Nicaragua has wonderful locally made crafts. Tropical woods, well worked leathers, embroidered clothes, oil paintings, cigars, rum, you name it, Masaya will have it. The town is about midway between Granada and Managua, so is an easy day trip from either place. See my pages for Masaya for more secrets to this must see pueblo. There's more than one market here and they aren't next to each other.
At the Mercado in Masaya you can by a lot of different things. Here you find very nice cotton hamocks, baskets, paintings, pottery, jewelery and belts, purses and bags made of reptile skin (crocodile, snake and iguana). You can even buy stuffed frogs playing the piano and the guitarr....
Updated after the trip 2009:
Mercado Artesanias (Mercado Viejo)
Inside the black-basalt walls of the Old Market-building is the Artisans Market. Here you will find many booths full of Nicaraguan craft, things like hammocks, ceramics, leather products, paintings, hemp weaving and embroidered blouses. So if you are looking for a souvenir this is a good place to come. I don’t know of the prices though. I did not buy anything myself so I didn’t ask around, but I have heard it is more expensive here than at the other market, Mercado Municipal.
On Thursday nights there are cultural events like marimba performances and folkloric dances. Traditional food is also served.
The building was constructed in 1888, but was not used as a market until the beginning of the 20th century. In 1978 it was destroyed by Somoza’s National Guard and abandoned. Renovations began in 1994.
The market is open every day between 9 - 18.
Directions: Two blocks east of Parque Central (Parque 17 de Octubre) and four blocks west of the bus terminal (where Mercado Municipal is).
Mercado Municipal (Mercado Nuevo)
As Mercado Artesanias is quiet and well set up for tourists the Mercado Municipal is where you should come for the real local market experience. Here it is more chaotic and colourful and you can find almost anything. Everything has got its own section so there is one place to go to for fruits and vegetables, another for meat and fish and at other sections you will find clothes and shoes, toiletries, handicrafts and much more. You can also find cheap eateries.
If you arrive to Masaya by bus this is a good place to start your sight-seeing, as Mercado Municipal is situated just by the terminal.
The market was moved here after the old market had been destroyed in 1978.
Directions: Mercado Municipal is situated about 1km east of Parque Central (Parque de 17 Octubre).
If you can't reach all centres of crafts production, Masaya brings the product to you!
The Mercado Viejo has got crafts from all over Nicaragua, and some fo other countries. If you want the legitimate Nicaraguan crafts, ask about the origin of the pieces. Salespeople are very honest and will tell you all the truth. Stallas are well organised, the place is very nice to walk around, and there's no hassle. Bargaining is not part of the culture here. Prices are tagged. You may negotiate a bit if you're shopping for a lot of products. Bear in mind that you're being a fool if you're crying so hard over an amount of money that will buy you a Coke...
More precise tips in my Masaya page.
What to buy: Not far from Masaya, however, is the town of San Juan de Oriente, where the main street that leads from the highway to the center of town is lined with shops that sell locally-made ceramic pieces (some simply functional or decorative, others that transcend the label of ‘crafts’ and enter into the realm of ‘art’) at very reasonable prices. If you’re looking to buy something that will be a truly special reminder of your travels to Nicaragua, you’d do well to head to San Juan de Oriente (which can easily be combined with a trip to the town of Catarina and its impressive mirador).
The Mercado Nacional de Artesanías in Masaya (also known as the Mercado Viejo) seems to be the most popular place for foreign tourists to pick up souvenirs from their travels in Nicaragua, and with good reason, since the quantity and variety of items that can be found there is rather impressive (though if you’re looking for Nicaraguan cigars, which can be quite good, you’re probably better off purchasing them in Granada).
If you have to save one day to do all of your souvenier shopping do it during a visit to the city of Masaya where the largest craft market is located. The market is a labyrinth of small stores and long aisles stocked with hand crafted Nicaraguan goods like hammocks, pottery, leather, toys, jewelry, etc. You could spend a few hours here at the market. You may want to combine your visit to Masaya market with a trip to the Volcanic National Park in Masaya.
