By the time the sun is shining on Saturday mornings, the Feria del Agricultor, commonly called la feria, is well underway. The farmers market is a weekly routine for thousands of ticos all over the country, and that’s why this non-touristy destination should be on your list of places to go.
The Santo Domingo feria is held a pleasant 20 minute walk from the Hotel Bougainvillea down a mostly tree lined street through a safe residential neighborhood. The walk itself will give you the chance to experience Costa Rican small town life from a local point of view.
As you exit the hotel through the front gate, cross the street to the sidewalk and go right towards Santo Domingo. The usual weekday traffic on this main road lightens up on Saturday morning, giving way on weekends to joggers and cyclists, as well as people walking dogs and pushing baby strollers. The walkers headed for the feria will stand out with their empty tote bags or wheeled carts.
When you reach the town at the very end of the street, turn right again and walk four more blocks to the Basilica, where the feria atmosphere begins. Just past the school to your left will be a large plaza, normally busy on Saturdays with groups of kids engrossed in their fútbol (soccer) practice. As you continue, you will see the vendors set up around two sides of this plaza. You’re here!
Freshly ground coffee is usually found on this end. Then there will be fish, meats, and cheeses of every sort. Sales of potted herbs and flowers draw admirers, and baked goods often share the table displays with hand-made aprons.
Dozens of stands are filled with every sort of fruit and vegetable you can imagine, including many you’ve never seen before. Prices will be posted per unit or per kilo, and samples are often given upon request.
Quench your thirst with the original electrolyte replacement beverage, the pipa, a fresh coconut with a straw for sipping the refreshing coconut water from its own container. Watching the vendor deftly slice the top off with a razor sharp machete can be terrifying, but awesome!
For a little less excitement you can stop at the natural drink stand on the corner and try a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, carrot juice, or other natural drink of the day.
Don’t miss the large cheese-filled tortillas that are cooking and crisping on the hot griddle. These are made to order, so don’t be surprised to see a short line here, but know it will be worth the wait if you give in to one!
Doing weekly shopping here is the main event for locals, of course, but for the tourist, this is about satisfying curiosity and seeing the dazzling displays of tropical fruits and odd-looking vegetables that share space with the familiar produce. It’s a feast for the eyes and the nose!
Shiny yellow and orange cashew fruit exudes a musky fragrance nothing like the cashew nut that sits on top of it. Purple-peeled caimito, sometimes called star fruit, is purplish all the way through. The fruity smells of mango, pineapple, blackberries, and bananas fill the air. Dull or papery brown outer peels may be sliced off to reveal pure white or brightly colored flesh.
The pejiballes steeping in their hot water bath are called peach palm fruits in English, but the name is deceptive because the texture is more like roasted chestnuts, with a flavor similar to winter squash.
The list of unusual offerings goes on and on, with seasonal selections making sporadic appearances throughout the year.
Last but not least, the feria is a people watching paradise! There are very few spots to sit, but be sure to find a place to stand out of the way and watch the goings on. This is the real Costa Rica; a friendly atmosphere with lots of chatter, smiling faces, happy dogs and babies, and the occasional exotic bird out for some sun, all kicking off the weekend tico style. There’s no rush to “get it done”, and every intention of enjoying the outing.
Most locals have their favorite vendors and catch up with personal news before and after the sale. Neighbors who work long hours during the week run into each other here and take a few minutes to visit. Older couples walk arm in arm as they decide on menus and purchases. Sports fans enthusiastically discuss who’s playing when, and where to meet up to watch the game. It’s pretty obvious that going to the feria is as much about social interaction as it is about shopping.
By noon, it begins to slow down. Vendors start packing their trucks back up as last minute shoppers rush to fill their bags with good deals and the best of what’s left. Before long the area will empty and the cleanup crews will leave the streets so clean, you’d never know the market had been here only hours before.
Going to the feria is a traditional part of Saturday morning for many people in our community. It’s not as exciting as ziplining, but it will offer you a colorful glimpse into the life that makes us one of the happiest countries on earth!