Since first arriving in Cuzco, I've been introduced into a minefield of shady bargaineers and street vendors attempting to peddle their wares. It started outside the airport, with local "businessmen" offering me cheap and safe taxi rides into the city center. Calle Choquechaca, the street on which our hotel is located, is not immune from these people, and I soon came to find that not only Cuzco, but most of the smaller towns we visited as well (such as Pisac, Chincherros, and Aguas Calientes) had thriving economies based on, one could say, quasi-legitimate business practices.
So, I figured, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I caught up on some Pawn Stars, went to Cuzco's central market, and made myself a student of the art of the deal. I've had some success, some failure, but I've definitely learned a lot. So, without further ado, here are some rules for negotiating in the city at the top of the world:
1. When someone calls you "amigo," they're not really your amigo. With the amount of "friends" I've made on the streets of Cuzco, I should have the most popular Facebook page since Kim Kardashian. I don't though, and I quickly learned that in Peru, "amigo" is a synonym for "sucker."
2. On a similar note, unless you're shopping in a high priced, reputable shop, nothing, and I mean nothing, is ever 100% baby alpaca. If we're being honest, it's probably not even 50% alpaca. I've been offered alpaca scarves, gloves, sweaters, blankets - the works - all for less than 20 soles. The price of a real alpaca scarf would be upwards of 70, so if the price doesn't seem right, the vendor is probably - definitely - lying.
3. Don’t be afraid to lowball. The first offer the vendor gives you will almost always be exorbitantly overpriced. Letting them know you’re not having it isn’t always a bad thing, and while it may insult them, it’s not like you’re ever going to see them again. I got a very nice sweater from Cuzco’s Mercado Central with this tactic.
4. Sometimes, the best way to get a bargain is to just pretend you can’t afford what they’re asking. I was in a very reputable store in Pisac negotiating for an actual alpaca sweater, and got them to come down 100 soles just by playing dumb.
5. Finally, it’s sometimes better to just not make eye contact. I learned this the hard way in the Plaza de Armas, where “Javier” and his good friend “Pablo Picasso Jr.” made my promise to come buy one of their hand painted, original works of art. Needless to say, Javier and I haven’t seen each other again, but it was quite the hassle telling him I didn’t want his painting. If you see a guy with an Atlanta Braves hat in the Plaza, I’d suggest walking the other way.
And, that about wraps it up. I’ll keep everyone updated on my continuing adventures in Peru, my ever increasing treasure trove of gifts and trinkets, and my increasing skill in the art of bargaining as the trip goes on.