The history of the San Felipe Neri Market dates back much further than you can imagine when looking at the modern building. A few years after the separation of Panama with Colombia, you can see the beginnings of this public market. The market arose in 1914, the same year that the Panama Canal was inaugurated. This market was located on Avenida Norte (today known as Avenida Eloy Alfaro), between 12th and 13th streets east.
To one side of the market there was a port where the boats left for Azuero (where you can stay at my farm Libelulas Pedasi), Chiriquí, Darién and the islands of the Gulf of Panama. Next to the market was a section where chickens, ducks, and turkeys were sold. In the back was the sale of seafood. This place is probably the current Fish Market in Panama City. Next to it was the Terraplen (Embankment) that received the ships to distribute and sell the merchandise of the day.
According to the Panama Vieja Escuela website, personalities such as General Omar Torrijos and boxer Ismael Laguna used to go to the San Felipe Public Market for lunch.
Panama City Municipal Administration
The Municipality of Panama decided to administer the market in 1961. In 2006, Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro inaugurated the new public market, the construction of which cost 1.8 million dollars. He used the old railroad station as the new location, between Avenida B, Calle 15 este, and Avenida Balboa. He named it the San Felipe Neri Market like the church of San Felipe Neri also located in the Casco Antiguo. The official name of the township is San Felipe. San Felipe was an Italian priest and musician, who was called the Apostle of Rome.
Once again, the market was remodeled during the mayoralty of Jose Blandón in May 2017. Its tenants were relocated to a temporary warehouse at the end of Avenida Balboa between Cochez and the bus stop. This transformation took much longer than estimated, finally opening in January 2020 under the administration of Mayor José Luis Fábrega.
The San Felipe Neri Market is part of a Comprehensive Network of Municipal Markets (RIMMU) that includes two markets in operation, two markets under construction and three markets in design or tender in 2023. The idea of the Panama City Municipality is that there are markets close to all the municipalities.
San Felipe Neri Market
The new and modern San Felipe Neri Market is very nice, clean and safe. Market waste is managed underground, providing greater health. This market has a treatment plant, a water storage system, video surveillance cameras and cold rooms for all its products. The market is air conditioned and smells are not felt as in the old days. There are also toilets for men, women and the disabled people.
The San Felipe Neri Market is divided into three. In total there are 139 commercial stalls that include vegetables, fruits, groceries (grains and spices), soft drinks, poultry, beef and pork. Those who stay in a vacation rental in Casco Viejo can walk to the market to do their shopping.
The part to the left of the San Felipe Neri Market has meats, chicken and pork. It is important to go shopping early since most of the vendors sell in the morning and if you go in the afternoon there is very little left. All the meats are in refrigerated display cases and the butchers have good equipment to cut them.
To the right is the fruit and vegetable area where you will find lettuce, tomato, onion, garlic, avocado, cucumber, broccoli, among others. In addition, there are many tropical fruits such as pineapple, papaya, watermelon, melon, passion fruit and other seasonal exotics such as mamey, mangosteen and cocoa. In this area there is also a stall that sells natural and healthy juices such as carrots, oranges, beets and watercress. They also sell other things like honey, spicy, beans, achiote, lard, bijao leaves. In the antechamber you can find some ornamental plants for sale.
Another space in the San Felipe Neri Market has grocery stores and fondas. A good experience for tourists is to eat in these fondas that sell homemade meals. You can find typical Panamanian food such as rice with chicken, fish, fair salad, plantains, rice with beans, macaroni with meat and chicha (fruit juice).
The market also has cultural events with dances of polleras, congos, mariachis for Mother’s Day, Afro fest and folkloric craft fairs.
The opening hours of the San Felipe Neri Market are from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. diary. It is estimated that some 8,500 people visit this market daily, which employs some 1,687 people (750 direct and 937 indirect). This market has 56 parking spaces for the convenience of shoppers.