The narrow alleys of the Central Market
The narrow alleys of the Central Market

Most Costa Ricans know it. So do many visitors to Costa Rica. Inside you can find a huge range of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, coffees, and other products for sale including snakeskin boots and cowboy saddles, herbal remedies, flowers, cooked meals, souvenirs, and local handcrafts.

In total there are 222 retail shops that make up the Mercado Central de San José (Central Market), founded in 1880.

The  Central Market is an icon of the city, its history and traditions. In 1995 it was declared a National Heritage Site.

Although every day between 8.000 and 15.000 people pass through the narrow alleys of the downtown market, the building lacks a preventive emergency plan.

Spices for sale in the Mercado Central
Spices for sale in the Mercado Central

The Central Market occupies an entire block on Avenida Central and has 13 exits but none are emergency exists. There is no evacuation route and the electrical system refit has yet to be completed.

According to manager, José Roberto Campos, the building has not been renovated since 1880.  Campos explained that there fire hose cabinets with extinguishers, problem, only four security officers and five maintenance workers are trained to use them.

Campos acknowledges that the market lacks a fire brigade, an evacuation and emergency security plan, but said they are in the process of training.

Some of the retailers say they are prepared for an emergency, many others think not. An strong earthquake can easily cause severe damage to the 133 year old structure that could easily result in fatalities and injury to many of the thousands that go in and out of the building daily.

Carlos Picado, head of the Planning and Evaluation Unit of the National Emergency Commission (CNE), explains that the national emgergency service has no plan for the Central Market. What they have is a general plan for the downtown area of San José, in coordination with the Fire Department (Bomberos) to face an emergency.

Stay up to date with the latest stories by signing up to our newsletter, or following us on Facebook.