Top Markets: Witches’ Market in La Paz & Tarabuco Market
What’s in Store: Glittering array of clothes, fabrics, fruit & veg & handmade ceramic crafts
Best Buy: Soft baby alpaca clothes – warm and luxurious
Bustling, busy and bright is the Bolivian market. As you enter, the sounds of the Andean Pan pipes are sure to be coming from somewhere, the smells and sights will fill your senses and instil in you a passion to browse, bargain or just wander around watching and absorbing the atmosphere.
The eye-catching electric colours of the Bolivian weaves are wrapped around the women’s backs, used either as shawls or as carriers for goods or even small children! The food stalls present a kaleidoscope of colours, ranging from the tiny bright red chillis to an almost black-green coat of the glossy, oversized avocados.
Along the way you will stumble across the ubiquitous bowler-hatted Bolivian woman sitting cross legged on a rug behind a overflowing pile of coca leaves.
If you look closely you will notice her own supply of leaves stuffed up under her hat ready to be extracted and chewed when the present batch is finished. The coca leaf pile serves as a gossip exchange point during the day as all the locals come to refill their own supply or to brew a bit of coca tea!
Bolivian handicrafts are plentiful and cheap to buy in the markets. You will always find piles of beautifully hand painted ceramic goods with the familiar figure of the llama in the centre of most of the designs. Although when you are travelling and see so many of the same thing, you may lose sight of the originality of these goods but it is worth remembering that when you are no longer from Bolivia and your purchases are in completely different surroundings, their originality and charm will seem to be renewed!
Bolivian markets also specialise in alpaca (woolly llama creatures) goods which are very useful – due to their immense warmth, especially when visiting the salt lakes in winter. There are also products made from baby alpaca, favoured for their luxurious softness, which is often compared in feel to cashmere. These are well worth buying as their value for money is immense.
Witches’ Market, La Paz
Alongside the Sagamaga market in La Paz you will come across the witches’ market; it exists as evidence of the strong belief in tradition and mythology to be found in Bolivia. What is first seen as merely an accumulation of indistinguishable clutter is, on further exploration and attention, perceived to be a fascinating collection of remedies, good luck charms, trinkets, spells, potions and stuffed animals. You can come here with any problem – an ailment or simply a hope for better fortune, wisdom, good luck or protection – and with the right guidance you can walk away contentedly, patting a solution in your pocket, whether it be a ceramic charm to watch over you or even a llama fetus to bring good fortune to a new building!
Tarabuco Market Town
The market town of Tarabuco is famous for its handmade clothes and weavings. The market takes place only on Sundays and is very popular with tourists. It is interesting, as the locals wear their traditional dress and the garments for sale illustrate the huge variety of the styles that range across the different provinces of Bolivia.
By Georgia Levison