August 7, 2019, 4:10 pm
Vendors selling their wares along the street or out of make-shift tents are common sights in Colombia, but a certain type of Latin American charm arises when people come together to sell their goods at a massive market like Paloquemao.
As the story goes, Paloquemao got its name from a large dry tree in the area that was burnt down (palo = trunk; quemado = burned) and from then on Bogotanos used the name as a point of reference. The origin of the marketplace dates back to 1946. The market has been in its current location since 1967.
Sure, Colombia has giant supermarket chains similar to Wal-Mart or K-Mart, but many Colombians still buy their food from traditional markets. A visit to Paloquemao is a way to support local businesses and get a glimpse of Colombian authenticity. It is also a focal point where the produce of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the fertile Andes and the tropical jungle meld together. The market is divided into sections: flowers; fruit, vegetables and aromatic herbs; and meat and fish.
Wandering through the outdoor flower market is a colourful and fragrant experience. The variety of fresh cut flowers on offer is both immense and amazingly beautiful, there are so many varieties to choose from including orchids, roses, crocuses and the exotic bird of paradise - all at incredibly low prices. Colombia is the leading producer and exporter of flowers in South America and the second largest exporter of flowers in the world.
Stepping inside the bustling market, you can find almost any ingredient you could ever wish to find and many more that you probably haven't seen before.
While walking through the maze of produce, meat and fish arranged just so, you can hear the voices of vendors ringing throughout this indoor market like an echo. “A la orden,” they say to you as you make your way past their tomatoes, potatoes and plantains. The phrase literally translates to “at the order,” but Colombians use it to mean “at your service.”
While much of the produce in big-box stores are not ready to eat the day of your purchase, Paloquemao offers fruits and veggies that can be consumed on the spot. The knowledgeable vendors can help you select the ripest produce and some will even provide free samples.
Just as in many markets around the world, never accept the first price suggested. Paloquemao is a great place to hone your haggling skills. We applaud the visitors who can count to 10 in Spanish, but you might want to brush up on larger numbers if you want to haggle. Remember that goods in Colombia do not cost 1 or 2 pesos like they would cost 1 or 2 dollars or pounds. Instead, a large avocado could cost 2 thousand pesos or a bunch of grapes could cost 3,500 pesos. Large numbers in Spanish can be intimidating to non-native speakers, but learning them can help you get better deals.
Once you feel confident enough to haggle (or resolve to pay the sticker price) there are so many exotic and tasty foods available for purchase at this market. Colombia is known for its variety of unique fruits such a lulos, granadillas and guanabanas to name a few, and Paloquemao is the place to try and buy all of these delicious fruits at a good price. This market also offers a plethora of peppers. Colombian food isn’t known for its spice, but these peppers are sure to make even the toughest person’s eyes water.
The perimeter of the market is lined with carts and stands of prepared food. More power to you if you can resist the mouth-watering smell of traditional Colombian food wafting through Paloquemao.
Visitors have the chance to chow down on a variety of arepas, sausages and soup containing huge parts of the chicken, just how Colombians like it. Dessert should not be passed over, as the market offers a sweet caramel-like paste called arequipe and of course there is always the egg custard called flan waiting to appease your sweet tooth.
This market is located near Bogotá’s historic district named La Candelaria. It is open every day of the week, but closes in the afternoon on Sundays. You can visit Paloquemao to pick up some ingredients as part of the Uncover Colombia Cooking and Food Tour in Bogota.
Some final tips:
- The Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao is located on Avenida 19 # 25-04
- Open daily: weekdays 5:00am - 4:30pm and weekends 5:00am to 2:00pm
- The best day to see the outdoor flower market is on Tuesdays and Saturdays
- It's recommended to get there early in the morning to see the market in full flow
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