Panama City’s Seafood Market (Mercado de Mariscos)

PANAMA CITY, Panama — Panama isn’t an island, but with such a high proportion of coastline to land, it might as well be. So it’s only natural that seafood figures prominently in Panamanian cuisine.

Mercado de Mariscos (Seafood Market) in Casco Viejo Panama City Panama
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Panama isn’t an island, but with such a high proportion of coastline to land, it might as well be. So it’s only natural that seafood figures prominently in Panamanian cuisine.

Panama City’s seafood market, the Mercado de Mariscos, lies at the foot of the historic Casco Viejo district and is, as you would expect, bustling.

It consists of two parts. To the left is the market proper, where you can buy freshly caught seafood fresh off the fishing boats you see in the bay. This part of the market opens early–around 5 am, as the fisherman arrive in with their overnight catch. Fresh fish, lobsters, and shellfish are all laid out on ice or swimming in buckets of water.

But unless you have your own kitchen to cook your own feast, chances are that the other part of the market is more useful to you. That’s where the restaurants are, where the freshly caught seafood is served up for your dining pleasure.

These aren’t fancy joints. They’re essentially counters with plastic outdoor seating. Latin tunes blare over the speakers, and some have TVs jury-rigged under the canopy showing the soccer game of the moment. It’s more like Istanbul’s Karakoy waterfront than San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

The local specialty is ceviche, served in cups, where the raw fish is “cooked” in citrusy juices. A cup of ceviche fish or octopus (pulpa) will set you back a dollar or two, and you can order fries on the side of you like and wash it down with a cold Panama beer.

Platters, which are generally fried fish or fried something else like mussels or prawns, are more expensive. While there’s not the same variety as somewhere like the Santiago de Chile’s Mercado Central, which has an incredible variety of shellfish thanks to the country’s endless shoreline, all the basics are covered, from fish to octopus to prawns.

Photos of Mercado de Mariscos in Panama City

More About Mercado de Mariscos

  • Panama City’s main fish market, located near Cinta Costera.
  • Offers a wide variety of fresh seafood, including shrimp, tuna, crab, and red snapper.
  • Features numerous stalls selling seafood platters, ceviche, and other dishes.
  • Popular among both tourists and locals for its fresh catch and affordable prices.
  • Located close to Avenida Balboa and Panama City’s Old Town.

The Mercado de Mariscos, or Seafood Market, is a vibrant and essential part of Panama City’s cultural and culinary fabric. It’s located in the neighborhood of Casco Viejo, adjacent to the city’s bustling downtown area and right at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The market was founded in 1959 and has been a local staple ever since.

The market is housed in a large, two-story building and it’s the only seafood market in Panama City. It was specifically designed to support the local fishing industry, providing a dedicated place for fishermen to sell their daily catch. Over the years, it has expanded its operations to include retail sales, allowing locals and tourists alike to purchase a variety of seafood, fresh from the ocean.

Visitors to the market can find a wide variety of fresh seafood, including shrimp, tuna, crab, red snapper, corvina, sea bass, squid, and more. The market is known for its fresh catch, with fishermen bringing in their hauls daily. In addition to whole fish and seafood, many stalls also offer prepared dishes, such as ceviche, seafood platters, and patacones. Some of the best selections at the market include blue marlin, wahoo, amberjack, and royal red shrimp.

A particular highlight is the local delicacy of ceviche and oysters, served in disposable cups with onions, lemon, and other accompaniments. For those who prefer to cook their seafood at home, the market provides the opportunity to purchase fresh bay scallops, clams, and other shellfish.

The area surrounding the Mercado de Mariscos has undergone significant redevelopment in recent years. This is part of a larger initiative by the Panamanian government to revitalize the city’s waterfront area. The revitalization project has included the construction of the Cinta Costera, a 64-hectare land reclamation project along the waterfront that has added new parks, recreational areas, and business opportunities.

Historically, the Mercado de Mariscos was a key part of Panama City’s economy, and it continues to play a vital role today. In addition to its economic contributions, the market also offers a unique cultural experience, with its lively atmosphere, colorful displays of seafood, and the delicious aroma of traditional Panamanian seafood dishes being prepared at the on-site restaurants.

What’s Nearby to Mercado de Mariscos?

  • Cinta Costera: A scenic waterfront promenade offering walking paths, green spaces, and stunning views of Panama City’s skyline.
  • Casco Viejo (Old Town): A historic district featuring colonial-era architecture, plazas, and narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants.
  • Biomuseo: A unique, Frank Gehry-designed museum showcasing Panama’s biodiversity and the history of the isthmus.

How to Get to Mercado de Mariscos

Mercado de Mariscos is located in Panama City, the capital of Panama. The nearest major airport is Tocumen International Airport (PTY), which is approximately 24 kilometers (15 miles) from the city center. From the airport, visitors can take a taxi, private transfer, or use public transportation to reach the market and surrounding attractions.

What To Know Before You Go

  • There are a couple of dozen restaurants all serving roughly the same things. You sit outdoors on plastic chairs and tables with waiter service. Naturally, because of both the sun and the rain, both of which come with a vengeance in this part of the world, there’s extensive shade under large sails.
  • It’s open for lunch, through the afternoon, and into dinner. On a nice weekend evening, locals come out in force along the expansive waterfront, but you won’t have a problem finding a table at one of the restaurants.
  • It’s an easy walk along the waterfront from Casco Viejo. You can cross the highway, but more pleasant and safer, albeit longer, route is to follow the waterfront boardwalk under the highway and around the point.
  • It’s a great option if you’re traveling with kids. There’s lots of room, they won’t be disturbing anyone, and the nearby waterfront is basically a big park (check out the swings literally underneath the highway along the boardwalk). Fussy eaters will be able to find something fried they’re familiar with (french fries, or chips, are readily available). The only negative is that the bathroom facilities are very basic.

Mercado de Mariscos FAQs

What is Mercado de Mariscos and where is it located?

Mercado de Mariscos is a seafood market located in Panama City, Panama. It is situated along the city’s waterfront, near the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood.

What kinds of seafood can you find at Mercado de Mariscos?

Mercado de Mariscos offers a wide variety of seafood, including fish, shellfish, octopus, and lobster. Some of the most popular items include corvina (sea bass), ceviche, and shrimp cocktails.

What are the hours of operation for Mercado de Mariscos?

Mercado de Mariscos is open daily from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Is it safe to eat seafood from Mercado de Mariscos?

Yes, it is generally safe to eat seafood from Mercado de Mariscos. The market is regulated by the government and vendors are required to adhere to strict hygiene standards. However, as with any seafood, it is important to properly cook it before eating.

What is the best time to visit Mercado de Mariscos?

The best time to visit Mercado de Mariscos is in the morning, when the fresh catch arrives and the market is bustling with activity. It is also a good idea to avoid visiting on weekends when it can be crowded with tourists.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »