The Witch's Market offers the magical
and esoteric; as well as herbs and spices.
Street markets are as Mexican as tequila or chilaquiles, dating
back to the Aztecs when Mexico City had the largest in the country.
Whenever I want a taste of the simple life in Mexico away from all
the high-rise hotels and sparkly malls, I head to the city’s
markets. They’re entertaining, free and provide a nice opportunity
to mix with the locals. The following are a few favorites in Mexico
The Witch’s Market
Traditional healers and practitioners of white and black magic
draw people here to the Sonora Market, also known as the “Witch’s
Market,” one of the oldest and most popular, located in the barrio
of La Merced.
Dona Hortensia, squatting on the ground at the entrance, greeted
me with a pleasant, “How can I serve you?” surrounded by bundles of
flowers wrapped in old newspapers and a basket of eggs. A village
woman of indeterminate age with gray braids said the eggs were for
eating or for limpias (psychic cleansings) and the arnica flowers
were good for aches and pains by drinking them in a tea. This was
no spur-of-the-moment remedy, but a time-honored cure used by
pre-Hispanic healers before modern drugs came into use. Sonora
Market is famous for its herbalists, spread throughout one wing of
I smiled, thanked her and moved inside to a stall manned by Don
Hugo, a wizened-looking Indian of 70, whose constant good humor has
drawn customers to him for the past 40 years. Roots of prickly pear
cactus crammed next to sacks of dried herbs doubled as his pharmacy
as he dispensed them to his regulars. Most stalls carried strings
of garlic, a sort of generic catch-all for anything that ails
Need a job? A fortune? Want to banish your enemy? Get rid of a
hex? Deeper into the market, I came across Santeria, powders,
salves, candles and tarot card readings for $10 a shot. This was
the twilight zone of magic and the esoteric. Voodoo dolls sat next
to strings of Christian rosaries and small images of a drug lord
that people revere as a saint. Love potion No. 9? No problema.
Upscale on Saturdays
This Saks Fifth Avenue of Mexican markets is where actors Peter
O’Toole, Liza Minnelli and Richard Nixon have shopped. Located in
the upscale San Angel neighborhood, it’s only open on Saturdays.
This is where artisans bring their one-of-a-kind pieces to sell in
a lovely, two-story 17th-century house overlooking a park.
Businessman Ignacio Romero founded the Bazar in 1960 as a protest
against tacky Mexican souvenirs being sold in department
“I wanted to show handicrafts that were in good taste,” he
He started with 12 artists, many unknown at the time, who have
since climbed to fame. Many still come from the city’s prestigious
art schools like San Carlos and Esmeralda.
When the market first opened, some of the neophyte ceramists
were invited by Pablo Picasso, Romero’s uncle, to compete in
France, and they walked off with first, second and third places.
Besides ceramics, visitors can browse museum-quality popular art,
jewelry made from amber, turquoise and other semi-precious stones,
hand-tooled leather, hand-blown glass, shawls, miniatures, lamps,
dolls and various hand-painted items. Fledging artists also spread
their paintings along the park sidewalks every Saturday, hoping to
attract buyers. Make sure to get there early, as the Bazar tends to
get crowded by noon.
Silver and Gold
What once was a neighborhood hangout with fruit and vegetable
stands has become a jewelry market where gold and silver is sold by
the gram. A Pink Zone landmark for at least half a century, you
won’t find the fine designs of Tane, Mexico’s most prestigious
silver store, here, but, instead, a good selection of first-rate
items from Zacatecas and Oaxaca.
Most, however, are mass-produced silver pieces from Taxco with
the occasional original design by master silversmiths like the
Castillo brothers. You can also shop for handicrafts like colorful
wall hangings, embroidered dresses and blouses and miniature
figures brought in from the states surrounding Mexico City.
The Antiques Bazzar offers an
eclectic array of items.
If you happen to shop the Insurgentes Market on weekends, you can
cross the street to browse antiques when dealers display their
goods from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Spread on the floor and in hallways of
a shops area, much of the merchandise looks like junk from auntie’s
attic, but the discerning eye will be able to pick out the
One of the longtime collectors told me that the best guarantee
of finding the genuine article was to know your antiques. Some of
the most outstanding I discovered on my visit were decorative
pieces from Mexico’s colonial era, Art Deco from France, dishware
from occupied Japan, old cameras and various books on Mexican
With the exception of the Sonora, most sellers speak some
English. Take a translator if you’re headed to the Witch’s
And don’t forget to bargain at each of the markets. It’s
expected of you and one of the oldest traditions in Mexico.