To uncover the true essence of a country, understand the people and delve deep into cultural habits, look no further than its markets. Interacting on a casual level and rubbing shoulders with the locals provides a unique opportunity to get an authentic glimpse into their daily lives which is very difficult to replicate in any other manner when travelling through a country.
Peru is no exception to this notion and is rife with many artisan markets, bursting with colors, sounds, smells and many large as life characters offering an insight into the local vibe. The tradition of weaving stretches back over 5,000 years in Peru, and there is a long tradition in producing traditional handicrafts – in other words Peru has a LOT of markets. Choice can be overwhelming at times, and this can certainly be the case when exploring the larger markets where your biggest problem wouldn’t be deciding what to buy, but most likely what not to buy.
Quality is always a key factor when making a purchase, but knowing where to go in the first place can save you time as well as money. In Lima alone, you could spend your entire holiday scouring the countless markets. With just a little smidge of inside knowledge you can avoid wasted time and return home with meaningful souvenirs, that won’t be shunted into a dark cupboard to collect dust until next Christmas (when you try to offload one of your impulse purchases to an unfortunate family member maybe?).
Without further ado, here’s our list of can’t miss artisan markets in Peru…bring small change, put your bargaining face on and remember to smile!
1. Pisac Market
As one of the most famous and popular markets in the Cusco region, the Pisac market is a hive of activity and is open for business every day, with the largest market taking place on Sundays.
There is fierce competition for business as the indigenous Quechua communities congregate from the surrounding highlands to sell their goods and stock up on supplies for the week. The vendors swarm in their hundreds, and engulf the streets with their market stalls or blankets laid out on the ground. Although many of the street artisans sell similar products such as trinkets, jewelry, alpaca jumpers, knitted scarfs or clothing, there are some stalls which sell quality and unique ceramics products which make excellent gifts or personal purchases. Be sure to fine-tune your negotiating skills beforehand, as the locals of course have years of practice.
Market Days: Every Day from 9:00 to 16:40
2. Chinchero Open Air Market
The colorful open-air market in the sleepy town of Chinchero, in the Sacred Valley, is one of the most uniquely located and traditional artisan markets in all of South America. Situated up in the clouds at 3,762m (12,343ft), the market has a Spanish medieval resemblance and is centered on a plaza that spreads out onto the narrow cobblestone streets. The artisans of Chinchero are renowned for their elite weaving skills, beautiful clothing, rugs, shawls and other textiles which all employ a unique weaving process that has been developed over many years, and sometimes includes record-breaking thread counts. The growing popularity of the market owes tribute to these textiles, which are offered in a sea of colors at the Sunday markets.
On Sundays the market is particularly special as you will witness the traditionally dressed locals descending from the hills and engaging in the ancient practice of ‘trueco’ which is an unique local custom as to how to determine the price of an item.
Market Days: Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 9:00 to 12:00
3. Indian Market
Although the name may be slightly misleading, don’t expect to find exotic herbs and spices from India at this market. This place is certainly one for the souvenir and craft enthusiasts, or for buying the last minute holiday presents before returning home. Situated in the heart of Lima’s Miraflores district, you can spend an entire afternoon browsing through four blocks of shopping stalls that are stacked to the roofs of the corrugated iron ceilings.
The market consists of a series of small shopping arcades that sell the ‘traditional’ artisan products and many souvenirs including sweaters, alpaca scarves and hats, colorful woven textiles, embroidered cushions, ceramics, jewelry and musical instruments amongst other items.
Prices are relatively low priced and it is a good place if you want to buy a selection of souvenirs, but it compulsory to take care when buying antiques. Why? If you purchase anything that may be deemed to have cultural heritage, you will be stopped when returning home, as it is illegal to take these items out of Peru!
Market Days: Every Day from 10:00 to 19:00
4. Ollantaytambo Market
Set in the quaint and picturesque Inca archaeological site and village of Ollantaytambo, the location of this market is what gives it a truly distinct and unique feel. Set against a backdrop of vertiginous mountains, the market sits at the foot of one of the few battle sites where the Inca’s overpowered the Conquistadores (leaders in the Spanish conquest). The large stone terraces that make up the ancient Inca fortress are an impressive site, adding layers of authenticity and character to this charming market.
Often particularly busy in the mornings and afternoons when the crowds arrive, we recommend trying to get there early or later in the afternoon. Free from the crowds, meander your way through the open air market, explore the stalls and engage in conversation with the locals admiring their hand crafted pottery ornaments and woven cloths. This is a good option for purchasing souvenirs that are similar in quality to those found in Cusco but prices are generally a bit lighter on the wallet.
Market Days: Every Day from 10:00 to 18:00
5. Arequipa’s Markets
The ‘White City’ of Arequipa is the number one spot to shop for top-quality alpaca, vicuña and woolen goods. Although, there are numerous shops and boutique outlets, there are three prime areas to look for these goods: the cloisters next to La Compañía church, Pasaje Catedral, (located in the pedestrian mall behind the cathedral) and Calle Santa Catalina. Many of the finest woven and purest garments come from Arequipa, where you will find quality designs and garments unique to the city.
For the best of both worlds, head to the city’s principal craft market, the “Fundo el Fierro” that constitutes an ornate colonial sillar courtyard next to the San Francisco church. Apart from finding quality alpaca garments there is an ample selection of artisan products including paintings, crafts and jewelry and you can also source rare alpaca carpets from Cotahuasi which makes this market quite unlike others.
Market Days: Monday to Saturday from 9:00 to 20:00 and Sunday from 9:00 to 14:00