Shopping Oaxaca Markets: Beyond the Tame

editor’s note: Our friends Billy and Kaki Burruss sent this dispatch from their annual trip to Oaxaca.
Toys for sale on Mexican street.

Street shopping south of the Zocalo.

For a little taste of Mexican shopping, venture beyond the tourist shops and head south of the Zocolo into the heart of commercial Oaxaca. In just a few blocks you”ll find the excitement and busy bustle of the Mexican shopper. Unlike our department store shopping, here the shops are squeezed together, each offering a different product. You´ll find shoe shops, fragrance shops (where you can have your own fragrance made for a fraction of the usual cost), pharmacies, bakeries, cafes, battery stores, hardware stores, coffee, chocolate, and mezcal stores, toy and candy shops, and clothes stores. Along the street are venders of CDs and videos, hair ribbons and jewelry. Music blasting from shops urges you to dance down the street to salsa, hip-hop, or reggae.

        Navigating the streets: Get a map at the tourist office on Ave. de la Independencia, one door down from Garcia Vigil and diagonal from the front of the cathedral. Or at the green kiosk just across the street. Street names often change as you move north and south or east and west, and may also have an old name imbedded in the wall. To be sure,  check the signs mounted on the street-corner walls. These give the street name and the name of the cross street. (Esq stands for esquina, or corner. For example, Ave. de la Independencia esq. M. Garcia Vigil.)

For more adventure, head to one of the three markets located in this part of town. The most fascinating are Mercado Benito Juarez, and Mercado 20 de Noviembre. These markets are a maze of booths selling everything from mounds of grasshoppers to meats to strings of paper decorations.


Oaxaca pottery

You’ll find better deals on pottery in Oaxaca’s market labyrinths.

In Mercado Benito Juarez, we went in search of chiles for our culinary artist friend, and found the enchanting booth of Ma. Leticia Cuevas Jimenez. The interior of the mercado is so large it has street names. Her booth is No. 191, Pacillos Canada esq. Zapoteco. She had large barrels of different chilies. She gave us bags, and we scooped the chilies into the bags, labeled them with the name and hotness and tied the ends. We selected eight types of chilies, flowers of hibiscus, sticks of vanilla, several bags of chocolate, and salt of gusano (the worm in the maguey).  Sra. Jimenez suggested uses for everything, for example using the sal de gusano for flavoring fruit drinks and mezcal, or as an ice cream topping.

   Restrooms for Mercado Benito Juarez are located in the corners of the market. Ask for directions and work your way there. We found a very clean public restroom in the Mayerdomo store on the corner of Aldama and Miguel Cabrera. Cost for use is 3 pesos.
     Our favorite mercado for buying gifts is the Mecardo de Artensias at the corner of Zabgoza and J.P. Garcia. After the noise and traffic of getting there, this is a quiet and cool retreat. It has benches in the center, along with an ATM machine. Artists here sell traditional crafts made in the villages surrounding Oaxaca. There are rugs, toys, embroidered blouses and purses, and painted animals. It is never crowded, and the atmosphere is relaxed. You can take your time and not feel rushed or pressured.
Oaxaca street scene; woman carries shopping bags.

The bustling shopping district.

The apex of mercados is the Mecardo Central de Abastos. This market, across the now defunct railroad track on Periferico, is open on Sundays and covers eight city blocks. It is an unbelievable beehive of activity, and worth the trouble to visit.

   A note of warning; tourists are generally warned away from Central de Abastos because of the pickpockets. We have been a number of times without incident, but it makes sense to take reasonable precautions in any of these markets. Put your wallet in your front pocket and keep your hand on it. Some women put a small purse in their bra. Mexican women generally carry a purse on their shoulder and hold in near their front when in a crowd.
    We like to visit the Mercardo Central de Abastos early in the morning as the vendors are setting up. It is less crowded and easier to find your way around. The quiet and cool of the Marcado de Artensias is perfect for an afternoon visit. Enjoy mixing with locals as they do their daily shopping.

4 Responses to “Shopping Oaxaca Markets: Beyond the Tame”

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  1. Tina Rosa says:

    Good info. Makes me look forward to my visit to Oaxaca next December!

  2. pam says:

    Great article! When I was in Oaxaca, I went to one of the restaurant supply shops in the area you’re talking about and bought some drinking glasses like the ones in my hotel. They’re just simple glasses, really, but fit just right in my hand and I love them!

    • Felisa Rogers says:

      I get so much pleasure out of simple items like that, especially when you find good deals. It’s funny how the perfect glass or mug can enhance your mood.

  3. Lorena says:

    I loved the image of the ATM machine in the Mecardo de Artensias. I realize that these machines only work if you left some money in your bank account at home, (which usually wasn’t the case when we were visiting Oaxaca in the 70s), but I can image how satisfying it would have been to stop at an ATM machine on my way to the basket section of the market.