Tucked between the Plaza de Armas and the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Cuba, the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades (formerly Plaza de Armas Secondhand Book Market) is a lovely daily flea market, located a bit off the tourist tracks. In fact this flea market is the only one that takes place on a regular basis in La Havana, and which is truly worth the visit.
What strikes first time visitors, is the laid back ambiance of this flea market. Set in the Antigua Casa de Justiz y Santa Ana (calle Baratillo with calle Justiz), under the shade of the almond trees, and a stone-throw away from the sea, the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades makes for a great break in a busy touristy day.
One of the peculiarity of the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades, is that due to the lack of exhibition space (since the flea market was relocated from its former location on the Plaza de Armas), half of its 60 vendors work there every other day. Therefore it is advised to visit the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades at least twice (two consecutive days for instance), in order to get an idea of the full offer available at this flea market.
The diversity in styles and tastes seem to be rooted in the DNA of the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades. From antique coins and gramophones, to silverware, old pocket watches, genuine revolutionary propaganda books & posters from the 1960s, 1950s costume jewellery, antique tools, antique cameras, military pins, Russian memorabilia, and other knick-knacks, this flea market is a paradise for bargain hunters and antique lovers. Through the sights of objects from the late nineteenth century until the 1990s, this flea market is an invitation to travel through time.
Vendors at the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades are always keen on starting a conversation and are quite knowledgeable about the items they sell. In fact, it is not uncommon to spot here and there, a merchant fixing a defective camera or a hand-wind watch, all while chatting with another fellow seller. And If Spanish is the easiest way to address them, most of them are also comfortable speaking in English, which is rather helpful when it comes to haggling!
Price-wise, the items sold at the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades seemed rather affordable from a "Westerner" perspective. A 1980 TLR Lubitel camera would go for $30, an antique pocket watch for $60, a spy camera for $90, old books for $15, pre-revolution military pins for as low as $10, silverware and glassware for $20, costume jewellery for $20, and reprints of revolutionary posters for $15.
While it could be tempting to purchase something without negotiating the price, it doesn't cost anything to engage in a little bit of haggling. Vendors are generally open to negotiation and are willing to give a basic 10-15% discount on the price. And the more you buy, the higher the discount you'll get. In a country where the average monthly salary tops $25 USD (yes, you read that right), one sale can make a difference.
All in all, the Feria de Publicaciones y Curiosidades makes for an essential stop-off for flea market enthusiasts, antique collectors, tourists searching for souvenirs, and anyone looking to enjoy a cultural stroll.