Within the context of a one-week visit to the City of Oaxaca, it’s often difficult deciding which market(s) to visit. It’s now been made a little easier.On a brief vacation to Oaxaca, it can be somewhat daunting trying to decide which markets in the city to visit, and which to forego. This primer should make the task a little easier.
The Abastos Market
The largest “peasant” market in the region, if not the entire state, is known as Central de Abasto, or simply the Abastos Market. It’s easily accessible, on foot, from virtually any downtown hotel or bed and breakfast, and your host should be able to point you in the right direction, noting an easy walking route on a city map.
Any day is a good day for the Abastos Market, so don’t feel the need to go on Saturday, the main market day. The implication of attending on Saturday is that there will be about a third more vendors than usual, occupying streets and sidewalks for blocks around the main market buildings. There are also commercial market days on Tuesday and Friday, and a clothing market day on Thursday, but Saturday is the biggy.
For many, the Abastos Market is overwhelming. And for almost all, it’s hard to get through the entire market due to becoming tired and overwhelmed. But for size, diversity of product, and overall experience, this market tops them all. However, and this goes especially for Saturdays and during holiday seasons, watch the camera, purse and pockets, since it’s a haven for pickpockets. The best rule of thumb for this market (and as well for the town marketplaces in the central valleys) is (a) to leave passports, credit cards, and all but one piece of ID back at the hotel (bring along a copy of your photo passport page and of your tourist card), (b) if insist ing upon carrying a purse or camera ensure that it’s held in front of the body and not by simply the strap, and (c) don’t flash large bills and be sure to leave most cash back at the hotel.
Other City Markets
The largest downtown markets in the heart of the centro histórico adjoin one another and are known as the Benito Juárez and 20th of November markets, just southwest of the zócalo, between Bustamente and 20 de Noviembre streets. One can find virtually anything a tourist or snowbird would want at these markets: handicrafts including black pottery, coffee, mole, mezcal, bread and pastries, clothing, leather goods including shoes and hats, eateries, butchers, fish and seafood stalls, etc.
Most other downtown and suburban neighborhoods have local markets where residents regularly go to buy their day-to-day needs. However these markets will not likely impress like Abastos and to a lesser extent Benito Juárez / 20 de Noviembre. Simply ask at the hotel for the closest market to be pointed in the right direction.
Mercado de la Merced – Especially on Sunday
There is one small downtown market which stands out, and is frequented by middle class residents from all over the city. It’s known as the Mercado de la Merced, located near the intersection of Calle Murguía and Calzada de La Republica, towards the east end of downtown. Although Sunday is the main market day for La Merced, every day is frequented by locals. It’s known for its meat, cheese and produce, but as well has quaint homey stalls for sitting down for breakfast or lunch, buying breads and pastries, and much more. At least three cooking schools in Oaxaca regularly take their students to the Mercado de la Merced to make purchases for classroom lessons. Try to get to Mercado de la Merced on a Sunday, however, for the best experience. Ask where the tamale stands are, and try a couple
Mercado de la Merced is actually quite small, and its vendors tend to be a bit more amicable than in most other Oaxacan city markets. Try to get there on a Sunday. Any day there’s an opportunity to visit Merced, pick up a small bag of peanuts spiced with chili and garlic from the vendor known as Flores, second stall down from the north entrance, and try a couple of different flavored tamales from one puestos near the middle of the market.
A Concluding Recommendation
If stamina persists, then by all means get lost in the Abastos Market, but heed the advice indicated above. For most, the markets just south of the zócalo should be sufficient and provide the flavor one is seeking. And for stocking up with little things to munch on while visiting the city, any of the neighborhood markets should do. But one final word of advice is this – the Oaxaca city markets are no substittute for getting out and visiting one of the town weekly markets, Tlacolula in particular.