Bargaining in Mexico? It’s fun! Here’s how to haggle like a pro

In CULTURE by Janice and George18 Comments

bargaining in Mexico

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 - beach vendor

Want a hat? You’ll have to bargain for it…

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).

They’re waiting for you on Medano Beach :-)

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.

We’ve bargained for colorful Mexican blankets like these

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.

Saying “no”

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.

A beach vendor in Cabo San Lucas hawks ceramic plates

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.

Ceramic plates for sale in a Mexican market

Don’t expect to bargain down jewelry in a store (bargaining in Mexico is typically common only on beaches and in markets)

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.

Bottom line?

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

  • 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

bargaining in Mexico


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 :-).


Do you like bargaining in Mexico? What have you bought?


Comments

  1. This is a good post. This is something a lot of tourists don’t know how to do because it is not a thing in the United States, however it is normal in a lot of Spanish speaking countries. The unfortunate thing is that if a native sees that you are a tourist, there is a big chance that you are going to get a high asking price for what you are trying to buy.

    1. Author

      You’re right, Alyssa, most tourists are going to pay more than locals. It helps that tourists are usually okay with this; they earn more than locals and have more spending money – and they’re still paying less than what it would cost to buy the item back home in the U.S. or Canada :-). Thanks for chiming in!

  2. This is so helpful! I haven’t been to any of these destinations yet but they’re on my list. I love the items in your photos too so I’ll definitely need the bargaining info. Thank you for the helpful tips. I also love the way this shares a way of life and keeps it alive.

  3. I really enjoy reading this article. Unfortunately I’ve never been so good at bargaining although I live on the Balkans – in Bulgaria, to be more precise. But I enjoy watching my friends doing it. You have to be clever and to think faster than the trader. It’s funny.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing what it’s like in the Balkans! Bargaining is a bit strange for us Canadians too, because we’re not used to it. Shopping is all “fixed price” — unless you go to a garage sale at someone’s house :-).

    1. Author

      It’s quite fun too, once you get used to the idea. The only problem is when you return home and ask a store if they can offer a discount or a better price, they look at you strangely.

  4. I think over the past 12 months the closest thing to bargaining we’ve done is over the price of a cab ride in Laos that still cost way more than it should have done for a local.

    We don’t really buy much whilst we’re on the go as we like to count our photographs and memories as souvenirs, but should we see something when we (hopefully) see Mexico next year, we’ll be clued in a lot more to get a fair price for what we’re after.

    1. Author

      No doubt every traveler has overpaid for a cab ride at least once! Just take comfort in knowing that you helped support the local Laos economy :-). And when you get to Mexico, have a great time (the people really are very warm and friendly).

  5. Janice and George, I’m glad you found that they will leave you alone once you say “no” when you were in Cabo. Because in Ensenada they would not leave you alone after telling them “no”. It made for a horrible experience off of our dinner cruise.

    1. Author

      That’s too bad. It isn’t fun when you feel “pestered.” Sometimes you have to say “no” a couple of times to some vendors in Cabo, but they do usually say, “Ok, amigo, maybe tomorrow” and leave you alone.

  6. We bought the bears as well (and much, much more)! We love them – only thing was that when we came back to Canada customs held us back to inspect the wood items!

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