If you’re headed to Cancun, Mexico, you’ll probably want to check out one of the local markets. But is Mercado 23 or Mercado 28 better?
First of all, I should cover why it’s called Mercado 23. It’s quite simple. Each neighborhood in Cancun has a different number, running up into the hundreds. Mercado 23 is just the market in the northeastern corner of neighborhood 23, located behind the central bus station.
Mercado 23 isn’t a large market, but you’ll mostly only see locals shopping there. The produce stores in the center are the biggest, and the vegetables they sell are also large. Just to the north of the produce stalls are the meat stalls – chicken, fish, beef, etc. Surrounding the central shops are souvenir stands, bakeries, candy shops, etc. Along the southern side of the market are all the “restaurants.”
If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs, this is definitely where you’ll want to shop. You’ll find the same products as you would in the glorified “Hotel Zone,” but at a fraction of the cost. And if you’re staying in town for an extended period of time and want some fresh produce, you might want to shop here instead of the big supermarkets.
I think the best part of Mercado 23 is the “restaurants.” I put that in quotation marks as they’re just stalls in the same big building, but each with a slightly different menu. One stall serves tacos and fruit bowls, another serves empanadas, another specializes in tortas (sandwiches), yet another has local (Yucatan) dishes, etc. I was fortunate to have my Airbnb just a couple streets away, and we ate all our breakfasts there.
Most of the stalls are open by 9 a.m., but a few (including a couple of the restaurants) open earlier. There doesn’t seem to be a set time that the market closes each day, but they were never open when we passed through for dinner.
If you’ve read a list of things to do in Cancun, Mercado 28 was probably near the top of the list, after all the attractions in the Hotel Zone. Located about half a mile west of the central bus station in neighborhood 28, Mercado 28 is the big tourist attraction. It’s several times larger than Mercado 23 and has nearly everything you could want to find.
If you want to visit Mercado 28, get ready to be bombarded. The sellers in every shop and stall will be loudly hawking their wares at you, demanding that you check out their local souvenirs, silver, cigars or cerveza (beer). The selection of products is extensive; you could probably find any local product you had on your shopping list at Mercado 28, but prices are also a bit higher. Again, not as high as the Hotel Zone, but more than Mercado 23.
The market is open roughly from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week. You can access the market from any direction – there’s no main entrance that I saw.
Overall, I far preferred Mercado 23 over Mercado 28. Granted, I’m not really looking for souvenirs when I go through markets. I’m more interested in just admiring the local crafts and products, and that was hard with the stallkeepers so insistent that I try or buy something. But I would still recommend checking out Mercado 28 just to see what it’s like for yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to haggle. That’s part of the tradition. They will almost certainly quote you a price too high and expect you to negotiate it down.