Not Really Mercados...
Painted tin objects in Oaxaca, photo by Patricia Buck WolfIf you cross the border from the U.S. at Laredo, Texas, into Nuevo Laredo, Nuevo León and walk around for a brief look at Mexico, you may spot the Nuevo Mercado de la Reforma. Tourist literature describes this place as a good place for "interesting Mexican crafts and atmosphere," and you can see a good many items such as the painted tin butterflies shown here, photographed in a "tourist mercado" in Oaxaca. Nuevo Laredo's Nuevo Mercado de la Reforma lies just three blocks south of the Pedestrian Bridge over the Rio Grande, at Calle Hidalgo and Avenida Guerrero.

Unfortunately for those looking for "real" Mexican mercados, neither the Nuevo Mercado nor the tin-butterfly place in Oaxaca fits the bill. Instead of having stalls heaped high with bananas or oranges, such places sell fine jewelry and leather goods, bottles of Mexican tequila, and other tourist staples. Far from needing to shoulder your way down congested aisles, here the space between stores and booths is ample. In the Nuevo Mercado there are even elegant, wrought-iron chairs and benches to rest on. Instead of homey little eateries with the day's chicken stew cheerfully simmering on a gas grill, there's a place designated in English as the M & M Snack Bar.

Such establishments are not the kind of mercado we're talking about at this site, mainly because they are not mercados for regular Mexicans.

This is true for Tijuana's La Herradura de Ora, which, with its exquisitely hand-tooled saddles and other handicraft, is part of a modern shopping complex. "Our" kinds of mercado never feel like malls.

Also not "our" kinds of markets are the Mercado de Artesanías, a handicraft market in Rosarito Beach just south of Tijuana, or Guadalajara's El Baratillo, the "world's largest flea market," with thirty blocks of stalls, tents, and street spots. Even though these places may entertain stalls with real Mexican handicrafts from real Indian villages, and sometime may become a bit anarchic, and real Mexicans go there, they sell the wrong kind of merchandise. "Our" kind of market sells things needed for everyday life -- food, clothing, pots and pans, candles and kerosene, toys for the kids, machetes, and rope... not T-shirts, antiques, and souvenirs. As a general rule, few of "our kind of mercados" are found in Baja California and northern Mexico (except in the Copper Canyon area).

Now that you have an idea of what a "good Mexican mercado" is really like, you might want to view our List of Notable Mexican Mercados. If you plan to visit Mexico City, you might be interested in our Step-by-Step Guide showing how to visit Mexico City's Merced, and how to take a bus to the colorful tianguis in nearby Tepoztlán, even if you don't speak Spanish!.