Every big city has its unique and popular places that feel and look local! The interesting thing about them, whether they are urban squares, street markets, neighborhoods, shops, or otherwise, is that they are microcosms of a culture. In Bogotá, an excellent example of such a place is the San Victorino market and it’s totally worth visiting!
Imagine a place where you can find everything for the cheapest prices. A place where you see things you have never seen before, where you see dozens of colors, products, noises, smells, and people talking and interacting with each other. And yes, it does feel chaotic, but within that chaos, there’s a cultural experience like no other. Well, that’s exactly what the San Victorino market is: a place of wonders and a perfect example of Bogotá’s culture. In other words, a place like San Victorino offers a pretty broad view of how and why a city works as it does, and how space and human interactions define the way we experience a city. If you want to have the ultimate local experience, then head to this area of Bogotá and I assure you’ll have quite an adventure!
Basics of San Victorino
San Victorino is pretty much the Chinatown of Bogotá. It’s like a never-ending indoor/outdoor street market (read our article about other popular markets in Bogotá). There are stalls everywhere, selling millions of products and people screaming prices and approaching potential clients. It’s actually an entire neighborhood, but the most popular and best-known area is the market located from Carrera Décima (10th Street) to Avenida Caracas (Caracas Avenue) and between Calle Sexta (6th Street) and Calle 13 (13th Street) (read our article about main streets in Bogotá). San Victorino is pretty close to La Candelaria and the city center as well.
San Victorino was born as a public square with a small church built in 1538. Due to its location on the outskirts of the city, it developed a commercial power and was considered the “entrance” to Bogotá. San Victorino was the point of meeting and exchanging merchandise between locals and foreigners.
The population growth of Bogotá in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the creation of new economies and businesses represented in the main square transformed San Victorino into an even more important commerce center. And despite the disappearance of the small church around the 1820s, the square maintained its status. Finally, during the nineteenth and twentieth century, San Victorino kept evolving and transforming (with some setbacks) into what it is today.
What to buy, what to find, what to expect
If you ask me, “what do I find in San Victorino?,” my answer (as ambiguous as it sounds) will be, “anything you want/need.” But it’s true: clothes, toys, stationery, food, furniture, souvenirs, any kind of material, costumes, alcohol , and the list goes on and on. It’s actually pretty easy to get lost in San Victorino; it’s overwhelming for all the right reasons! But it does have a sense of organization that will help you find what you are looking for, meaning the shops are generally organized according to what they sell: there’s a predominant area of clothes, another for food, another for souvenirs, etc.
San Victorino is informal and that’s why everything is cheaper: it’s all tax-free. I would say that it’s not the right option if you are buying one single thing. The shops operate as wholesales as well, so it’s best if you are looking to buy a lot of one thing or lots of different things. But of course, you can always buy just one thing. San Victorino works as both a wholesale and large distributor, and as a retailing center.
The whole experience of San Victorino is not only economical but enlightening for your soul! I’ve been there several times and sometimes I don’t find anything; I simply enjoy going and wandering around. For me, being in San Victorino feels like a predator searching its prey, but the prey is instead, any product, any story, anybody. That’s why you have to use all your senses and be aware of everything because you never know what are you going to find. The first time I went, I was a little bit scared, but now I’ve come to the realization that it’s probably one of the best places Bogotá offers. And no, it’s not the prettiest, it isn’t the safest either (you do have to watch out, be careful and better go with a friend, read our article about safety in Bogotá), but it’s truly the most colorful and quintessential Colombian place in Bogotá.
How to get there
To get to San Victorino, you can take a Transmilenio to a station named Avenida Jiménez, a SITP bus, a taxi, Uber, or a car (though is best not to because it’s difficult to find a parking lot most of the time, read our article about transportation in Bogotá). It’s actually pretty easy to find; in Bogotá, everyone knows what and where San Victorino is. I do recommend to go during the day because it’s safer, but really, you just need to be careful, as in any other part of the city.
In San Victorino, everything is generally cheap, but because it’s so big and diverse, it’s also pretty difficult to establish a range of prices. You can find things from about $100 COP ($0.03 USD) to even a million pesos ($318 USD) or more, depending on the product. It’s important to take cash, but not so much due to security reasons, and I recommend taking some bags (not plastic, please!) in case you do need to carry a lot of stuff!
If you spend a nice morning in San Victorino and then want to head somewhere else, you can go to La Candelaria and spend a nice afternoon/evening there. San Victorino is pretty much in the historic center, so there are a lot of things to do around there as well.
San Victorino is a place for everyone. It’s a gathering and urban space where people from all the backgrounds casually meet for the same reason. You can see the character of the market through the millions of products and human interaction. San Victorino is definitely one of the most important and significant urban scenes in Bogotá and you shouldn’t miss it!
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