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.
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