Over the last twenty years a number of large U.S. style-Malls have sprung up around the Central Valley like those in San Pedro, Escazú, Zapote, Heredia, Moravia and most recently in Alajuela. The grandeur of these shopping centers rival their counterparts in the U.S., Canada or any other place in the developed world.
Ironically, the largest mall in Costa Rica is the string of stores that make up a walking street known as San José’s Avenida Central. There are literally hundreds of stores along this 20-block thoroughfare. Establishments there sell just about anything and prices vary. There are discount stores and brand name businesses like Nike. There are even illegal street vendors hawking there wares and who play an almost continuous cat and mouse game with the police. Most are trying to make an honest living but are harassed at the request of local store owners.
The crown jewel of this walking street is Central Market (Mercado Central) or “peoples mall” as it is often referred to. Tens of thousands of people visit the market daily. It consists of a labyrinth of interconnected narrow alleys that are lined with over 200 booths and stalls on both sides. Some of the products sold there are: fresh flowers, meats, fish, medicinal herbs, souvenirs, bulk pet foods, jewelry, fruits, vegetables, coffee, bulk grains and nuts, and other products including snakeskin boots and cowboy saddles, herbal remedies, , cooked meals, souvenirs, and local handcrafts..
The market also houses cheap restaurants called sodas. Two of the traditional dishes served at the market’s sodas are the famous casados (rice, beans, salad, cheese, plantains, tortillas and meat) and gallo pinto (rice with beans). Several Cevicheras feature both shrimp and fish ceviche both of which will give you an instant surge of energy after having walked around Central Avenue. While walking through the market the aroma of the delicious tortillas and other prepared foods pervades the air.
Expat retirees from all over the country should visit San José’s Central Avenue and market to experience the culture and see the many sites. At the east end of the avenue are the “must-see” Jade and National Museums, the latter being housed in a former fortress.