Exploring the Roberto Huembes Market
The Roberto Huembes Market is a must-see destination for those visiting Managua, Nicaragua. For most North Americans, this market is an experience like you’ve never had before. The size, the availability of products, and the environment in general are vastly different from what most are used to. Exploring the Roberto Huembes Market will leave you feeling like you’ve had a truly “Nicaraguan” experience.
The Roberto Huembes Market or, as it’s more commonly called, the Huembes Market, is a massive market place in the center of Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua. Directly next to the market is the city’s central bus depot, with most buses stopping here that travel from neighboring cities to Managua. Due to the market’s massive size and appeal, as well as it being directly next to a bus hub, it is a popular destination. Sundays are calmer than other days of the week, but also have slightly less shops open. Those that are open usually close around 3pm. All other days of the week the market generally shuts down around sunset: 5-6pm.
The Huembes Market, despite its massive size and popularity, is not even the largest market in Managua. That distinction is reserved for the Oriental Market. Closer to the lake, the Oriental Market is a truly massive, sprawling place, stretching out for multiple city blocks. It is the largest outdoor marketplace in all of Central America. The key difference between Huembes and the Oriental, however, is safety. Any travel blog you read, as well as any Nicaraguan you talk to, will tell you that the Oriental Market is not a place for tourists. Even many Nicaraguans say they won’t go there due to the high levels of crime. Huembes, however, is much different. It is a popular destination for Nicaraguans, expats, and tourists alike. It is also a generally safe place to visit, whoever you are. I won’t make the heedless claim that Huembes is 100% safe; of course bad things can happen, and it certainly is important to follow basic safety measures when visiting. In general, however, Huembes is a safe place to go. I personally have been to the market several times without feeling unsafe. Nothing bad has ever happened to me, and I have never encountered any sort of criminal activity at any point.
Going back to what makes Huembes so impressive, I would say the size and diversity of the market are what truly stand out. It really is huge. You can walk around for what seems like forever and still encounter a new shop or stall you hadn’t before. One great quality about Huembes, though, is that you’re unlikely to ever get lost; you basically can’t. The market has a general grid pattern, meaning that all you have to do is walk in one direction long enough and you’ll find your way out. Of course there are plenty of little walkways and side-paths (exploring these is another one of my favorite things about Huembes), and it can certainly be a bit disorienting at times, but remember: walk in one direction and you’ll find your way out. And if you find yourself particularly unsure of where you are, you can always ask one of the security personnel walking around for directions (remember how I was saying it’s quite safe?).
The market is also fairly organized in terms of venders. There is a section for clothes, a section for fruits and vegetables, a section for meats and fish, a section for traditional tourist stuff, a section for cookies and other treats, a section for cigars. There are watch repairmen, cobblers, people who will fix phones… everything’s got a corner, and there’s a corner for everything.
What I love especially is the incredible variety. Some of my favorite things I’ve bought in Nicaragua have come out of Huembes. For instance, Huembes is the only place so far that I’ve found what has now become my absolute favorite fruit, the guanabana. This green, spikey delight is native to the Central American region, and it has one of the most amazing tastes and textures I’ve ever experienced. The insides are naturally segmented, which makes eating it that much easier. It’s got a semi-pulpy, chewy texture and a very sweet, almost milky flavor. Oh, and apparently it’s anti-carcinogenic. The guanabana is very different from other fruits I’m used to, but oh so delicious. I have yet to find it anywhere but at Huembes. I’m sure other fruit vendors carry it, but supermarkets certainly don’t. Again, you can find just about anything at Huembes.
A guanabana fruit, delicious
The cigars at Huembes are another great reason to visit. There is a nice little section of vendors who have stalls packed with pillars of cigars, among many other things, of course. You can find many high quality Nicaraguan cigars there. Nicaragua is actually famous for the high quality of its cigars. The International Cigar Association includes many Nicaraguan cigars in their list of Best Cigars in the World, and Nicaragua is actually the second biggest exporter of cigars to the United States behind the Dominican Republic. Oh, and you can also find an array of Cuban cigars in Huembes as well. It’s hard to beat a nice Cuban cigar (and when you can buy them for around $1 each, all the better).
Another fun thing about Huembes is the bartering. If you’re shopping at Huembes and you’re not bartering, you’re not shopping correctly. To be clear, even if you don’t barter, the prices are incredibly cheap, and you’ll likely pay less than you would anywhere else. Certainly less than in Western countries. But, having said that, bartering is basically expected. It’s built into the price. When you ask how much something is, you know you can talk the vendor down about 10% at least. This definitely enhances the whole experience for me, as bartering makes me feel like I’m getting a better deal. Of course, some things aren’t worth haggling over. A pack of rosquillas for 50 cords (less than 2 dollars), for instance, isn’t worth the haggling over a few cents. But if you’re buying a backpack, a hammock, or an expensive pack of cigars, you certainly can barter your way to a better price.
Every time I’ve left Huembes Market, I’ve left with a feeling that I just finished some amazing adventure. I’ve also always left with a lot of great stuff. It really is a great place to visit; basically a must-visit for anyone in Managua. You’ll love the atmosphere as well as the massive variety of products. Put Huembes on your list of places to visit if you’re ever in Managua; you won’t be disappointed.