Something a bit fishy

With restaurants and buzzing business, the fish market in Santiago is a tourist magnet. For locals, Mercado Central is the source of the best food.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Santiago Fish Markets, Chile

You smell it before you see it. But I suppose that’s often the case with fish markets.

There’s something about the smell of thousands of dead sea creatures that should be off-putting but actually just makes you crave a good meal.

The fish market in Santiago had been described to me as a must-visit place. Normally a recommendation like that can go one of two ways – it’s either a highlight or a complete tourist trap.

Strangely enough, this fell right in the middle.

Santiago fish market, Mercado Central, Chile
Santiago fish market, Mercado Central, Chile

Mercado Central

The locals call it Mercado Central and early in the mornings it is their domain. Chile is famous for its fish and this is where the top restaurateurs come before dawn to reel in their catch of the day.

It’s much later, after the best specimens are gone and the new haul is placed onto the icy trays that the tourists start to wander in.

Santiago fish market, Mercado Central, Chile

The alleys of fish merchants open up into a large restaurant area in the centre of the market. Around the edges are smaller places to eat, with much cheaper prices.

This is the domain of the tourists. The waiters call out to you and try to tempt you into their establishments.

“The freshest fish in the market!”

“Cheapest meals are here!”

“I can do a special deal for the two of you!”

Although there’s a rivalry, I had been told by a local expert that the entire market and all the restaurants are actually owned by the same person and the chefs tend to rotate through the different kitchens.

I’m not sure how accurate that is, but there certainly didn’t seem to be too much pressure to choose a particular place. It was almost a game for the touts.

Santiago fish market, Mercado Central, Chile

It’s not just about the meals, though. The commerce is a sight in itself.

Amongst the stalls selling a seemingly ocean’s worth of fish, tanks hold live animals that swim merrily, unaware of their fate.

Apron-clad merchants wield their knifes as they slice through their wares. Fish, oysters, mussels, and more are thrown onto scales, weighed, bagged and taken off by customers.

Hoses are constantly cleaning the floors as patrons jump out of the way of the splash.

Santiago fish market, Mercado Central, Chile

Perhaps the fish market is a tourist trap. Perhaps it’s just a view into Santiago life that is popular with tourists.

Either way, it’s a bit fishy…


It’s a big city, but I think the best areas to stay in Santiago are around Bella Vista or Barrio Suecia.


Set in a historic area, Eco-Hostal Tambo Verde is a charming hostel that’s convenient to the main attractions and the metro.


With lots of character, Hotel Voila Londres is clean and comfortable and is located in the city centre.


There’s lots of art at The Singular Santiago, which also has fantastic service, an outdoor pool, and a free breakfast.


One of the nicest hotels in Santiago, The Ritz-Carlton is everything you expect, with plush rooms, great service, and an indoor pool.

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