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Visitors to Masaya are often surprised by what appears to be a medieval castle in the heart of a bustling city neighborhood. They’re usually delighted to find that the rough, towering rocks of an old Spanish fort now house the Nicaraguan National Artisan Market. Inside the fort, self-contained booths offer shoppers colorful locally made pottery, musical instruments—even a whole Marimba band—and all the usual souvenirs.

The laid-back atmosphere is conducive to meandering through the market and browsing its wares.  Negotiating is a must, and a slight amount of back and forth is expected at any sale.

On Thursday nights, a fee of a couple dollars is charged to enter El Mercado Viejo because it also serves as a venue for cultural events, often featuring folkloric dancing. Brightly dressed performers and well-choreographed dances provide a glimpse into the history and pride of Nicaragua. During September, when the city of Masaya hosts Fiesta Patronal, the market features live music and hip-jiving Latin dancing.

The smells, sounds, and movement of Masaya’s main city market are in marked contrast to the tranquility and open space of El Mercado Viejo. Located on the outskirts of town and next to the bus terminal, the city market has an abundance of artisan crafts as well as everyday merchandise. Navigating through the maze of booths and stalls is an adventure in itself. The sing-song call of vendors announcing deals-of-a-lifetime accompany the smell of fritanga (street-food) lingering in the warm, dusty air.  

Both markets are intriguing and worth the trip. Prices are pretty comparable at both places, but if time permits, try and head to both for a real opportunity to compare prices and products.

Masaya prides itself on its sense of cultural heritage, so it is worth asking around about ongoing events.  The city is easily accessible from both Granada and Managua. There are also many side trips to the nearby Laguna de Apoyo, Volcano Masaya National Park and the artisan towns of San Juan de Oriente and Catarina.

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