Market Visit – Mercado 23 in Cancun

Local beach at Puerto Juarez
Local beach at Puerto Juarez
Local beach at nearby Puerto Juarez

For an authentic feel of Mexican culture, visit Mercado 23 in Cancun, Mexico. 

Cancun is a vacation paradise—beautiful beaches, sparkling waters, temperate weather with sunny skies, and an estimated 30,000 hotel rooms offering enough options to satisfy every taste and pocketbook.

But this popular tourist destination might be considered a victim of its own success. With English spoken everywhere, sophisticated continental menus, and large American-style shopping centers, some visitors complain this part of Mexico isn’t Mexican enough.

We were on our way to the Mercado 23, the first public market in Cancun, when our guide Eduardo joked: “What’s the difference between Miami and Cancun?”

“We speak English,” he said, and we all laughed forming a fast friendship.

Cancun’s first public market

Mercado 23 is the oldest of a series of markets in the city. Removed from the manicured hotel zone, it’s immersed in the middle of a vibrant neighborhood inhabited by workers and their families. Eduardo promised it as the “real deal” and it was. He grew up a few blocks from the market and this is where his parents shopped when he was a kid. Now he takes his own children here to shop and eat, and immerse them in his heritage.

“We’re losing the feeling of Mexico,” he said with more seriousness.

Mercado 23
Mercado 23

Mercado 23 looks like it hasn’t changed since its inception in the 70s.

It resembles a large open-air flea market with vendors operating out of a series of stalls (both interior and along the outside perimeter) that sell home goods like mops and detergents; school supplies; piñatas, candy and party goods; pet food; grains; pottery and crafts; fresh flowers and herbs; and still-fragrant local vegetables and fruits that aren’t waxed over like those in our supermarkets. It looks like the ancestor of a megamall coupled with a food court.

The shops are open seven days a week from 7AM until dusk. Locals also come for haircuts and to get their tires repaired. There’s a stand that sells herbal products (botanicas) to cure any malady (perhaps a progenitor to GMC) and shoe shops for every sized foot.

Anything you want or need at Mercado 23
Anything you want or need at Mercado 23

Religion is still dominant in much of Mexico and at this market, like many others there is a small capilla in its center with Our Lady of in Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, at the altar. The market also sells both religious and spiritual products.

Religious/spiritual side to Mercado 23
Religious/spiritual side to Mercado 23

One of the biggest draws of the market, certainly for any foodie, are the wonderful cooked dishes prepared by vendors who have come to live and work here in Cancun from many different regions of Mexico bringing recipes from their respective regions and states.

Cooked foods of Mercato 23
Cooked foods of Mercato 23

On the top left is a picture are the lomitas we tasted, freshly made corn tortillas topped with pork, egg and onions. On the top right is tacos de pierna, made from pork leg. On the bottom left is chicharra, decadently unhealthy but delicious pork crackling. The picture at the center is morcilla con carne higadilla (made with blood sausages, onions and habanero peppers).

Faces of Mercato 23
Faces of Mercato 23

Of course, the nicest part of our visit was getting to interact with locals, both vendors and other customers. Not quite sure why the lady came to eat made up like a clown but she brought a smile to our face. The larger-than-life size fish was a locally caught grouper for sale by a fishmonger at the market.

More faces of Mercato 23
More faces of Mercato 23

Not too many gringos visit this market. But in perfect English, the musician in the red shirt and hat asked where we were from. When we told him we were from New York, he began playing New York, New York and proudly told us about his half-Irish brother, a cop in Brooklyn whom he hoped to one day visit.


  • While the market looks perfectly safe during the day, some say it’s dangerous to hang around after dark and that’s why the stalls close up.
  • Unless you are proficient in Spanish, it’s best to visit with a Spanish-speaking friend or taxi driver.
  • It’s best to visit early in the morning–all the foods are at their freshest and are most plentiful.
  • Bring cash; this isn’t a place where plastic is accepted. Even better, bring pesos.
  • While the vendors expect you to haggle, you’ll probably have a hard time haggling with people who are so warm and kind, and work so hard for a living.

Located west of Avenida Tulum, it’s accessible by taxi or the Ruta 1 bus from the Hotel Zone.

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  1. That looks like a wonderful market. Love the food shots! I’ll have to remember this if we get to Cancun.

  2. I’m heading back to Cancun and Merida in a few weeks. I’ve been many times over the years, but I don’t believe I’ve been to Market 23. I’ll put it on my list!

  3. I love Mercados! I haven’t been to Cancun but I’ve been to Mazatlan and Cabo. The only thing I don’t enjoy at Mercados is the butchered animals sitting out. I’ll never forget turning the corner at the Mercado in Mazatlan and coming face to face with a pig head!

  4. I visited Cancun for the first time about 25 years ago and oh my has it changed! I like going there now, but I always remember that first trip and how it felt like I was immersed in a new country and culture.

  5. There’s nothing I like better when traveling is visiting a local market. The only down side? I usually don’t have a kitchen, so I have to look at rather than buy all the goodies!

  6. We were in Cancun in March and stopped by Mercado 23 as well. I had to look twice at your picture showing the haircutting place to see if it was the one that we stopped at but I checked and it wasn’t. It is true that Cancun is like Miami but if you stay away from the hotel strip, you can definitely still find areas that are Mexican.

  7. I’ve been to Cozumel, Merida, Tulum and Playa del Carmen, but I’ve never been to Cancun other than to the airport. It was supposed to be a port call on a cruise we were on one year, but the waves were too high for us to stop there. It must have been a tender port. Your photos of Mercado 23 really capture the ambiance. Nice.

  8. Irene-great food shots. I love to check into a local market when I arrive at a new destination. Gives such a great overview and feel for the local culture. I’m glad you enjoyed Cancun and could get off the beaten path. It’s getting harder and harder to have an authentic experience and you and Jerry captured this one beautifully!

  9. I love visiting markets like this when I travel, even at home! Based on your comments, I think next time I see something I want at a really good price I will offer MORE than the asking price–just for the FUN of it! 🙂

  10. Irene, I’ve never been to Cancun, but I think if I were to go this would be one of my first stops. I would have to eat lunch here! Love the pics!

  11. I haven’t been to Cancun since the 80s! I suspect a few things might have changed. 🙂 But there are still a lot of good reasons to go there, including the fabulous beaches. Glad that you were able to experience “the real deal” at the market while you were there. Looks like a must-see.

  12. I like your way of describing the beautiful Mexico especially the markets. Infact, I enjoyed reading your article. Mexico is really a different and interesting destination to explore.

  13. Nice to see a guide offering insight into the best specific locales to hit up to get an authentic experience out of Cancun. Thanks for sharing.

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