I love morning markets, and I always make a special point to go to them if a town has one. They’re often one of the best ways to get a good dose of local flavor. They’re an essential part of the life-blood of the local community, and the locals depend on them for everyday basics of food and home supplies. So if you want to see what the locals are eating (as opposed to what’s being served in the fancy pants tourist restaurants or even in the street food), there’s no better place to start than bright and early at the morning market.
Granada’s market is especially good. It’s large and colorful, pungent and bustling. And insofar as markets go, it’s really the only show in town, so everything is concentrated here.
This market is very much for locals, not tourists. If you need chicken, pork, or fish for the night’s dinner, this is the place. Likewise if you need fresh yucca root, mangos, limes, milk, rice, cheese, fresh plantains or just about anything you’d put on your plate if you lived in Nicaragua. You can also get home essentials, such as basic hardware supplies like rope and tools as well as a few vendors selling clothes or Central American party supplies (ie. that is to say, piñatas). And there seems to be an over-representation of flip-flops and colorful bras. You can find some uninspired tourist trinkets in stalls in the surrounding streets, but if you’re after souvenirs you’re better off going elsewhere.
While it’s not technically a morning market in that it’s open all day, it’s at its best in the morning when the fresh food vendors are out in force selling their wares. Many vendors selling non-perishable items often remain open throughout the day. But there’s no refrigeration, so freshness is key. And it’s also why the briskest business is done early in the day so that the food doesn’t have to sit out long before the day’s heat kicks in.
The market is located just a few blocks south of the main square and is housed (well, sort of housed) in a building that is potentially quite striking. But the building has seen better days. Now it’s not much more than a facade, and a long neglected one at that.
The real action of the market happens behind that facade in a few blocks covered by a ramshackle roof built up over time as pieces of corrugated iron layered over each other to keep the harsh sun and rain off. Under that low roof is a warren-like maze of narrow pathways between vendors selling anything that locals might need for their day-to-day lives.
It’s not the sturdiest structure you’ve seen, and the market is not going to pass any fire code or accessibility inspections–or pretty much any inspections, for that matter. Someone presumably controls who can set up shop where–as well as regulating operating hours and mediating disputes between vendors–but it appears for all the world to be a self-regulating free-for-all. It also spills out into the surrounding streets, with some of the busiest sections being outdoors.
- If you want the best local flavor, go early in the morning. Because there’s no refrigeration, most of the stalls selling perishables like meat, poultry, and fish are only open during the morning. By mid-morning the day’s stocks can be running low. It’s buzzing by 7am (it opens a bit later on Sundays, at 8am).
- It’s crowded and some areas can be a bit cramped if you have issues with claustrophobia. A good sense of direction also helps, because once you’re inside you don’t have any external reference points to work with.
- While not essential, closed walking shoes with a decent sole aren’t a bad idea. For one thing, the floor is uneven and can be slippery. For another, there’s no telling what you might end up stepping in. Clean-up involves buckets of water over the chopping bench, washing all of the waste onto the floor, where it drains through a series of gutters. All that fish and chicken and meat and vegetable waste has to go somewhere. By all means, wear flip-flops if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
- If you’re tall, watch out for low-hanging sections of roof!
- This is very much a market for the locals. You can find a few souvenir-type offerings in the streets around the outside, but if you’re after hand crafted goods or souvenirs you’re much better off at one of the stalls on the Parque Central or in one of the tourist shops in the area around the park.
Travel Advice for Nicaragua
You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Nicaragua (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.
The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Nicaragua here and the Australian Government's here.
Health & Vaccinations
The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Nicaragua here.