Soak in the sun with style: A guide to local markets in Nicaragua, Mexico and Panama

It’s a fact among travellers that no one ever experiences buyers’ remorse on a flight — especially a flight to a hot destination when there’s a deep freeze looming. In addition to catching some R&R (and a tan, obvs), many a sunny southern spot have local markets that can be destinations in themselves — adventures in shopping for something to eat, drink or wear. Meandering through a local mercado adds a richness to travel experiences that can’t be had at a mall or tourist centre. In our opinion, there’s no better or more authentic way to get to know a city than by strolling its market. If you need further inspiration, Transat’s new web series Style Jaunt takes viewers right into the heart of locales that they visit.

If, like us, you’re thinking of heading south this winter — Transat now flies to some of our favourite sun-drenched destinations — here’s a guide to local markets for strategic and savvy shopping.

Nicaragua If you fly into Managua, make a beeline south to the sleepy but spirited surf town of San Juan Del Sur. The market there is chain-free, so you’ll be sure to meet and buy from charming local vendors. Smaller than a city block, it’s easy to tackle, and features a fantastic array of foodstuffs, all at a steal. Find fresh cacao sold for a fraction of what you’d pay for it at home. Grab a coffee from El Gato Negro, a small-batch shop that grows its own coffee beans and roasts them fresh every other day. And after rifling through seemingly endless piles of clothing and accessories at the many vintage and resale clothing stands, reward yourself with a hearty meal. Pull up to one of commedores in the shade, and order eggs and gallo pinto, or find Roticeria el Pollito for incredible roasted chicken and chocolate mousse, prepared by some French expats with some serious game in the kitchen.

Mexico The hub of the Mexican leather industry is located in the state of Guanajuato, a good day’s drive from Puerto Vallarta, though much of the material finds its way to this tourist hub and into the hands of local artisans for crafting into classic belts and bags, hand-stitched jackets and dresses. Be sure to visit Huaracheria Fabiola, in Viejo Vallarta, just south of the bridge over the Cuale River, for a pair of huaraches, authentic Mexican sandals. For more than 30 years, this family business has handcrafted footwear, and they stock thousands of beautiful handmade shoes, as well as belts and hats. Custom orders can be turned around in about a day, and you can watch the artists create your shoes from scratch. In the video above, our blogger friends stopped by to design a couple pairs.

Panama Local markets offer a (literal) taste of Panama. For seafood straight out of the Pacific and Caribbean seas, go to the Mercado de Mariscos for a snack of freshly prepared ceviche and a view of the local mongers hawking their catches of the day. The Mercado Público, a covered market, also houses a plethora of food stands. Buy a fresh borojo juice, known for its myriad of health benefits. Close by, the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías sells artisan wears and handicrafts from around the country including indigenous arts, crafts and clothing. Local Kuna women will often offer to affix their traditional beaded bands around the arms and legs of visitors who purchase their wares.

For more on Transat’s destinations, visit

Do you have an insider shopping tip other La Carte readers would enjoy? Share your favourite shops on social media using #MyStyleJaunt.

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