One of the best parts of traveling is exploring the local gastronomy. As you taste your way through typical snacks and dishes, you discover new flavors and textures. Although some ingredients may seem familiar, some might trigger your curiosity. And where best to nourish (pun intended) this curiosity than in one of the local produce markets?
However, in Medellín this may not be so straight forward. Among the city’s different indoor markets none is necessarily on the “tourist trail” and you may even be told by locals not to go there. The reason for this is two-fold. In part, some of the local marketplaces still suffer from a stigma originating in the 80’s-90’s when they were dangerous due to various armed groups. And on the other hand, the warnings are based on the locations of the markets, which are often not in the “best” parts of town (i.e. traffic, homeless, etc.).
We’re here to tell you that you should not be deterred and to give you some helpful tips in order for you to choose which markets to go to and how to get there.
These kind of indoor food markets are locally referred to as “plazas de mercado”, or simply “plazas”. If you speak Spanish and/or have travelled around Spanish-speaking countries, this might seem confusing as the word “plaza” usually translates to square in the sense of an open-air public space. Both meanings apply here, although many of the city’s squares are referred to as “parques” rather than “plazas”. In any case, when you see the word “plaza” in the markets’ names, you know not expect a public square.
All markets open very early and therefore tend to close by the early afternoon, so make sure to go in the morning. Also, while they tend to be open all days of the week, weekends and holidays can get busy so it’s best to go during the week.
Unless you can get there using the metro system, your best bet is to take a taxi. The markets are well known so taxi drivers will be able to find their way, and for the way back, it is usually easy to grab a taxi by the exits of the markets (most even have a taxi stand).
Minorista market is easily our top pick. It is accessible via public transportation (Metroplus bus, station “Minorista”) and its medium size allows for a good variety in produce while being walkable. Also, although its surroundings are not the nicest, the food section is very organized, clean and not as intimidating as some other marketplaces. If you’re there around lunchtime, try the “Sancocho de bagre” (fish soup) at “La Esquina de la Ricura”, located in the fish section on the ground floor. Not exactly fine dining, but the food is delicious! And if you prefer to explore the market with a local and are curious to try some local exotic fruits, check out the Exotic Fruits Tour run by Real City Tours, the Medellín ambassador of Free Tour Community.
Often misspelled Placita de Flores (with an “s”) under the assumption that this marketplace gets its name from its flower section, its name is actually in reference to Rafael Flórez, who donated the land it is on. This is the smallest of the markets included in our post and although it might not be worth a visit on its own, its location close to the tram (Bicentenario stop) and the Memory Museum (Casa Museo de la Memoria) makes it a good option if you are already in the area.
If you are staying in or around Laureles and prefer not to venture out to other areas, you can check out the La América market, located close to the crossing between San Juan Avenue (Calle 44) and “La 80” (Cra 80). The produce section is not necessarily a highlight, but what sets this market apart is that it has section dedicated to baskets and ceramics. Although this might not be the ideal souvenir, it is still nice to browse this authentic display of local craftsmanship. For plant-lovers, there is also a garden center which can be accessed from the parking lot.
Whereas the other markets mentioned above are targeted more at retail, Mayorista is more for wholesale. This is where restaurant-owners go to buy in bulk. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in the market’s size and set-up, which is designed more for cars/trucks than for pedestrians. So, if you’re looking to go on a bit of an exploratory stroll, this is not your place. However, if you are on a mission and looking for something specific or large quantities of something, Mayorista is worth a visit. Another reason to go is to satisfy your seafood cravings. This might sound strange considering Medellin’s geographic location, but the restaurant “Amazonas” serves excellent fish and seafood dishes at fair prices (taking into account the generous portions). Lunch only, as they close at the same time as the market in the afternoon.
So, that’s our overview of some of Medellin’s best indoor markets. Hope you have fun exploring the local produce!
Article by Pablo Alvarez: Founder and guide of Real City Tours. The #1 free walking tour in Medellín for the last 8 years.