“Necklaces! Bracelets! Cheap Mexican junk!”
The cries of the beach vendors are as characteristic of Cabo San Lucas as the sun, sand and sea. Day in and day out, you see the same good-natured men and women, dressed in white pants and shirts, traipsing along the sand, loaded down with their wares.
And bargaining in Mexico is the name of the game if you want to buy and take a souvenir home.
You may not be comfortable. But the skill is worth learning, especially as haggling is a way of life in other places around the world where you might also travel – like Thailand, Myanmar (be sure to go to the Scott Market in Yangon) and elsewhere in Asia.
Bargaining in Mexico on the beach
Cabo isn’t the only Mexican resort destination where shopping (and bargaining) is done on the beach. Puerto Vallarta is another. Add Cancun and the Riviera Maya to the list too.
But not in Ixtapa – the state of Guerrero has banned vendors from the beaches there (vendors can only sell in tourist markets).
Everything under the sun
In Cabo San Lucas, most of the vendors ply Medano Beach.
(A few try their luck on the Corridor beaches in front of the major resorts; you rarely see a vendor on beaches on the Pacific side.)
Silver jewelry. Sun dresses, T-shirts, and sunglasses. Sombreros and cowboy hats. Colorful Mexican blankets. Temporary tattoos and hair braiding services. Decorative ceramic plates. Polished wood carvings of marlin and even bears.
You name it, they sell it.
At Los Muertos Beach – Puerto Vallarta’s busiest and most popular stretch of sand – vendors also sell food, like barbecued shrimp-on-a-stick and donuts.
If you’re not interested in what the vendors offer, simply say “No thank-you” or shake your head, and they’ll move on.
Tip: In Cabo, many resorts and bars on Medano Beach have roped-off areas for guests, where passing vendors can’t cross. Pick a spot behind the rope if you don’t want to be bothered.
The vendors in Cancun are pretty low-pressure.
Tips for bargaining in Mexico like a pro
But if you’re keen and want to take a closer look, the vendor who’s caught your eye will spread their goods out on a blanket on the sand, or display their silver jewelry in an open suitcase propped up on a little stand.
Then the bargaining begins. Remember, the vendor is happy to bargain with you. They want you to engage with them, and the bargaining should be fun.
You could start with offering half of the asking price. But the vendor might act offended; for sure, they will say no and come back at you with something higher than your offer, but lower than their first ask.
Walking away is one of the best ways to see how low the vendor will go.
Expect in the end to pay about 30% less than the top asking price.
If you’re tough, you might even get away with a 50% discount.
But it’s not all about squeezing the last peso out of the vendor, right? (In this delightful story on “How to Bag a Bargain in Mexico,” travel writer Marie Javins was even prepared to pay full price for a hand-embroidered Otomi textile in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende – but was bargained down by the grandpa who had sewn it.)
Tourism is what makes Mexico’s resort destinations tick, and bargaining in Mexico and selling wares is how vendors make their living.
The bargaining should be fair
The current exchange rate is about 18 to 19 pesos for one U.S. dollar (check the rate at the time you go). Vendors take U.S. dollars. But you’re usually better off to pay in pesos.
If you’re happy with the price, it’s a good deal. And you’ll take home a nice little memory of your Mexico vacation.
Stuff we’ve bought on the beach
- Carved wooden bears – yes, bears, even though we don’t believe Mexico is home to bears; George couldn’t resist, since black bears often wandered down from the mountains and roamed around our old Vancouver neighborhood
- Silver bracelets, earrings and ankle bracelets – only one bracelet has ever broken; unfortunately that was a gift to Janice’s best friend, so she promptly had to buy her friend another
- T-shirts – we’re walking advertisements in the gym with our “Cabo!” T-shirts
- Mexican blankets – one fell apart in the washing machine, but we still use three others as throws in the house (good for snuggling in when watching TV)
- Ceramic plates – we had to lighten the load of one of the vendors pictured here :-)
- Beach wraps – great for covering up; they also double as tablecloths when we go on picnics
Update February 8, 2018
We recently returned from another visit to Los Cabos (it’s our “go to” place for a little winter warmth). Of course, we couldn’t resist buying yet again another piece of silver on the beach. And we updated this post :-).