San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

PHOTO STORY: What you can buy at Mercado Central

In San José’s Mercado Central, aromas of fresh flowers, pungent spices and bran-flavored pet food waft through the stalls. Vendors call out to potential buyers, attempting to move everything from snakeskin boots to curry powder to children’s underwear. The less motivated shopkeepers chat amongst themselves, occasionally parting ways to help a customer or sneak off to one of the market’s small restaurants, known here as sodas

In the heart of the city’s downtown, the market sprawls between Central and First avenues and 6th and 8th streets, 250 meters northwest of Parque Central. And as the largest market in San José, Mercado Central challenges its visitors to come up with a product that can’t be found. Visitors and salesmen have been haggling here since the late 1800s, and these days, they do so at more than 200 businesses. 

Each day, thousands of people show up to purchase produce, flowers, seafood, souvenirs, medicinal herbs, leather goods and lord knows what else. Tico Times photographer Alberto Font recently spent a day at the market, and his photos capture some of the longest-standing stalls and vendors – the ones that make Mercado Central one of the most popular attractions in the city. 

Mercado Central 2

La Confianza sells shoes and sandals for men and women. It has been at the mercado for more than 90 years, and is now managed by Hernan Mermelstein, a grandson of original owner Herman Mermelstein.

Alberto Font

Mercado Central 3

José Rael Fallas shows off the machetes at Talabarteria y Souvenirs Moravia, often called “the tramo.” The tramo has been at the mercado for more than 30 years and sells souvenirs, leather goods and religous figures.

Alberto Font

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Rolando Mora is the mercado’s guru of medicinal herbs. He works at Tramo San Marcos, a family business that has been there for more than 90 years. He can give you the natural remedy for almost any illness. 

Alberto Font

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Rolando Mora sells flowers at the Tramo Hermanos Hidalgo. The mercado is a great place for buying flowers, as shoppers can find all kinds and at very good prices. 

Alberto Font

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Tramo San Rafael #2 specializes in spices, including regano, curry, black pepper and many more.

Alberto Font

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Rigoberto Bonilla works at Carnes Retana. Every possible cut of meat can be found here.

Alberto Font

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If you want to get something to eat, the mercado is the perfect place. Restaurants offer soups, main dishes, smoothies, fruit salads and more.

Alberto Font

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The famous olla de carne is a special at the mercado.

Alberto Font

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With 10 years at Mercado Central, Percaderia La Despensa is a good option for fresh seafood. Juan Oviedo sells whole fish or fillets, shrimp, octupus, crab, shellfish and more.

Alberto Font

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If you are looking for hats or other souvenirs, Bethel Souvenirs is a solid option for Tico gifts.

Alberto Font

Mercado Central 12

For 15 years Hernán Vargas has been selling natural remedies and suplements at Macrobiotica.

Alberto Font

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Established in 1880, the Mercado Central in San José a block between Central and First avenues and 6th and 8th streets. Thousands visit the market every day.

Alberto Font

Contact Alberto Font at

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