Whenever I embark on a new back-packing voyage, I hardly ever scour grocery stores looking to snag some cheap food to cook later on in the evening. In fact, I am quite the lazy traveler. But throughout my journeys, I have noticed a large amount of people utilizing the hostel kitchens in the evenings to whip up some home cooked meals (delicious and easy on the wallet). One of the first trips around Santiago (back in May) was to the Vega Central Market Santiago. A Chilean friend of mine took me with him for his weekly grocery ritual at the large outdoor Chilean market. Every fruit and vegetable imaginable is sold here at ridiculously low prices. Tourists can easily walk out with a full week of groceries for as little as $20 dollars CAD. Here are some tips for surviving la Vega:
  1. Bring small bills. As many backpackers know, large bills are quite useless when you go to ANY market. I recommend coins and bills no larger than 5,000 CLP
  2. If you are going to make regular trips to grocery stores why not buy a grocery cart for 4,000 CLP (around 8 CAD). They might not look fashionable but it beats lugging around groceries all day
  3. Walk around to get the best price and quality. Don’t expect huge variations in price, but some vendors do sell better quality vegetables at lower prices than others.
  4. Avoid the juice bars as vendors mix a half cup of fruits with a half cup of water. Yuck.
  5. Watch your stuff! La Vega Central isn’t located in the nicest area of the Santiago Central. You will be fine during the day (do not come here after dark) but make sure to wear a small cross-body purse or hide your wallet deep in your pocket. Avoid wearing anything flashy or carrying large amounts of cash with you.
  6. The market has almost everything in specific parts of the locale. First (if you enter from calle Antonia Lopez de Bello) you can find the restaurant and meat market section. Then comes the spices and dry material followed by the large vegetable section. Spend some time to familiarize yourself with what is offered as prices are much cheaper than the supermarket. 
  7. No one will speak English so be prepared to point and ask “cuanto?” (how much). Don’t rush or get frustrated; getting overwhelmed means that you can easily get ripped off. 
Beside the vegetable/fruit market, tourists can also find seafood and meat at lower costs. Finally after a long day of shopping, why not pop into one of the La Vega restaurants for some locally made food. Do not expect to find any menus at these locales! Expect to pay no more than $5,000 CLP for your meal including soft drink ($10). I would suggest the pantrucas!
Pantrucas La Vega Central


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