For travelers new to Xela, or those “savvy” long-termers who stick to the Wal-Mart-owned Dispensa Familiar, the experience of heading up to the Minerva or Democracia markets in Zona 3 can be a bit daunting. Grocery shopping sin your debit card takes a bit more time, sure, but you could save more than the cost of one of those fancy iPhone apps you used to get there (and sometimes you’ll even score a complimentary bunch of parsley or an inexplicable wink, depending on the mood of your preferred veggie vendor). From bartering with the crazy cheese señora, to resisting the hypnotic mating calls of the tortilla ladies, or negotiating the mystifying melee of locals stocked with latest array of household cleaning supplies trying to shove you out of the way, these markets can be challenging but can also one of the best experiences in Xelatown.
The Democracia market, or La Demo, is a sprawling mess of vendors between Parque Benito Juarez and Calle Rodolfo Robles where you can find things from the freshest veggies to a ridiculously large selection of plastic colanders at places such as the aptly-named Plastilandia. From sunrise to sundown the market rages on, prices dropping with the sunset and heavy rain. Do: be loyal to your veggie lady for customer appreciation discounts. Don’t: forget to bring a re-useable bag.
Despite the misleading rumors peddled by many Spanish school teachers, the Minerva market isn’t all that sketchy and offers low prices and the widest range of goods in town. Located at the main bus terminal, the Minerva market is an experience in itself with a labyrinth of amazing flower shops, mountains of second-hand clothes, and pretty much every kind of nut you can think of. Do: check here before heading across the street to the more expensive Megapaca. Don’t: head up after dark when the area does get a bit dodgy.
The other two honorable market mentions are the Mercado Las Flores and the Mercado Central. Las Flores is a little neighborhood market just up the road from Chocoyos Bridge where you pay a little more but get good deals on veggies and friendly service. Mercado Central doesn’t have the best range of goods but is close to Parque Central and can be handy if you can’t make it up to Zona 3. Do: frequent these markets when you’re in a rush. Don’t: forget to barter with the initial gringo prices.