With their potential for spectacular applications, like superlensing and cloaking, metamaterials are a powerful class of nanostructured materials. All these applications rely on the metamaterials acting as a homogeneous material. We investigate a negative index metamaterial with a phase-sensitive near-field microscope and measure the optical phase as a function of distance. Close to the metamaterial we observe extremely large spatial phase variations within a single unit cell which vanish on a 200 nm length scale from the sample. These deviations of a state-of-the-art metamaterial from a homogeneous medium can be important for nanoscale applications.