In my opinion, the heart and soul of a country can almost always be found on the street. Street markets can tell you a lot about a place. There is no place where this is more true than in La Paz. La Paz’ chaotic and colorful markets are abundant and diverse. You can find anything your heart desires and bartering always ensures the best price. It is at the unusual markets of La Paz that the old and new culture of the city collides. Whether you are looking for a specific door knob, light bulb or toilet seat, you can surely find it at rock bottom prices at the Mercado Negro (Black market). Want a llama fetus to set fire as an offering? No problem. There are plenty of dead ones to choose from at the Mercado de Hechiceria (Witches’ Market). Experiencing the fabulous markets of La Paz is the highlight of any trip and is bound to be a fascinating way to spend the day.
Our hotel, Hostal Naira was located just a block or two away from the start of the Witches’ Market on Calle Sagarnaga thus we spent a lot of time walking around the area. I already posted many of my photos from the street vendors near our hotel in this post however I found that the further up the cobblestone streets we walked, the more interesting and unusual the markets became. As the traditional street vendors known as artesanias selling handicrafts and hand-woven goods dwindled so did the tourists. We knew that we were entering the markets meant for locals as we begin to see no tourists and more unique items for sale.
As we left the main drag near our hotel and explored, we began to see little street markets like this one above with produce, shoes, and common household goods for sale like plastic brooms and dustpans. As we wondered further and further away from the touristy area around the Iglesia de San Francisco, the witches’ market and produce vendors began.
Lots of fresh produce is brought in daily from the countryside.
Although the start of the Witches’ Market is not clearly marked it is obvious once you are there. Rows and rows of flimsy stalls with blue plastic tarp line the ragged street. The cobblestone is gone as is the charm. Yet what you find inside the Witches’ Market gives you a rare glimpse into the mystical and superstitious Aymara culture.
The Aymara believe in both malevolent and benevolent spirits. They use various different offerings depending on what they are asking for. For example, they may buy a dead llama fetus to bury beneath the foundation of a new house for good luck or they may select a symbol of a baby or even a car as a cha’lla (an offering) to become pregnant or get a new car. Whatever the need, there is an offering to match to satisfy the spirits.
Offerings come in all shapes and sizes and can range from a piece of pink candy in the shape of a car (to use when you want a new vehicle) or else as metal and wood carvings and even cigarettes and alcohol. The Witches’ Market also sells a wide variety of herbal and folk remedies to use when you are sick and if you are lucky you may even see a real witch doctor roaming the streets.
It was quite a surreal place. I had to try to hide my camera as it was not really welcome there. I got a few evil looks and didn’t want to offend anyone for their sacred beliefs. Once I realized that the Witches’ Market is not really meant for cameras, I put my camera away.
I was able to snap a few of the photos from the lookout of a hiking store that happened to be right inside the Witches’ Market. While my dad bought a pair of new socks, I stood inside the doorway and snapped away. I found the items for sale much too fascinating not to share. I’ve never been to a market like this before!
After the Witches’ Market, it was time to head over to the Mercado Negro, the Black Market. Although perhaps not as photogenic as the other markets in La Paz, the Black Market is the most bizarre place I’ve ever been. It is like one enormous Home Depot warehouse sprawled across several streets. You could find any kind of home improvement object necessary. From different sizes of screws, nails, toilet seats to lights, wires, rope and appliances. It is absolutely wild.
Here is a sample of what you can find….
The Black Market is a busy place for locals. I heard it is especially busy on the weekends when people are off work. I could only take so much of the endless streets of toilets, wires and screws. It was time to find the produce market before heading back to the hotel.
It didn’t take long. Finally, I found what I was looking for. I love photographing food markets. But once again, there were no tourists and cameras weren’t exactly welcome. I was not able to stay long. If only I knew a bit of the local language.
It was a very colorful place! But then again, all of La Paz seems to be bursting with color.
As we walked on, it was overwhelming. So much color. So much variety. So much to buy.
There was also a clothing market as well where women could buy traditional dress. I could have spent the entire day at the markets but alas it was time to move on. Here are a few final shots.
As we left the Witches’ Market I wondered how I would ever be able to explain such a place to my mom. It was by far one of the most interesting markets I’ve ever visited.
If you want to go:
The Mercado de Hechiceria lies along Calles Jimenez and Linares between Sagarnaga and Santa Cruz.
