It’s the first day our big road trip through Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. We spent our first day exploring the wonders of the Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao in Bogotá. But only after recovering from a day of travel!

Exploring Bogotá One Day At A Time

We arrived late last night at the international airport in Bogotá. It was a fairly quiet airport and we breezed through immigration and customs. It helped make up for our more than two hour delay out of Atlanta. Delta had to get us a knew plane. Between the tardiness, the super tight seating, and the oddly jarring announcements interrupting my in-flight film of choice, The Help, I was beat. So when we woke up in our friend’s house early this morning and had to make a plan, the first goal was to make it an easy one. Both Scott and I want to meet high altitude with a common sense attitude that allows us to enjoy our early days at 8,660 feet (2640 meters).

When our friend suggested going to the local market, we were more than game. After more than 2 years in Washington DC, a Colombian market sounded like a great way to reintegrate ourselves to South American travel. Lots of opportunities to practice Spanish and to soak in a new accent. A chance to try some really local food. Last but not least, we could buy local fruit for our early morning breakfast.

Fruit Stand, Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake
Fruit Stand, Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake

We made a quick stop at a local grocery store to use the ATM. Like Quito, using an ATM inside a building is just one of the common sense steps we ask our clients to take. We literally took out hundreds of thousands of Colombian pesos! It is going to take us a few days to get used to used to the conversion back to dollars. Boy, were we every spoiled traveling through Ecuador on the American dollar!

Then we really got started. We used a driving service called Mi Aguila, a beef-ed up Uber (more on that in another post) to head across town to the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, one of the best markets in town.

Indoors at the Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake

Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao

This large indoor market is located in a neighborhood of the same name, Paloquemao. Rumor has it that the name comes from a time when a dry tree (palo is the word for stick or pole) stood in the neighborhood. One day, it caught fire and burned down (se quemó).

The market website boasts that their walls contain:

Toda Colombia en un solo lugar

All of Colombia in one single place

I think they might be right! We found all kinds of goodies for our local friends.

We recognized fruits from Ecuador, like naranjilla (called lulo in Colombia), guanabana, and tomate de arbol. We bought granadilla, a member of the Passionfruit family, and pitahaya for breakfast tomorrow. Many of the vegetables looked similar as well and included bright orange carrots, hot pink mellocos (called ** in Colombia), dark purple beets, and many different variety of potatoes, some that I am sure they don’t grow anywhere else.

Tubers, Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake
Tubers, Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake
Potatoes, Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake
Potatoes, Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake

There were also booths selling medicinal herbs where we picked up the intoxicating yerba buena, a member of the mint family. A large bunch cost an entire 33 cents. The same booth sold an excellent selection of whole spices, including nutmeg and black peppercorns. They offered all the spices to make a good curry powder and sold a version all their own.

Fresh Herbs from the Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake

But one moment in our morning really stuck out – a conversation with the fishmonger Rodolfo. I was politely asking vendors if I could photograph their booths. Rodolfo had his eye on me as soon as I started snapping photos of the fish at his stall. When I lowered my camera, he immediately came over and said “un momentito, tengo un pez grande!” He disappeared into the back and two minutes later came out with this huge fish! Yep, that’s Rodolfo at the top of the article holding a cachama, also called, gambitana, de la amazona. He then proceeded to tell me how delicious this fish is! I asked a few questions and learned that this fish is a vegetarian, eating only seeds, nuts, and fruits that falls from jungle trees into the rivers. It’s flesh is reddish pink and is a favorite with Colombians. Just google cachama frita to see!

Fresh Seafood at the Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake

If we lived in Bogotá, this place would be come a regular on our shopping route. That big fish was only one sample of an excellent selection of seafood. Everything looked fresh, with a sheen that comes from recent arrival from the sea to the market. Fish eyes were clear and bright. Colors were fresh. And there was only that faint whiff of old seafood around the edges of the market, a smell that is a by-product of most fish markets.

And it wasn’t just the seafood. There were butchers selling beautiful cuts of beef and pork. I didn’t notice much in the chicken department but our experience in South America says that chicken is likely to be factory farmed and is rarely free-range. If you are looking for free-range, be sure to ask for a gallina criolla. I would go back for eggs and fresh mushrooms, locally made fresh cheeses, and just to have a tinto and pan de yuca at the little coffee stall.

Butchers at work, Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake

If you decide to go to Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao, don’t limit yourself to the indoor market. Around the outside, there are many vendors del campo (from the countryside) who have set up shop on the sidewalks. We found gorgeous displays of locally grown fruit and freshly shucked field corn. The vendors outside are quick to pick up a choice piece of fruit, slice it open, and offer you a taste. I had my first mangostino (delicious!) from one vendor while another was offering me choice slices of freshly made cheese. Her sales technique was excellent and she convinced me to buy a pound for $5,000 pesos. It wasn’t until I got home later in the day that I realized I had paid a grand $1.66 US for this delicious piece of cheese. A great bargain for me and a good price for the vendor. It’s the kind of bargain I love to find in South America.

Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake
Outdoors at the Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao | ©Angela Drake

Plaza Mercado de Paloquemao

Information For Your Trip

Hours of Operation of Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao:

  • Monday through Saturday: 4:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m
  • Sundays and Holidays: 5:00 a.m to 2:30 p.m