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March 4, 2006
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:: Markets and handicrafts ::

M's market , a huge place between calles 65, 67, 56 and 54, is for most visitors a major attraction. As far as quality goes, though, you're almost always better off buying in a shop - prices are no great shakes, either, unless you're an unusually skilful and determined haggler. Before buying anything, head for the Casa de Artesan?as in the Casa de la Cultura on C 63 west of the z?calo, which also houses the Museo de la Cancion Yucateca (Tues-Sat 9am-8pm; free). Run by the government-sponsored Fonapas organization, it sells crafts from the peninsula, which are of a consistently high quality, right down to the cheapest trinkets and toys.

The most popular purchase is a hammock - and M?rida is probably the best place in the country to buy one, but if you want something you can realistically sleep in, exercise a degree of care and never buy one from street vendors or even a market stall - they're invariably of very poor quality. There are plenty of cheap ones about, but comfort is measured by the tightness of the weave (the closer-packed the threads the better) and the breadth: since you're supposed to lie in them diagonally, in order to be relatively flat, this is far more crucial than the length (although obviously the central portion of the hammock should be at least as long as you are tall). A decent-sized hammock ( doble at least, preferably matrimonial ) with cotton threads ( hilos de algodon , more comfortable and less likely to go out of shape than artificial fibres) will set you back at least US$20 - more if you get a fancy multicoloured version. For a specialist dealer , head to Tejidos y Cordeles Nacionales, one of the best and very near the market at C 56 no. 516-B. More of a warehouse than a shop, it has hundreds of the things stacked against every wall, divided up according to size, material and cost. Buy several and you can enter into serious negotiations over the price. Similar hammock stores nearby include El Campesino and El Aguacate, both on C 58, and La Poblana at C 65 no. 492.

Other good buys include tropical shirts ( guayaberas ), Panama hats (known here as jipis ) and huipiles , which vary wildly in quality, from factory-made, machine-stitched junk to hand-embroidered, homespun cloth. Even the best, though, rarely compare with the antique dresses that can occasionally be found: identical in style (as they have been for hundreds of years) but far better made and very expensive.

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