Encompassing 21 countries, Latin America offers something for every type of traveler. Endless beaches, wild nightlife scenes, family-friendly parks, beautiful natural attractions…the list goes on and on. One perk to nearly any Latin American vacation is that travelers will get to do some unique souvenir shopping. From handmade pottery to delicate textiles, and lots more, there’s no shortage of treasures to peruse and choose from.
When it comes to shopping in street markets, at outdoor fairs, and with casual vendors set up outside popular attractions, no tourist wants to feel like they just got ripped off. Bartering, or negotiating the price, is common practice in many Latin American countries, including popular destinations like Mexico, Belize, and Argentina. Many travelers report that they routinely save 25-30% off the price of souvenirs by bartering.
Now, before we get too far, it’s important to note that not all countries treat bartering the same way. In Mexico, it’s all but expected that savvy vacationers will try to get half off the sticker price. In Costa Rica, on the other hand, you’re likely to get dirty looks from vendors and locals if you ask for anything more than 10-20%. Always take note of what other shoppers around you are doing if you’re unsure of the local bartering scene. If the scenario permits, try saving yourself a few reales in Brazil or cordoba in Nicaragua by following these tips:
1) Walk around a bit before you buy anything.
If you’re at a mercado artesenal where there are lots of street vendors, do yourself a favor and avoid buying anything until you’ve visited various stalls or stations. You will see that some of the same items are being sold at multiple stands yet carry very different price tags. Even if you don’t want to buy a specific item that you see at more than one stand, ask about its price to get a feel for which vendors seem to charge higher fees.
2) Listen to others around you.
Listen to the prices that vendors give other tourists. If you hear someone bartering in Spanish or Portuguese, pay attention to the starting and final prices to see how much of a discount they were able to get. If you want the same item that they just bought, take cash out and tell the vendor you’ll pay the same amount.
3) Speak in the local language.
Portuguese speakers in Brazil, and Spanish-speakers in the rest of Latin America, get better prices than those who speak only English. If you’ve been practicing the local language, put your skills to work. Greet vendors with a friendly “hola” or “olá” and keep a smile on your face. Maintain a friendly tone to show that you recognize that your skills may not be perfect, but that you’re trying to communicate in the vendor’s native tongue. The vendor is likely to appreciate your efforts to speak the local language and may offer up an extra discount.
4) Buy in bulk.
You are likely to get the greatest discount by buying multiple items from one vendor. If you find a particularly nice vendor who seems to offer fair prices, you can simply ask for a further discount because you’re planning on buying 3 or 4 or more items. Likewise, if you want 2 of the same thing, ask how much he or she will drop the price. And what if you buy 3 of the same item? Don’t be afraid to ask for a better deal in situations like this especially.
5) Have small bills available for payment.
Be respectful of vendors by having bills of various denominations available to pay for lower cost purchases. You may be able to get a better deal by having smaller bills as well. For example, if a vendor says something costs $7, you can show a $5 bill and ask if that will suffice. In many cases, they’ll say yes to an offer in which a bill is ready for quick and easy payment without any fuss.
Buying handmade goods and unique items to take home after your vacation is about more than having a souvenir to place on a shelf or on your desk at work. It gives travelers a chance to interact with local people, practice their foreign language skills, and even learn more about a country’s history. Make sure to fit a little shopping into your next Latin American adventure and it may end up being one of the highlights of your trip! And be sure to contact us if you’re ready to learn more about Spanish or Portuguese instruction opportunities near you in order to polish your skills before you head south of the border.