Each July, craftspeople, food vendors and other merchants from Mexico, Central America and South America travel across the border to sell their wares during Laredo’s International Sister Cities Festival.
This summer’s event, July 14–16, is the 19th edition of what is described as an indoor mercado — Spanish for market — where the aroma of Mexican food and the sounds of live music waft around 200 booths set up on the main floor of the Sames Auto Arena.
A south-of-the-border shopping experience
For group tours, the festival is an easy and inexpensive south-of-the-border shopping experience, a chance to talk to talented artisans as they work, eat Mexican specialties and see entertainment by talents from Laredo and its Sister Cities.
Admission is free, a commitment the city made long ago to ensure large crowds for the artisans. “It’s been a goodwill gesture to our Sister Cities,” says Selina Villarreal, marketing manager for Visit Laredo. “If visitors spend money, we want them to spend it with the festival’s exhibitors.”
Laredo has more than 30 Sister Cities, so the festival encompasses many cultural traditions. With so much to see and buy — from wool serapes and metal work to colorful cowboy boots and silver jewelry — Villarreal suggests tours plan for an overnight stay.
“I think you are going to want to set aside two days for the visit,” she says. “On Friday, when the festival opens it is a little slower, so groups could walk at their own pace and talk to the artisans then enjoy some empanadas, tacos and coffees — load up on calories then walk them off while going booth to booth.”
Taking time to visit with artisans will give visitors more appreciation for the items they buy, says Villarreal. “Women’s clothing is always popular and those beautiful embroidered tops or dress are handmade. You won’t find them anywhere else and they will last.”
More to Explore
Hotels are located across from the arena, making it easy to extend the trip and take in Laredo’s more than dozen import shops as well as its popular mall and outlet center.
Of course, shopping isn’t the festival’s only attraction. Visitors often gather early to get a spot near the stage for the various performers from Mexico and Latin America as well as popular local entertainers.
And then there is the food. Villarreal attends the festival every year and she fondly remembers filling up on freshly made quesadillas. “The quesadillas were $1. Every time I walked by, I’d say, ‘Can I have one?’ ”
She also remembers eyeing Mexican candies and flavorful salsas one year, deciding to wait and buy them on Sunday, the festival’s final day.
But when she returned that day, the booth operator had some bad news for her. They had sold out.
“That is the risk,” she says. “If they sell out, you have to wait a whole year for the next festival.”
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