Shopping Secrets of Cusco

January 30th, 2012

By Willa Ahlschwede

If you are a shopper who enjoys the thrill of the hunt, Cusco has several unique shopping experiences that most tourists never discover. Venturing off the beaten path, you will find the perfect souvenir and enjoy an adventure you won’t soon forget.

You may notice there is no Wal-Mart in Cusco. When people need something for their homes, they often head to a type of shop called a plastiqueria. Here one finds almost anything made from plastic – teacups to lawn chairs – but they also offer unique glassware and other truly Peruvian items. Find traditional chicha glasses, sets of beer glasses with Peruvian labels and party supplies like ¡Feliz Cumpleaños! birthday candles. Prices are usually set and marked. Several of these shops are on Calle Nueva below the large San Pedro market. One popular location, Plasticos 2000, is on Plaza San Francisco right near the stone arch.

If you are looking for a pleasant weekend market to stroll, the Plaza Tupac Amaru in the Wanchaq neighborhood offers a tranquil weekend market. A bit of an art and crafts fair, you will find simple ceramics, wooden knick-knacks and toys, homemade jewelry and knitwear plus lots of artisanal foods to snack on. Feel free to bargain. Grab a fresh frozen queso helado, a custardy ice cream, and join the Cuzqueños relaxing with family. A taxi ride here should cost 3 soles.

Starting at dawn on Saturday mornings, the most intrepid shopper can go on a treasure hunt through the Baratillo. This sprawling, crowded and somewhat grimy street market will reward you with second-hand and antique goods at their cheapest prices if you’re willing to bargain.

Textiles, used clothing like the elaborately adorned traditional skirts and jackets, leather goods, metal trinkets, hand forged tools, old enamel dishes and more. This is truly a local market so you’ll have to make your way past multitudes of other merchandise to find what you want.

The Baratillo is also a notorious haven for pickpockets who work in groups. Be very aware of the people around you and carry nothing of value; backpacks and cameras stand out like a sore thumb. It’s best to have small bills and keep cash in a front or breast pocket. To get here, walk south several blocks from San Pedro market on Calle Nueva or Calle Peru; the blue tarps of the Baratillo will come into view as you cross the large Avenida del Ejercito. Or grab a taxi; any driver will know the way though they may be surprised at the request.

Though none of these shopping spots offer stalls upon stalls of alpaca sweaters or Machu Picchu t-shirts like Pisac or many of the artisanal markets you will visit in Cusco and Peru at large, they all offer a different slice of life in Peru. Whether you find the perfect treasure or not, the experience will be a souvenir in itself.

If you’re travelling on a tight schedule and are only planning on spending a couple of days in Cusco during your Peru trip, it may be worthwhile taking a guided tour of the city’s highlights. You can find a reliable either once you arrive, or by booking in advance through a specialist in Peru travel packages.

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