Thirdeyemom

The Unusual Street Markets of La Paz

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.

Markets of La Paz Bolivia

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. Produce vendors in La Paz Bolivia

Produce vendors in La Paz Bolivia

Lots of fresh produce is brought in daily from the countryside.

Produce vendors in La Paz Bolivia

Produce vendors in La Paz Bolivia

Flowers are for sale too

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.

Witches Market La Paz Bolivia

Offerings for sale.

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.

Witches Market La Paz Bolivia

Yes they are real. Apparently llamas have a high rate of miscarriage so for those animal lovers, these were not killed to use as an offering.

Witches Market La Paz Bolivia

There is much to choose from within the streets of the Witches’ Market.

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.

Witches Market La Paz Bolivia

Offerings can be purchased in a package like this including candies shaped in the image of what you desire along with cigarettes and booze to please the spirits.

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!

Witches Market La Paz Bolivia

Witches' Market La Paz Bolivia

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.

Black Market La Paz Bolivia

 Mercado Negro La Paz Bolivia

Want a specific size screw or nail? No problem.

 Mercado Negro La Paz Bolivia

Mercado Negro La Paz Bolivia

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.

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

It was a very colorful place! But then Produce Market La Paz Boliviaagain, all of La Paz seems to be bursting with color.

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

As we walked on, it was overwhelming. So much color. So much variety. So much to buy.

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

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.

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

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.

Produce Market La Paz Bolivia

Stay tuned…

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

40 comments

  1. 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.
    Alison

  2. 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!

  3. 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 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! 🙂

    • 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    • 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. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Daily Life in La Paz | Thirdeyemom

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: