Cancun’s Mercado 28, a friendly outdoor market

The local vendors manning the kiosks at Mercado 28 – Cancun‘s outdoor marketplace – do not disappoint. They are ready to cut you a deal and almost seem to be acting in character when you step onto the sidewalk. One instructs you, “It starts here,” ushering you inot his store. All greet with “amigo” and promises of “nearly free” prices on jewelry, pottery and “genuine” Cuban cigars, among other wares.

Mercado 28 is not designed for an easy exit. A mix of covered and open walkways form a maze intended to keep you shopping … and spending. Every salesman offers a broad smile and a polite entreaty to come into his shop. This “smooth operator” approach has only one purpose: to make it hard for you to say “no.” with every person you pass, you feel increasingly rude (and thus increasingly ashamed).

Some pitches are better at inspiring guilt at others. My favorites:

“Your wife would like …”

“You should get your mother-in-law a …”

“Have you bought anything for your kids?”

It takes a triumph of the will – and a readiness to seem heartless – to decline and move on.

As outdoor marketplaces go, Mercado 28 is surprisingly docile. It’s nothing compared to what you’d find in Tijuana, which combines visible abject poverty with an unplanned landscape of desperation. Having recently been to the souks of Marrakech – a labyrinthine pressure cooker of merchandise hawking – I found Cancun’s equivalent a breeze to navigate.

Nonetheless, complacency will open your wallet. If you see something you like and decide to engage (the leather goods are worth your time), expect to settle at 40 percent below the initial offer. A fistful of U.S. dollars may give you a bit more negotiating leverage … finally.