If you have more money than god and you want to help out the local population, then this is a great way of doing it. I once heard, buying something you don’t need at full price is charity with dignity.

That said, let’s say you’re on a budget, then you should recognize that haggling is a part of the game. The price they quote can be twice the price they’d sell it for. Low-ball them a little, see how far they come down. Say, Lo pienso (or I’ll think about it). Go to another stall with the same merchandise, do the same. Return to the first stall. That’s half the fun, and it’s how the market works. The merchant will offer you an exorbitant price expecting you to haggle.

Sadly, the price will depend greatly on your level of Spanish. The more Spanish you speak, the better price you’ll end up getting. I grew up speaking Spanish, but I have a slight accent, and I still don’t get the same price as the locals. But I’ll tell you one thing, I get a better price than you do. ;)

Also, if you’re buying in bulk, say 5 – 10 t-shirts for your whole family, then you can expect to get a cheaper price from them than if you buy just one shirt. Don’t settle for individual prices if you’re buying in bulk.

*Note on haggling for food items. I generally don’t haggle when it’s a food item. You don’t want them mad at you, then making your food.

*For our guide on tips and resources for learning Spanish, click here.

On Saying No

In Mexican markets, vendors will call out to you constantly, asking what you’re looking for and offering their wares. They will likely say something like, ¿Que le damos? or ¿Qué buscas? You can just say, “No gracias” which means “no thanks” in Spanish. Don’t feel pressured to speak to the vendor, just keep walking.


There’s only one rule for paying: carry change. Come with cash and make sure that cash is in small bills. They will not have change for a $500 MXN bill, so you shouldn’t bring it. Don’t try and buy a single candy with a $200 MXN bill. You’ll have the vendor scrambling around, trying to get change while others are waiting—if they don’t flat out refuse you angrily for wasting their time! Just make sure you bring a lot of small bills and coins.


Staying Safe in Mexican Markets

How to Get Around Mexican Markets

Separate Your Bills

On a related note, don’t keep all these small bills in one place. Have them separated in your purse or in different pockets so you aren’t pulling out a huge wad of bills. The less you give people a reason to notice you, the better.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Markets can attract pickpockets, so be aware of your surroundings. Try and avoid a single-strap purse if you can, instead favoring a backpack, or a money belt if you have one. If someone spills something on you, keep walking. This is a common scam. They can even work in teams, so don’t let people approach your personal bubble and start distracting you. Be a little cautious and you’ll be fine.

Carry Only What You Need

Take only what you need: a bottle of water, a tote bag, some cash, and your keys or phone. Keep an eye on where your belongings are and don’t try and carry around half the store. The market will always be there, do the rest of your shopping another day.

*Note: To read our full guide on Safety in Mexico, click here.



How to Get Around Mexican Markets

Visiting a market in Mexico can be a bit daunting if you’re not familiar with markets in developing nations. However, after a few trips, you won’t be able to envision your life without them. Going to the local market is a way of life for most Mexicans—and once you fold them into your daily routine, you won’t be able to go back to doing all your shopping at corporate stores.

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