Whether you’re there to browse, take photos, buy groceries or pick up souvenir gifts for friends and family that couldn’t make the trip, a great way to get a feel for the authentic Mexican culture of Puerto Escondido is to take a stroll through Mercado de Benito Juarez.
Aside from dipping your toes in the sand on Zicatela Beach, it’s pretty much one of the best “free” activities in town.
Here’s a quick breakdown on what you’ll find at the market as well as purchase recommendations and tips on bartering.
Fruits & Veggies: The core and the crux of your Puerto Escondido market experience.
The quality of the produce here is leaps and bounds better than what the big chains have on offer and you’ll find a much wider selection, too. Do expect to pay a little bit more than you would at the supermarket but the difference in flavor is quite measurable.
All of the stands are located in the covered but outdoor section of the market just to the left of the front entrance into the main building and you can find both local produce as well as imported goods that primarily come from the United States.
For the most part the majority of the vendors won’t give you gringo prices and you can just go ahead and bag up what you want and expect to pay roughly the going rate, but if you’re unsure, simply ask ahead of time ¿Cuánto cuesta? and they’ll give you the price per kilo.
Bear in mind that imported fruit will cost quite a bit more than the local fare, but if you pick something out and then get sticker shock simply say “no gracias” and put it back, it’s not a problem.
Some of the things to look for that are an exceptionally good value compared to what you are used to paying at home are peanuts, papaya, watermelon and pineapple.
Unless you’re buying a large quantity of one particular item, it is not normal to barter for fruit and vegetables.
TIP: Wander around the perimeter of the market to look for locals selling fruit out of the back of a pick-up truck. Often times you can get a screaming deal on produce that’s been loaded up in the fields and driven in directly. Also, across the street from the market you can find several fruit and vegetable shops with lower prices than what’s inside the market. The quality might be slightly lower, but still much better than the big chains.
Souvenirs: T-shirts and trinkets.
Much of the main market building is filled with shops selling souvenirs and light Oaxacan styled beach clothes. The best thing to buy here are cute t-shirts for kids that have animals on the front with a flap that opens out to look inside its mouth, but generally most of the stuff here is cheap and touristy and you’ll find better souvenir shopping on the Adoquín near Playa Principal.
This part of the market is still worth a wander, though, especially if you’re looking for authentic local beachwear. If you do see something you like, feel free to barter away as the souvenirs predictably carry the highest markups in the market.
TIP: For more upscale souvenirs visit the Rinconada.
How about a little lunch?
There are two types of food stalls at Benito Juarez Market. First, you can grab tacos dorados, which are crispy fried tacos, inside the main building behind the souvenir sellers…or second, you can have a sit down meal in the covered food court.
To get to the food court head out the back entrance of the main building and you can’t miss it. You’ll find a wide selection of seafood and other Oaxacan dishes. You can either order from the menu or ask about the comida corrida, which is pretty much the daily special.
Ordering comida corrida is generally a more economic option. Plus, often times restaurants don’t have the supplies to cook everything on their own menu! It’s totally normal for you to order the chicken and have them respond with a polite “no hay pollo”, there is no chicken.
The restaurants here are safe and clean, so trying at least one meal at the market during your Puerto Escondido vacation is an absolute must.
What about the butcher? Beef and pork.
First time visitors to Mexico can be a bit taken aback by the meat hanging up in the open air of the market, but the truth is that most of the animals head straight to the market from the slaughterhouse so the meat here is much fresher than what you can get at home at Safeway.
That being said, we buy beef and pork from the market and pass on the chicken!
The challenge in buying meat directly from the market is not knowing the name in Spanish of each particular cut, but the vendors are super friendly and often have a chart so that you can point to which part of the animal you are looking for.
Similar to the produce, though, you can often expect to pay more for market fresh meat when compared to the chain supermarkets which import a lot of their meat. Bear in mind that the cattle here is grass fed, which means a healthier meat but a tougher one as well.
This is why the locals choose to eat their steak tasajo style, which is the thin long strips you’ll see hanging from the rack at every butcher. The thin cut helps keep the meat more tender.
For a thick, juicy steak, you’ll need to head to La Porteña, which sells imported Angus Beef. They have a stall inside the market across from the fish stands or a larger store across the street alongside all of the tortillerías.
As with produce, you won’t have any luck bartering for meats or fish, unless you consider a 5% discount a raging success!
Fresh from the sea.
The fish market is pretty much divided into two areas: dried and fresh.
The dried fish is a bit unsightly and not really apt for the average tourist, but the fresh fish is just that, super fresh!
You can always find dorado (mahi-mahi) and can ask if they’ve got atún (tuna) or pez vela (sailfish).
The locals prefer their fish fileted in thin cuts, but if you ask for yours en trozo then you can get fish steaks.
If you’re looking for whole snapper you’ll find that too, it’s called huachinango or pargo. There’s also a wide selection of smaller whole fish as well as crab, octopus, squid and shrimp.
Baskets and pottery.
This is where your bartering skills could come in handy, especially if you buy a few things.
However, the gringo mark up in Puerto Escondido in general is much less than what you find in larger tourist centers, so don’t expect to see huge price cuts if you try to negotiate.
While it’s a bit heavy for your luggage, a clay pot and stone pestle and mortar make great additions to your kitchen back home.
There’s no better souvenir than one that actually has a purpose!
Dress like a Oaxacan.
For under twenty bucks you can look just like a local! All you need is a cowboy hat and a pair of huaraches.
The shoe/hat section is located at the front of the covered area facing the main entrance, but if you’ve got an extra large head or big feet…forget about it.
Other things that you can find scattered throughout the market or in the immediate vicinity are flowers, cheeses, beach accessories, mezcal, plastic products, bootleg DVDs, and general clothing.
But whether you’re looking for a shopping spree or just a great way to spend the afternoon, you won’t want to leave Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca without a visit to Mercado Benito Juarez.
If you’re staying with us at Gecko Rock Resort it’s easy to get into town. We’ll run you to the local taxi stand and set you up with a friendly driver.