Sizzling pork skin, bright orange mangos, dozens of voices vying to your attention, your money, or your hungry belly. This is my experience of Latin America’s great markets, or mercados, ferias, or tianguis, as the locals call them. Open air markets are a treat for all your senses. Whether in the Coyoacán market in Mexico City, el Mercado Viejo in Chiapas, or the Usaquén Flea Market in Bogota, you can rest assured you will find something delicious, spicy enough to upset your stomach, but unique enough to make memories for years to come.
My favorite market, Mercado Adolfo López Mateos, is special to me because it taught me several lessons about myself, and the world. I became a semi-regular at the market in my third year of university, when I did a semester exchange in the town of Cuernavaca, about an hour outside of Mexico City. Not knowing a word of Spanish before landing, Cuernavaca was a kind place for an anglophone to land. I was quickly embraced by locals accustomed to Canadians coming down to their pueblo to learn Spanish and enjoy local food. Every trip I took to the market, my little notebook with verbs and keywords (baño means bathroom, cajero means atm) in hand, I grew more eager to learn so I could figure out more about the rich array of sauces, fruit and snacks on sale.
Markets are, by their nature, bustling places that convene and orchestrate swarms of people in a rollicking wave through small spaces and tight corners. Mercado López Mateos has one massive section devoted chiefly to raw pigs’ heads, or at least it does in my memory, and I will not ever forget that image! When I think of the conditions in so many of the markets I love, and how challenging physical distancing in these spaces can be even today, I worry for their longevity in a post-covid 19 world.
But the communities that make markets thrive are dynamic, strong and vibrant. In Latin America especially, markets are where farmers and artisans go to sell their wares and that will continue. Maybe in a new form, maybe in a new venue, but I am certain people will find ways to come together, mingle and browse, and find new treasures to carry with them on their journeys.
My Top-5 list of Latin American Markets:
I have compiled a list with links here to my favorite markets. Type them into Google Earth and you are in for a great trip!
- El Mercado Coyoacan in Mexico City, Mexico - https://centrodecoyoacan.mx/que-hacer/mercados-artesanias/Mercado-de-Coyoacan
- Usaquén Flea Market in Bogota, Colombia - https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/colombia/usaquen-neighborhood-bogota-colombia/
- El Mercado San Telmo in Buenos Aires, Argentina - https://turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/otros-establecimientos/san-telmo-market
- El Mercado Viejo in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico - https://www.inspirock.com/mexico/san-cristobal-de-las-casas/mercado-viejo-a4191625679
- Mercado de San Pedro de Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - https://sanpedroatacama.com/tienda/mercado-blanco/