One of the fascinating things about La Paz are its seemingly never-ending maze of street markets in the city center. Tents, stalls, or sometimes just blankets on the ground line the streets selling just about everything you can imagine. Do you need vegetables for a big dinner party? Head to the streets. Are you looking for a pair of socks, a light bulb, shampoo, and perhaps a toilet seat? You’re in luck!
One of the biggest farmers markets in the world is Mercado Rodríguez. It’s mostly along Calle Rodríguez but oozes over onto Max Paredes and Avenida Illampu. Many of the stalls are run by Cholitas, or indigenous women wearing traditional dress. The market was mostly produce, meats, fish, bootlegged DVDs, and some clothing here and there.
A local told me the best time to visit this market is on the weekends, when more people are out shopping and more goods are brought in from the countryside. I walked through on a Sunday morning and found it to be extremely colorful with some amazing sights and sounds. I also learned that there are over 200 varieties of potatoes that can be found in the market!
When I visited the Mercado Negro (Black Market), I found more of a mishmash of goods, from household goods, tools, and supplies, to shoes, clothing, toys, and bootlegged DVDs. The name isn’t as scary as it sounds, but I would recommend being discreet with your camera or asking to take a photo before you snap away. Many of the people aren’t too fond of cameras and can get a little chippy if they see you taking photos of them or their goods (this is probably good advice for all the markets).
The Ayni Market is a small artisan market on Avenida Illampu. It’s a Fair Trade market that supports many families making goods by hand. You can find many handicrafts including alpaca sweaters and pottery.
Calle Sagarnaga is one of the main tourist streets in La Paz. There are several restaurants, hostels, and tour offices. You can also find many souvenir shops. There are also lots of power lines that resemble birds nests. Not sure how safe they are.
Mercado de las Brujas
If you’re in the market for a llama fetus or love potion, you can find them at the Mercado de las Brujas (Witches’ Market). It’s also called Mercado de Hechicería. The most peculiar market in La Paz offers all kinds of potions for love, health, luck, and more. And yes – can also buy a dried llama fetus!
The purpose of the llama fetus is something rooted deeply in Aymara culture. They’re used as an offering to Pachamama, often buried under newly constructed houses for good luck. Tourists can buy them, but I wouldn’t want to try getting it through your country’s customs.
If you’re looking for something more organized, there’s Mercado Lanza. It’s a food market with several juice and food stalls. This market is popular with locals for a cheap lunch and to buy groceries. It opened in 2009 and is located on Plaza Mayor.
Yet another street market was on Calle Comercio all the way to Plaza Murillo. It didn’t seem as specialized as the other markets. I found a good mix of things for sale.