5 Andean markets that will take you back in time

If you want a souvenir of your trip to the Andes, don’t settle for a last-minute purchase at the duty-free shop. Ever since the Spanish imposed their city-planning styles on Andean communities, the central square has served as a gathering place where people can peddle their wares and catch up with their neighbors. Marketplaces in the Andes are places to shop as well as experience Andean culture – much of the art and the produce you will see are completely unique to the region.

Visiting these markets brings you to a place where you can purchase one-of-a-kind gifts for friends and family back home, and simultaneously support local communities. Keeping the demand for these types of crafts will help ensure that Andean craftsmen and women continue to pass down their traditions to new generations.

Otavalo Market, Imbabura, Ecuador

Otavalo Market is one of the most well known cultural attractions in Ecuador’s highlands. Indigenous peoples descend from their remote homes in the mountains to sell their colorful textiles in Otavalo’s main square.

Ecuador Otavalo Market Above

This is primarily a textile market, with different types of crafts – like homemade dolls and jewelry – breaking up the stacks of woven colors. As you stroll through this market you’ll probably start to feel dizzy at the sight of so many bright colors. Peruvians favor neon pink and orange, punctuated by sharp shades of blue.

Ecuador Otavalo Textile Market Man

Otavalo Market is also a good destination for purchasing Panama hats – known more accurately as “paja toquilla” hats. Paja toquilla is the name of the palm tree with stiff fronds that haberdashers weave to make these iconic hats. These types of hats originated in Ecuador, and then made their may way to Panama, where most American visitors first encountered them – hence the misnomer.

This market is at its peak on Saturdays, early in the morning. If you arrive early enough you’ll also get to see local livestock, including pens of squeaking guinea pigs.

Chichicastenango Market, El Quiché, Guatemala

Chichicastenango Market is known more commonly as ChiChi Market. It takes place on Thursdays and Sundays.

Here you’ll see flower sellers proffering giant baskets of brightly colored blooms. Visitors also come to admire the displays of wooden ceremonial masks, which are painted to look like Maya gods and goddesses. Some you can wear, and others are purely decorative. Locals wear them during religious dance performances.

Chichicastenango Flowers

Santo Tomás Catholic Church looms over the market square. Like so many Catholic churches in Central America, this one was built on the ruins of a Maya temple that the Spanish conquistadors destroyed. Catholicism and Maya religion live side by side in this part of the Andes. Locals gather on the steps of this church to perform Maya religious rites – burning incense and candles in prayer to both Catholic saints and Maya deities.

Chichicastenango Saint Tomas Church

San Isidro Market, Lima, Peru

San Isidro Market is named for the surrounding neighborhood, the San Isidro district of Lima. Like most central markets in Peru, this market has a large selection of fresh food. Visiting this market is an exciting introduction to the world of Peruvian produce.

San Isidro Market

If you can cook in your accommodations, go hunt for black ears of corn and purple carrots to sample. Peru also has a rainbow of potato varieties. Ingredients like rocoto peppers are difficult to find in Europe and the U.S., and feature prominently in mouth-watering Peruvian dishes like rocotos rellenos – a type of stuffed pepper that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about stuffed peppers.

Stop by the pescadería section of the market to check out the catch of the day. Early in the day you will see impressive specimens on display.

San Isidro Fish

Chinchero, Sacred Valley of the Inca, Peru

There is a long tradition of weaving in the Andes. Although traditional methods of weaving and dying wool have become increasingly rare, you can still visit markets where proprietors offer weaving demonstrations and use natural dye that is made from plants. Chinchero is one of the best places in Peru to see one of these demonstrations.

At Chinchero market, weavers set up their looms between trees and make intricate weft patterns out of hand-spun yarn. Chinchero women wear their creations, topped with wide-brimmed hats that keep the sun out of their eyes as they sit at their looms. They harvest the yarn from their sheep and alpacas, and they make the dye by soaking local plants in boiling water.

Peru Chinchero Weavers

There are an incredible variety of dyes made possible by the plants in the surrounding landscape. An insect called a cochineal produces red dye. Motemote seeds create a rosy shade of pink, and a local variety of moss called “beard of the rock” produces a rusty orange. Turquoise, green, yellow, purple – all these colors are made from the flowers and leaves of Chinchero’s flora.

Chinchero Market Woman

Although the market is also open on Tuesday and Thursday, you should visit on a Sunday for your best chance to see a weaving demonstration. You may even get to see the Chinchero weavers making dyes, and hanging the freshly dyed wool up to dry.

Pisac Market, Sacred Valley of the Inca, Peru

Pisac Market is one of the busiest markets you will find in the Sacred Valley of the Inca. You’ll find the small village of Pisac in between the cities of Cusco and Ollantaytambo. It’s at its height on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. This market also has a good selection of woven goods – check out the ponchos and hats – in addition to handmade wooden instruments.

Peru Pisac Market

Once you look closely at these fabrics, you’ll notice that different weavers share a symbolic language. These textiles feature plants and animals of the Andes, and some of these figures have transformed into mesmerizing abstractions over the years. Complicated patterns often symbolize the mountains, the rivers, the springtime flowers, and the sky.

This is one of Peru’s larger markets, and makes for a good place to simply meander through the stalls, surrounded by textiles with patterns inspired by the powerful landscape of the Sacred Valley.

Zach Smith is CEO of Anywhere.

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