Traditionally, Costa Rica exports a huge diversity of fruits, produce, dairy products, seafood, and meats. To get an idea of the rich variety and diversity of the country's fruits and produce, I recommend that you shop the local farmers’ market or the town’s Central Market wherever you are. It is a fun experience for tourists.
There is a difference between Farmers’ Markets and Central Markets. Farmers’ markets usually happen only 1-2 days a week and typically only for a few hours. They are hosted by the growers or producers themselves or members of their family. Central Markets, on the other hand, are established and centralized places with vendor stalls. They are open every day on a typical 7am to 5-6pm schedule and have a very different atmosphere. Central markets sell much more than produce. No doubt you will be surprised at the variety of items, ranging from spices to leather goods, you will find there.
Every town or community in Costa Rica has a local farmers’ market; in Costa Rica they are called Feria (Fair) or Feria del Agricultor (Agricultural Fair). With high eco-tourism in Costa Rica, the markets are increasingly popular spots for both locals and foreign tourists and residents. As such, it is increasingly common for farmers’ markets to include a variety of items like jewelry, clothing, household goods, potted ornamental plants, and handicrafts of all types.
Farmers’ markets are usually held weekly in each neighborhood (barrio) starting on Friday evenings (at around 6pm) and continue on Saturday and Sunday. While farmers' markets have no precise schedule, they almost always open early in the morning (at around 7am) and close at around noon. Starting at the crack of dawn, farmers from all over the province, and sometimes from all over the country, bring their produce to sell.
They arrive in small trucks or ancient pick-ups filled to the top with fresh produce. With practiced efficiency, they quickly unload their wares. Colorful displays appear on the tables and stands that are set-up under tent-like structures or roofed open-air plazas that protect vendors, shoppers, and produce from hot sun and rains. In just a short time early shoppers arrive and the market is buzzing with activity.
Within the farmers' market itself, prices are not usually too competitive. Nonetheless, the prices are certainly better than in the retail grocery stores or the small community supermarkets. Without a doubt, the quality and freshness is the best. It is likely that you will be amazed at how cheap many items are compared to back home. In some cases, for example with imported fruits like red Washington apples, blueberries, or navel oranges; you may be equally amazed at how much these cost for locals.
There are several added bonuses of shopping at farmers’ markets. First, you can select your own produce and the quantity that you want to buy. Another plus are the delicious samples. Vendors are happy for you to taste the freshness, flavor, or quality of their products. They are delighted to introduce you to new things like tropical fruits or local cheeses that you may have never tasted before. Finally, vendors are happy to chat and answer questions you may have about organic farming, the region where their produce is grown, or how to prepare it.
Farmers’ markets are an excellent introduction into local life and culture in any country and this is also true about Costa Rican cities and towns. For a foreigner it is fascinating to see not only the diversity of products from foods to handicrafts to greenhouse plants; but also to observe the exchanges, smell the aromas, and be part of what is the routine hustle and bustle of local life.
If you plan to stay in Costa Rica for an extended period of time, shopping at the local farmers’ market is a great first step into transitioning into Costa Rican society and tradition. For example, it is a perfect place to practice speaking Spanish and to meet people, maybe even neighbors or expats from your homeland. Finally, you get to go home with lots of cheap and delicious fruits and veggies!
If you are a person who loves organic and natural fruit and who likes to taste new things, then you will enjoy the variety of delicious watermelons, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, uchuvas, camote (Costa Rican sweet potatoe), chayote, cilantro coyote, guavas, limones dulces (sweet lemons), pejivalles (peach palm fruits) and much more! In season, a couple of local favorites are mamon chino (rambutan) and jocote (spondias purpurea). Rambutans were originally found in Asia but are also grown here in Costa Rica. Jocotes are in the cashew family. These fruits are eaten when they are green (sour) with a little salt or when they are ripe and sweet.
Since there are farmers’ markets in every community, there are too many to list. Nonetheless, here are some notes about a few.
There are several farmer’s markets in San José. Popular ones are in Pavas, Tibas, Zapote, Santa Ana and Hatillo and Escazu. The downtown San Jose market is on Saturdays at am, on Avenida 20, between Calle 5 and 11.
You can also go to the Central Market (Mercado Central) which is open Monday – Saturday, 6:30am-6pm.
The San José Municipal Arts & Crafts Artisan Market is near Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José. It does not sell produce. This market sells souvenirs and handcrafted jewelry and artisan products. Located on calle 5, avenida 6; it is open everyday from 8am-8pm. It is a great place for souvenir shopping and for supporting the local community.
The Aranjuez Market is a completely organic market that includes fruits, veggies, honey, cheeses and much more. There are many craft jewelry and clothing vendors there too. It’s a great place to have breakfast on Saturday morning with many onsite booths preparing many fun breakfast foods. Saturdays only, 7am-1pm.
The Alajuela City Mayoreo market (wholesale market) is located at the Plaza Ferias about 8-9 blocks west of central park on Avenida Central Juan Lópex del Corral, passing McDonald's and before PriceSmart. It opens on Fridays at 1pm-9:30pm, Saturdays 5am-2:30pm.
The Jacó farmer’s market opens every Friday from 6am to 2:30pm. Located next to the Garabito Clinic. The majority of the fruits and vegetables are grown relatively close to the town of Jacó. The fruits come from a small town called Puriscal and the majority of the vegetables come from the province of Cartago.
Fridays from 8:30am-1:30pm downtown on main street, near Patrons’ restaurant.
.Quepos is between Jacó and Manuel Antonio towns and beaches The market starts on Fridays at 4pm- whenever and Saturday mornings on the Paseo del Mar in Quepos, down the street from the Best Western.
Saturdays 7am- 1pm, located behind Nogui’s Restaurant. Mostly expats and foreigners, nice mix of produce, trinkets, seafood, clothes. By the way, Villarreal has a large farmer’s market everyday and is located just outside of Tarmarindo (about a 15 minute drive).
Open Fridays 10am-8pm, Saturdays from 7am-noon. It is near the blue church. T is a charming local farmers market.
La Fortuna is the town at the base of the Arenal Volcano and national park. Mondays and Fridays. 7am-5pm in front of the bull running stadium, Las Espeulas by the local soccer field in La Fortuna town.
Friday afternoons at the Monteverde Centro Comerical in Santa Elena.
If you have never been to a Costa Rican farmers’ market, I highly recommend making time to walk through a local feria near where you are staying and visiting. Plan to go for an hour and stroll past the rows of tables. Take advantage to interact with the locals, learn a little, and get into Costa Rica’s famous “pura vida” (tranquil, laid back) rhythm. As you go, enjoy savory fruits and vegetables and know that your purchases directly support local farming families. These kinds of purchases are eco-tourism at its best. My challenge to you is to buy and try at least 3 new things. It is part of the traveling and culture experience!
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