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Updated: Feb 14
La Paz is experiencing a surge in popularity because of its incredible quality of life, gorgeous surroundings and red-hot real estate market. With this growth, there are now more than enough shopping options for all of your needs and wants.
It seems like new stores are opening up daily, with speciality items, organic produce, vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free products, and local artisanal goods. A sign of a healthy economy!
In today’s article, I want to bring you back to the city’s roots by introducing three markets in La Paz that are traditional paceño affairs (paceño is a word that refers to people or things from La Paz). If you visit or stay in La Paz you should get familiar with los mercados municipales. Locals have been able to get pretty much whatever they need at these social and economic hubs, for generations. Today, they are still incredibly relevant and culturally important sources for both yummies and stuffs!
First, we have Mercado Municipal General Nicolas Bravo. This is my favourite downtown market – an easy 5 short blocks of walking up and away from the Malecon on calle Nicolas Bravo. Established in 1964, Mercado Bravo is the most “yummies” focused market. Becoming lively first thing in the morning, vendors offer fresh meats, fish and produce, as well as cooked food to be eaten on the spot – so you don’t shop hungry! Just inside the south door, off of calle Nicolas Bravo, you’ll find excellent vendors of fish and seafood that can be trusted to be fresh and handled with care (my personal favourite is the second one on the right after you enter).
In one stop here, you can grab your proteins, fresh tortillas, veggies and fruits, containers of fresh-squeezed juices, herbs and spices, farm-fresh eggs and bulk grains. Prices may be a tad higher than what you’ll find at the third market I’ll discuss in this article, but the accessibility makes up for it if you live in El Centro or anywhere close to the waterfront Malecón.
Photo by Roberto Carlos Román Don on Unsplash
Next, we have Mercado Francisco I. Madero, established in 1974, it’s the smallest of the three markets mentioned today. This market is more “stuffs” oriented, while still hosting some fresh food & restaurant stalls inside. Mercado Madero offers a wide range of items, from garden sculptures to jewelry, clothes and hand-made leather boots, kitchenware and children’s toys. Wander the aisles and you could find that perfect gift or a little something special for yourself. The vendors are sometimes the actual manufacturers, so you may even be treated to seeing a work-in-progress!
The more upscale fashion and decor shops around town have wonderful products that I like to say are “new generation”, but Mercado Madero is where tradition lives.
Photo by Pina Messina on Unsplash
Lastly, a little bit of a drive back into the city will take you to a paceño family favourite, Mercado Municipal General Agustin Olachea Aviles. This market was built and inaugurated in 1974 to reinvigorate and change the economic dynamics of the La Rinconada neighbourhood, located further away from La Paz’s city center and its wealth. Now, this vibrant market is an important destination for family shoppers and business owners of the many neighbouring colonias that are not conveniently serviced by the downtown markets. Larger than mercados Madero and Bravo, Mercado Olachea offers anything and everything edible and fresh, as well as general retail and artisan goods. Oh, and make sure you visit the restaurants as well!
Stepping off the beaten tourist-shopping track and into a traditional market is a rewarding experience, a confidence booster, and an authentic way to connect with the people and the traditional economy of La Paz. I do recommend having your Google Translate Spanish dictionary downloaded onto your device, to work offline, or have a pocket dictionary to help you navigate and shop in Spanish!
By: Terri Lynn Manna