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Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

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Bringing Something Back

Mexican crafts are worth buying, but the sales tactics are seriously aggressive.

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Shopping for anything in Mexico is a spectacle of tourism on steroids. But that doesn't necessarily mean it can't be fun. It's actually quite an adventure.

Any town you stop in that happens to be close to a vacation destination will have a "flea market" laid out in the style of bazaars and souks elsewhere in the world. I found these flea markets in both Cancun Ciudad and Cozumel.

A whole block of the town will be walled off and divided into smaller compartments with doorways leading from one into the next. Sometimes there are hallways down the center that make them easier to navigate. Word to the wise: don't lose your companions.

The remarkable thing about these flea markets is how aggressive the salespeople are. If you walk away from their stall, they *will* call after you. Guidebooks tell you to smile and say a firm, "No, thank you." If that doesn't work, try asking them for an item that is completely off the wall and impossible to find, and then tell them that's the only thing you're looking for.

They have mass production wares for sale, so don't think you're getting a priceless work of art. However, if you like something and want to buy it, you'll find yourself haggling. They'll throw in other things just to keep you negotiating the price. It can definitely work to your benefit. Just consider how much you'd be spending back home. (I'm terrible at haggling, so I used that as my excuse.)

Other spots to take advantage of are the road-side stop-offs that tour buses make. I found the best items when my tour bus made a pit stop on the way to Chichen Itza. That's where I snapped these pics. Unfortunately, it was my first full day in Mexico and I didn't realize I wouldn't find anything as good for the rest of my trip. So don't balk. If you like something, take your opportunity.

Lastly, all of the resorts have gift shops. Contrary to the practice in American hotels, the prices are not that different from what you'll find haggling on the street.

Never, ever buy anything at the airport. That's where you'll get ripped off. Unless, of course, you're shopping for designer wares at the duty-free luxury shops.

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The items I loved the most were the colorful blankets that are typically associated with Mexico. The radiant, intensely color-soaked ones were by far the most striking.

Meanwhile, I also sought out masks of any kind. I found many terra cotta clay masks, glazed in bright colors with scenes of rural Mexican life painted on them.

I had hoped to find items featuring skulls or skeletons, as I had associated those motifs with Dia de los Muertos. Unfortunately, I think that the lack of such pieces had more to do with where I was in Mexico than anything else. It might be different in other regions.

Mayan symbols, such as solar calendars, parchment sheets covered in Mayan pictographs, and statues made out of compressed stone, turquoise or obsidian were very popular.

Mexican blown glass pieces in vibrant colors, such as pitchers and glasses, were everywhere. They are the same type that you would see in Crate & Barrel back in the States, but for less than half the price.

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