Before arriving in Cusco, I did my best to research the city and decide which spots I needed to visit; perhaps one of the most popular sites was the Mercado Central de San Pedro, named after the nearby church and plaza dedicated to the Catholic Saint Peter. After visiting the market a few times, here are the sights (and smells) that I find exceptionally noteworthy:
1. Fresh juice
One of my favorite parts of Peru is the abundance of juices that are served anywhere one might find food or drink. The San Pedro Market is no exception to this observation; in fact, I would bet that this is the place with the tastiest, freshest, and most creative juices in all of Peru! There is one vendor that I’ve bought juices from multiple times, and it’s fascinating to hear how seriously she and the rest of the market take their liquefied concoctions of fruits and vegetables. People here believe that juices can heal a multitude of maladies, ranging from upset stomachs to poor eyesight. Averaging at five soles (less than $2.00) per juice, these refreshments are a tasty bargain (in Dallas or Nashville, something like this will set me back at least $5.00).
I mention the meat section of the San Pedro Market perhaps as more of a warning than a suggestion. The smell of raw pork, beef, chicken, fish etc. (emphasis on the etc.) drifting from these aisles made me sufficiently nauseated. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, I’m sure you could get some decent meat for a bargain!
What kind of South American market doesn’t boast of trinkets and t-shirts galore? Here you’ll certainly find any type of souvenir you could imagine – key-chains, sweaters (some claiming to be made of “baby alpaca”, but I have my doubts), pan-flutes, paintings…
There are a lot of interesting people to chat with in the San Pedro Market, whether tourists, vendors, or local visitors. While drinking a juice one afternoon, I had an intriguing conversation with a sister at a convent in Cusco who coincidentally studied in the States at Marywood University. I have also enjoyed getting to know about the vendors and their lives in the city. Maybe because the market is a bit removed from some the central tourist areas of Cusco, I have had some exceptionally authentic interactions here with locals.
5. Stuff that I don’t see a use for but Peruvians like
I include this final category with a bit of sarcasm, but I imagine that a Cuscanean wandering through Whole Foods or Wal-Mart would likely have the same impression. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for donkey snouts, pig hooves, hard boiled quail eggs, or cuy (roasted guinea pig – a Peruvian delicacy!), this is the place to go.
These few categories only scratch the surface of the Mercado Central de San Pedro – I could ramble on about the plethora of fresh produce, cheeses, breads, and street foods one might find here. Although the market isn’t particularly close to our hostel (although by Cuscanean standards, nothing is far!), a visit is absolutely worth the distance. Like most sights I’ve seen in Peru this trip, there is certainly no equivalent to the San Pedro Market in the United States!