With dazzling diversity and affordable prices, souvenir shopping in Peru can be a blast. It's one of best places in South America to purchase handicrafts -- if you know what to look for. Because Peru's ancient culture lives on through its indigenous Andean community, many textile techniques and styles date back to the time of the Incas. This gives many Peruvian handicrafts a bit of history and authenticity, even though they were made by modern hands. Here are several items you should look for while shopping in Peru.
By far, the best value option and most popular Peruvian souvenirs are fuzzy sweaters, hats, and gloves made from alpaca. A typical Andean hat is called a chullo; you'll recognize it by the ear flaps. Alpaca wool is warm, lightweight, and soft to the touch. You can find these products in any market in Peru, though many sell synthetic and machine-made substitutes, so be careful before you buy. Baby alpaca is the softest and most expensive product. Though you can find it in markets, a better place for high-quality baby alpaca items are boutique and collective shops in Cuzco and Arequipa. Lima has several shops, as well, though prices are likely to be a bit higher.
Found in markets around Peru, carved gourds (called mates burilados) are both beautiful and affordable. The cheapest versions of this will be a small owl figurine with the etchings painted on, rather than carved. These typically cost a couple dollars, and around Christmas, you will find red and green ornament versions, as well as detailed religious scenes. The authentic version is made from a dried lagenaria vulgaris gourd and carved with a buril to create detailed scenes. The best place to buy these higher-end versions is in the highland city of Huancayo, and artisans will often carve your name into the gourd if you ask.
Andean textiles are beautiful and intricate. In the Sacred Valley and regions surrounding Cuzco, the textile process usually starts and ends locally and is all done by hand. It can take months to produce one item. The wool is gathered from local flocks; spun by hand; dyed (often with natural colorings); and then woven into scarves, tapestries, and other products. Several co-ops have formed to preserve and promote this cultural skill, and it is worth splurging a bit for a high-quality item that directly supports the local communities that produce them. Two good options are Threads of Peru and Cuzco's Center of Traditional Textiles; the latter has an on-site museum. Markets in Cuzco, Pisac, and other Andean villages sell good, sturdy tapestries that are less detailed but still beautiful.
Peru is the second largest producer of silver in the world, and jewelry stores are full of it. Peruvian jewelry often features traditional elements, such as the Andean cross, the rainbow colors of the Cuzco flag, or the green Inca stone. Although there are several small towns in Peru known for their silver, if you're looking for high-quality original designs, you're best off looking in boutique shops in Cuzco and Lima. The Inca Market in Lima's Miraflores district also has a good selection.
Tips for Shopping in Peru
To make shopping in Peru as easy and fun as possible, here are a few tips from my own shopping experiences:- Carry both U.S. dollars and Peruvian soles. It may be more affordable to purchase larger items, such as textiles, in U.S. dollars. If you're shopping in markets or small villages, you will need Peruvian soles, often in small denominations.
- If you're visiting as part of a Peru tour package, ask the agency or your personal representative for shopping suggestions. Many have lived in or traveled extensively through Peru and should have a good list of locations to share.
- Don't be afraid to bargain, it's expected. The first price you're offered will always be higher than you should end up paying. Find out what prices other vendors and stalls are offering before purchasing.
- Don't look too excited when you find something you want to purchase. If the vendor knows you're interested, it will be more difficult to bargain down the price.
- You can often get a better deal if you buy multiple products from the same stall.
- Never purchase artifacts or products made from endangered species.
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