What to buy: We came here to buy a hand woven hammock which is a specialty item. You'll have to bargain for your hammock. We paid about $25 usd.
What to pay: This place is all about bargaining.
The main reason we wanted to visit Masaya was not for the volcano or the hammocks but for the guitars! It's not surprising that in Nicaragua's "artesanía" center we'd find a whole slew of guitar builders. It seems that they're everywhere.
Sergio Zepeda's family has been building quality, handcrafted guitars for three generations and he more than welcomes you to come tour his small workshop.
What to buy: In 2003, guitars started at $60 USD (cedar w/cheap fret wire) and work their way up to $140 for a mahogany and rosewood guitar (imported fret wire) w/beautiful binding and meticulously inlayed mother of pearl. You have a choice of standard and short-scale (popular in C.A.) & regular and cut-away stylings.These prices have apparently risen considerably
Regardless, anyone who knows guitars also knows that you can barely purchase a mass produced peice of "chipboard with strings" in North America for under $300. Sergio also makes mandolins. Unfortunately he does not keep shelf stock of guitars and requires that you give him a two-week lead time (preorder) if you want one of these beauties.
Had I known, I would have put in a preorder but... I happily settled for a guitar crafted by another builder that was of lesser quality.
What to pay: Cost depends on wood, fret, inlays and other custom options.
It is easy to get cash from a bank machine in any city if you have a visa card. I would suggest prepaying before you go to reduce charges. You can take out cash in Cordobas or US currency. If you take out cordobas try to take out an uneven amount so that you get 50 or 100 denominations of Cordobas. Business's do not have much cash on hand so getting change is always a problem if you are buying something small.
Metrocentro Mall proviedes with a very Large variety of shops , American style, also has a food court and movie theathers just like in The United States.
What to buy: clothing, shoes, fragances, and Nicaragua cofee.
What to pay: a bit expensive
What to buy:
Nicaragaua produces some very fine rum.
What to pay: A bottle of top quality Nicaraguan Rum costs around US$12.00 or at least it does in San Jose airport, Costa Rica. The same Rum was on sale in a Madrid Airport duty free shop priced 24.00 Euros! Tip buy the rum locally!
Nicaraguan stores typically do not allow customers to take drink bottles off the store premises. Nicaraguan stores recycle their bottles (that is why they aren't usually in very good condition). My understanding is that stores can only buy 12 bottles of soda if they return 12 bottles to the supplier. If you do not finish your drink at the store, you can request a little baggie (sort of a ziploc bag without the "zip"). They will dump the remainder of your drink in the baggie, stick a straw in and tie the baggie at the top. Be sure to hold the bag upright! :-)
Buying drinks in Nicaragua can be a very interesting experience! Water is sold in "bags" on the streets. People sell little "bags" of water on the street corners. Each "bag" cost less than 10 cents US. You simply bite off the top corner of the bag and then suck the water out. I didn't see any plastic water bottles like the ones Americans typically drink in the USA.
I actually got the idea to go to this place from another VT member. Thanks Te.
I am really quite happy with this place. Sergio comes from a long line of instrument makers. (mostly guitars) I met his dad too and he was really nice. Like a lot of things in this part of the world, there is nothing too extravagant about the workshop but, the quality of the guitars is excellent. When I was on Little Corn, several people saw my guitar and more than once we ended up hearing a little performance. Personally, I am a beginner but this one dude from Peru who was a guitar teacher made that new guitar of mine really dance.
What to pay: This guitar cost me 55 dollars.
Mercado Nacional de Artesanías is apparently Nicaragua's best craft market (but too touristy for my taste).
In Masaya, you can buy a lovely hammock directly from the producers too and it will be cheaper (10-40 dollars depending on the size and your negotiation skills).
What to buy: Hammocks
What to pay: Prices vary from 10 to 30$ depending on the quality of work. (very big hammocks 30-40)
Nicaraguan banks are not very willing to change euros yet. So it's better to bring dollars with you. You can get your travellers checks changed but cash + credit card is the easiest option. You can also pay in dollars here if you like.
What to pay: 15 córdobas = 1 dollar (August 2003)
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Good for: Couples
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