Updated March, 2016
La Vega Central is Santiago’s main market it’s bustling, noisy and crowded, especially in the mornings or on the weekend, La Vega is, in a word, chaotic. Vendors may aggressively compete for your business or shoo you away if you don’t want to buy quickly and in bulk (they sell by the kilo here). That said, it may be both an exciting but intimidating experience for a foreigner. Come prepared for an true mercado (market) experience that will be a memorable part of your stay in Santiago.
Where is La Vega? La Vega is located between Metros Patronato and Puente Cal y Canto. The entrance to La Vega Chica is on the street Artesanos. You can also enter from Calle (street) Antonia López de Bello.
A Word for the Wise: La Vega is enormous and it’s easy to get lost among the many stalls. Keep an eye on your travel companions. For a tamer market experience, head to Mercado de Abastos Tirso de Molina first, on Calle Santa María, which is at the western edge of Parque Forestal and across the street from Mercado Central (Santiago’s most famous fish market). The closest Metro stop to the Mercado de Abastos Tirso del Molina is Cal y Canto (yellow line). Get off the Metro, or take a break from your walking tour, and walk across the bridge that crosses the Mapuche River, which is typically lined with vendors, across the street you’ll find the entrance. Here, shopping will be a bit more tranquil. Upstairs you’ll find clothing stores and restaurants and downstairs, produce, eggs, cheeses, juices, candy and dry goods.
Head out the back doors of Mercado de Abastos Tirso del Molina and you’ll see another building across Calle Aretesanos with the words “Super Pollo” in large blue letters above the entrance way. Inside you’ll encounter La Vega Chica, a bigger, crazier market with a wide variety of food, very cheap restaurants, and messy, bustling aisles. The true Latin American experience, however, is at La Vega. If you walk straight through this market, as you exit you’ll see the sign “Remodelacion Monumental Vega Central de Santiago” across the parking area, above the entrance to La Vega proper.
However you get there be sure to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy your mercado experience!
What Can be Purchased at La Vega? Practically everything you’d find in the grocery store and everything you might not (think pig’s heads and chicken feet), and it’s much, much more disorganized. Some of what you can find: meats of all varieties, packaged pastas, grains, spices, nuts, tea, shampoo, laundry detergent, cutlery, towels, toilet paper, dog food, and much more. The website has a listing of many of the shops and what they carry that can help you map your trip if you’re looking for more specific products, or just wander and explore.
But what La Vega is really known for is the produce! Chile’s mild climate and varied landscape makes it the perfect place for growing a rich variety of fruits and vegetables. While grocery stores certainly carry your standard fruits and veggies, at La Vega, you’ll find some of the freshest, cheapest, and most varied fruits that Santiago has to offer. The fruits here may not be the cleanest, however… so make sure to wash well before chowing down!
Some tips for navigating La Vega:
1. Budget Shopping. For someone living in Santiago on a budget, La Vega (or one of Santiago’s other neighborhood markets) is a great place to do your grocery shopping. Indeed, prices for produce at La Vega are often 3 or 4 times cheaper than prices in the supermarket. For example, when in season, a kilo of grapes at La Vega may only cost $500 CLP ($1 USD). In the supermarket, prices will likely be closer to $1,500 CLP ($3 USD) a kilo.
2. Buying in Bulk. The vendors at La Vega want to sell in bulk so prices are normally posted per kilo or a certain number of an item for $1,000 CLP, for example. If you want to buy less, some sellers won’t sell to you, they may say something like Poquito! (little) to you in a nasty voice. Don’t take the vendor’s demeanor personally – it’s a part of the experience just move on to another stall, others will be happy to sell to you. Those kilos add up quick, if you plan to buy a lot you may want to bring some cloth shopping bags with you, and if you’re buying a ton, get yourself a rolling cart. These can also be purchased outside the entrances to the market, or on Calle Recoleta depending on where the vendors decide to set up shop.
3. Organize Yourself. La Vega is disorganized and crowded, which can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know much Spanish. To better prepare yourself for the chaos, bring some small bills and coins, a backpack or easy bag to carry, and learn a few basic Spanish phrases or the names of some of your favorite fruits and veggies, see our list of fruits below.
4. Don’t Wear Your Sunday Best. La Vega is a messy place; it’s common to be walking through wet aisles, and don’t be surprised if your fellow market-goers push and shove you out of their way. If you want to avoid crowds go later in the morning or early afternoon, it’s open until 7pm but many vendors start closing up their stands after 4pm.
5. Go For Lunch or a Jugo Natural. At La Vega you can find cheap, delicious lunches at sit-down restaurants. It’s not the classiest place to eat in Santiago, but it will surely be a fun, memorable experience. You can also find delicious fruit juices of many varieties at Mercado de Abastos Tirso del Molina. Made with milk (leche) or water (agua), these juices will not disappoint. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, ask for your juice without added sugar (sin azúcar) or with half (media azúcar). Some South American flavors that may be new to you: chirimoya, lucuma, and maracuya. Delish! Treat yourself – it won’t be hard on your wallet!
A guide to some fruits you may find at La Vega Central:
- la cereza (lah seh-reh-sah) (cherry)
- la chirimoya (lah che-ri-moy-a) (chirimoya)
- la ciruela (lah see-ro-eh-lah) (plum)
- el durazno (ehl doo-rahs-noh) (peach)
- la frutilla (lah froo-tee-yah) (strawberry)
- la frambuesa (la fr-am-bwe-sa) (raspberry)
- la guayaba (lah gooah-yah-bvah) (guava)
- el guindo (ehl gwi-in-doe) (sour cherry)
- el higo (ehl ee-goh) (fig)
- la lima (lah lee-mah) (lime)
- el limón (ehl lee-mohn) (lemon)
- la lúcuma (lah lu-ku-mah) (lucuma)
- el mango (ehl mahn-goh) (mango)
- la manzana (lah mahn-sah-nah) (apple)
- la maracuya (lah ma-ra-cu-ya) (passion fruit)
- el melón (ehl meh-lohn) (melon)
- la mora (lah moh-rah) (blackberry)
- la naranja (lah nah-rahn-Hah) (orange)
- la palta (lah pawl-tah) (avocado)
- la papaya (lah pah-pah-yah) (papaya)
- la pera (lah peh-rah) (pear)
- la piña (lah pi-nwa) (pineapple)
- el plátano (ehl plah-tah-noh) (banana)
- el pomelo (ehl poh-meh-loh) (grapefruit)
- la sandía (lah sahn-deeah) (watermelon)
- la tuna (lah too-nah) (prickly pear)
- la uva (lah oo-bvah) (grape)
Note: This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question.
Originally written by Danielle Sclafani, updated by Beth Delthony.