Just beyond the western end of Avenida Central’s pedestrianized section on the corner of Calle 6, is the squat Mercado Central (Mon–Sat 8am–5pm). Though it’s more orderly than the usual chickens-and-campesinos Latin American city markets, it’s still quite an experience. Entering the labyrinthine market, you’re assaulted by colourful arrangements of strange fruits and vegetables, dangling sides of beef and elaborate, silvery rows of fish. At certain times of the day (lunch and late afternoon, for example) the Mercado Central can resemble the Eighth Circle of Hell – choking with unfamiliar smells and an almighty crush of people – while at other times you’ll be able to enjoy a relaxed wander through wide uncrowded alleys of rural commerce. It’s certainly the best place in town to get a cheap bite to eat, and the view from a counter stool is fascinating, as traders and their customers jostle for regional produce from chayotes (a pear-shaped vegetable) and mamones (a lychee-type fruit) to piñas (pineapples) and cas (a sweet-sour pale fruit.) With a little Spanish, and a pinch of confidence, shopping for fruit and vegetables here can be miles cheaper than in the supermarket.
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