Like Guatemala, Nicaragua boasts a particularly rich handicraft tradition. Fine examples can be found in Granada’s boutiques, but we had more fun shopping in the sprawling old market of Masaya, a small city halfway between Managua and Granada.
Like many historic buildings in Nicaragua, the 19th-century Mercado Viejo has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, yet it still offers an atmospheric setting in which to browse countless craft stalls. Shopping here turned out to be refreshingly low-key. Pleasant vendors may greet you as you pass, but there is no high-pressure pitch to browse their wares, nor is extended haggling required to bring prices down to earth. It’s quite a contrast to the bazaars of Turkey and the souks of Morocco!
We were particularly taken by the ceramics from nearby San Juan de Oriente. These pots and vases in various sizes and colors have ornately incised decorations in traditional animal and geometric motifs. Our carefully packed finds were sturdy enough to make it home in one piece. Other stalls presented rainbows of handpainted wooden masks, cheerful paintings of hilly coffee plantations and island villages, and serving pieces hewn from local hardwoods. Those with ample luggage space should consider purchasing a handwoven hammock, a heavy but high-quality souvenir.
We stopped in Masaya en route from Managua’s airport to Morgan’s Rock, but if we’d had more time, we would have opted for the excursion offered by Jicaro Island Ecolodge, which includes a visit to the market as well as two of the neighboring craft villages.
Read more about our recent visit to Nicaragua in the June 2012 Hideaway Report.