The Jetsetter’s guide to Christmas shopping
By Martha Hales
In need of a few unusual gifts for your nearest and dearest? Stuck for ideas? Plan a trip to one of these atmospheric markets for some world class shopping. Inspiration is guaranteed among the mind-blowing array of goods on offer. So, arm yourself with an empty suitcase and get set for some serious retail therapy.
An explosion of colour awaits at this historic market which overtakes the hilltop town of Chichicastenango every Thursday and Sunday morning. Pretty much anything you could ever want is available with a particular emphasis on textiles, Mayan handicrafts and paintings. With clothing, shoes, jewellery and lots of opportunities to sample some local street snacks, it’s a slice of authentic Central America. It's an impressive place to immerse yourself in the Mayan culture of the area as many vendors come to sell their wares from the surrounding villages.
Muttrah souq, Muscat, Oman
One of the oldest marketplaces in Arabia, Muttrah souk has a dizzying array of exotic goods on offer, from spices to kuma, the traditional, embroidered Omani hats worn by men. The souq is known as Al Dhalam locally, which means ‘darkness’ in Arabic, as the covered corridors don’t let daylight in. It sounds claustrophobic but you will be so entranced by the jewel colours of the trinkets and textiles that you won’t notice. Look out for renowned Omani silver and frankincense, two authentic local products.
Kejetia Market, Kumasi, Ghana
Shortly to be relocated into a vast new purpose built hangar, the Kejetia market may be set to lose some of its ramshackle charm, but it will be gaining welcome shade from the new roof, and a less chaotic layout. All the classic African souvenirs are on sale here, so keep an eye out for colourful kente cloth and a great range of Ashanti crafts.
An important trading post for Silk Road merchants for several centuries, the Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world. There’s no way you can spend much time here without getting at least a little lost, but that's part of the fun. Different corridors specialise in different goods, so if you have a certain purchase in mind, ask a shopkeeper to point you in the right direction. Special items to look out for include rugs, jewellery, saffron, marquetry and hand enamelled copperware. Don't forget to look up to appreciate the glorious vaulted ceilings, too.
Night market at Luang Prabang, Laos
If you are looking for vast and bustling, you've come to the wrong place. But if it's local handicrafts and a mellow atmosphere you're after this is the market for you. Vendors set up shop from about 5pm, arriving from the surrounding countryside to sell traditional attire, handicrafts, textiles and accessories such as bags and purses. It is all uniquely Laotian and overall a pleasantly civilised experience.
Otavalo market, Ecuador
South America’s largest market takes place every Saturday (and to a lesser extent on Wednesdays) in the highland town of Otavalo, around 2 hours north of Quito. The market is special for its indegina stallholders in traditional dress, many of whom travel from miles around to sell their wares. The textiles, carved wooden items and ceramics here are particularly good quality. Whatever you are hunting for; you will probably find it in this sprawling shopper's heaven.
Medina, Fez, Morocco
Labyrinthine and ancient, the medina of Fez is an adventure for the senses. Intricate tiled walls and elegant gateways are interspersed with dark and crumbling alleyways, donkeys plodding by and scooters buzzing past. Clustered inside the medina are sectors specialising in certain goods such as leather, spices, henna, musical instruments and precious metals.
Our knowledgeable local experts are ready and waiting to take you to these exciting markets. Click on the links above to find out more. Happy shopping!