The Mercado Negro is open every day and is located on the narrow streets off MAx Paredes
Great post, and photos. This brought back so many memories, not of the La Paz market (which I didn’t get to) but of other local markets in Bolivia, and the Andes. Like you I seek out the markets for the locals. It’s one sure way to see something authentic about the life of the people. The witches market sounds fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like that, especially the hung baby llamas. Yikes. That would have had me staring too.
So creepy (the baby llamas), but so interesting!
Yes it was creepy! Almost too ugly to put in the post. Not sure if the llama fetus or the live scorpions to eat on a stick in China is the worst!
I’m gonna go with creepy fetuses > creepy bugs/critters on sticks! 🙂 (still very cool to read and see!)
Thanks so much Alison! This was the strangest market I’ve ever seen even more so than in China and India.
Really, really fascinating! I’ve been to some local (no tourists at all) markets in some out-of-the-way places in Peru, but I haven’t seen anything as bizarre as the Witches’ Market you’ve shown us here!
Yes it was really different. I like how the post turned out with the photos of all the strange captures.
I marvel at the bright, bright colors everywhere in a culture that struggles. Those colors serve a true human purpose.
I loved the colors in La Paz so much. It wasn’t my favorite place but it is by very bright and colorful!
Wow, what a truly fascinating post and some fabulous photos! This is exactly what I want from a travel blog – food, markets and a spot of witchcraft(!) One of the most interesting posts I’ve read in a long time, keep them coming!
Thanks so much! I love your comment!!
I was going to say the same thing- very interesting, but the baby llamas are very creepy!
Ha Ha. Yes they are indeed creepy! 🙂
So vivid colors of the Mercado…lovely travel post..Thanks for sharing 🙂
Glad you enjoyed!
What lovely colours! Loved them 🙂
Thanks so much! So glad you enjoyed! 🙂
Your pictures always capture the essence of a place. Well done!
Thanks so much! That was what I was hoping for and I’m glad it made you feel like you were there! 🙂
how can one nont love the vivid colors of latin america?!!! i wish i coujld step into this scene and be there in person, but you’ve done a great job of taking us there! z
Thanks so much Lisa! Do you find similar Witch Markets in Ecuador? I just loved the markets so much in Bolivia and I really LOVE LOVE LOVE the vivid colors. I can see where you get so much of your artistic inspiration from. Hope all is well! 🙂
Thank you for the tour of the colorful, unusual street market! Lots of bright colors. 🙂
You’re welcome Amy! I still have more to go. I took so many photos there. So many interesting things! BTW, I just started reading a photography book. I think it is time I learned more technique instead of just using my point and shoot. It will take me awhile to get through but I’m excited and want to start using my husband’s “big” camera. The only hard part is when I do certain traveling having different lens won’t be easy. But I’m going to at least try!
Hey! What an interesting blog! I am sure you must have experienced something so different from all your travels there. Creepy and good sights!
It is such hidden treasures that one finds that inspires the other one to travel more and keep discovering more and more of such corners!
Thank you for this:) keep going!
Thanks so much for the nice comment! I try to wonder off the beaten path as much as possible and blogging has made me do even more! So I think my blog for getting me to explore the unusual things in the world! 🙂
That is great! Will be glued to your blog now to discover more places:)
Thanks so much! So happy you enjoyed! 🙂
Whoa! I love the witches’ market. Now that’s my kind of place! There is a town in Nicaragua, Dioramba, where the witches
( brujas) live and work. They even have Bruja tours. I can’t wait to go. The spells and herbal potions fascinate me. Thanks for the vivid tour of the colorful markets.
That would be fantastic Debbie, to see the Bruja! Wow….you’ve got to go and take pictures so I can see it! 🙂
You got so many great photos, Nicole. I’m always a bit shy to take photos of merchandise when I’m not buying. 🙂
Yes that is a good point. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking my photos without causing much attention. If I’m standing far away, I can zoom in holding my camera down but looking through the large digital screen. Then it isn’t as obvious. I just love to capture everything when I travel. 🙂
I love all the color! And yes, I totally agree that the markets are some of the most insightful experiences on a trip! Xxx
Thanks so much for your comment. I loved the colors of Bolivia. 🙂
Amazing colors Nicole! Not so sure about the witches market. Wow!
So colourful. Those pinks!!
I love how you get under the skin of every place you visit. Such an interesting post Nicole. 🙂
Oh thanks so much LuAnn!!! I am going to Haiti in about two weeks! A social good blogging trip and I’m really looking forward to it! 🙂