As in other parts of the Yucatan, shopping in Merida takes three major forms: 1) actual shops, which often have employees outside trying to persuade you to enter, 2) street vendors who have set up their wares on carts or blankets, 3) individuals carrying goods who approach you in attempts to make a sale. In Merida you can buy anything from traditional Mexican clothes to silver to hammocks. Bargaining down prices is a must: if you act interested in an item but say you won't pay the suggested price, sellers will usually take less.
The best day and place to find local crafts is at the Plaza Grande (main central plaza) on Sunday. Hence the name Merida en Domingo. You'll see signs advertising Merida en Domingo all over the Centro Historico district on Sunday. Local artists and crafts people sell jewelry, clothing, handbags, accessories, linens, toys, CDs and other wonderful items. I picked up a CD recorded by a Mexican entertainer with a beatuiful voice - Adry (Adriana) Cervantes.
You'll also find a number of street vendors selling regional cuisine. The street food is very delicious! Do not be afraid to eat it. Yucatan is clean, healthy and safe. We didn't hold back - we ate a lot of food at a lot of different places, and never had a problem.
Plaza Grande is beautifully kept up and surrounded by stunning government buildings. The activity that surrounds the plaza is delightful and energizing.
Mérida seems to have quite a choice of shopping opportunities. Of course, as in most of Mexico there are many small stores operated by individuals.
There is the Mercado which is several blocks south of the main square. Just like Progreso's Mercado, there are many different merchants selling fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, handicrafts, etc. As well there are busy lunch counters - serving stuffed tortillas and other interesting choices.
Additionally, Mérida has gigantic stores just like you would find in the States - a Walmart, Costco, and other huge stores (Carrefour, Liberty, etc.). The Walmart and Costco are favoured by some of the snowbirds as they include some American comfort foods that are not generally available in Mexican stores - like beef, peanut butter and relish, etc.
On Paseo de Montejo just a couple of blocks from the Anthropology Museum is this store.
Everything in the store is imported -- three floors of stuff. Strange things -- besides the obvious Made-in-China stuff, there are articles from Thailand, India, and Africa plus native things from North America. Anything strange you can dream of. It would be fun to be the buyer for that store. We asked if they had a Mexican section, but the store sells nothing made in Mexico.
Click on the other photos to see some of the items. With this coffee cup, you would only need one cup of coffee a day. And stools and lamps that look like a hooker's legs.
These "Casas de Artesanías" are government-owned shops and were opened with the intention to help local mexican artesans to sell their products and to get proper pay for it. The "House of the Handicrafts of the State of Yucatán" is one of many to be found all over Mexico.
What to buy: You can buy there local handcrafts, which come from all over Yucatán. Going to this shops is like trip to the museum, as they show and of course sell products from wherever in Yucatán. The nice thing about it is, that there are little labels on each product, which tell you the village where the product was made. Specialities of Yucatán are guayaberas and jipi hats, as well as butterflies amongst many more.
What to pay: Little more than average street vendor souvenirs, but one can be sure that a proper part of the money will go to the artesans.
This shop is one of the oldest and best known poducer of guayaberas. They owe heir worldwide fame to their quality and constant innovations. To this day they sew these shirts with the finest materials only, such as threads and buttons. Just put on one of these fine shirts, and you will surely feel elegant.
What to buy: Traditional Yucatecan men's shirts
Towards the end of the 18th century, the guayabra was the shirt yucatecan upper-class-men chose to dress themslves. They bought these comfortable shirts on thei frequent tips to Cuba.
When Fidel Castro started to rule the country (Cuba) in the early 1960's, things changed. This was, when a group of industrious Yucatecans decided to produce guayaberas in Yucatán themselves. Since the 1970's the white shirt has become a local favorite as well as nationally and internationally popular.
What to buy: White Yucatecan ellegance
Now, normally I would advise that you proceed with extreme caution when some random man on the street offers to show you a great deal where you can get bottom-dollar prices. However, sometimes - and I stress the sometimes, it just might pay off.
We had been wandering around the maze-like streets of Merida searching for a particular hammock shop, clearly lost, when a man calling himself Astro came up to us and offered to show us directions. We pointed us in the right direction, and we set off again, but still got lost and didn't find the shop we were after.
Not too long afterwards, purely by chance, we came across Astro again and he offered to take us to a warehouse where all the local dealers purchased their hammocks. It turns out that the owners weren't there that day, but one of the staff who had the keys owed Astro a favour, so we got shown around and offered top quality hammocks for cheap cheap prices ($20).
So it just goes to show that sometimes, those too good to be true deals just do pay off.
What to buy: There are all sorts of textiles products to buy in Merida, but the big drawcard are the locally crafted hammocks. Make sure you check out the quality before you buy; evenly spaced strings are a good sign. Whatever you do, don't buy undyed hammocks for more than their dyed counterparts - lots of sellers will try to con you and tell you that they are of better quality, but this isn't the truth.
What to pay: $20 - $40 depending on the quality of the hammock and your bargaining skills.
Mérida has a few artisans shops. We bought a Panama hat and some jewlery in one of them. We were brought to the store by one of the local 'Tourism police'. We made the mistake of buying the hat before we knew what the going rate was, and probably paid twice what we should have. The point of this note is don’t ever buy anything in Mexico without getting competing quotes.
Anyway, we are not the best ones to be giving advice on bartering. Actually I hate bartering. Much prefer posted prices, so I can make my mind up based on comparison shopping. Who knows if I bought a real Panama hat anyway?
Bartering is of course made more difficult when you have not learned Spanish yet.
What to buy: What is there to buy in Mérida? painstakingly embroidered dresses, men's guayabera shirts, silver jewelry, hand-strung hammocks, panama hats, pure vanilla (although that proved hard to find), talavera pottery, handmade tablecloths and blankets, wood and stone carvings, etc.
Merida is the center of hammock production in Mexico. Many sreeet wendors are trying to sell their hammocks offering very low prices. This hammocks are usuall of a very bad quality. To buy a good one, you better go to a shop that is specialized in handicrafts. There are few in Merida. There is one good in a small street just right from the cathedral entrance. You can handle for the price.
+Careful with the street sellers, especially those that sell hammocks on the street. Do not buy one on the street. Do not buy one without trying it first. Instead, you can get a far better quality in a store, where you can take the hammock out for a spin so to speak. They will pull it up for you and you can sit back and relax to try it out for good. For big guys/gals like me, I suggest a family size hammock.
You really don't need a hammock to travel Latin America though. I carried mine for 6 months and rarely used it. I'd say buy it for a souvenir and to use back home, but not for the road. There much lighter backpacking hammocks sold in stores in the US and Europe.
What to pay: A fair price for a family size hammock can range between $15 to $30 USD depending on colors and quality.