Considering the proportion of my time in Peru that I spent shopping, it felt like I had to write at least one blog post about it. My take is this: shopping in Peru is awesome. I could have done it for longer than I did, and I spent way too much time shopping as it was. For someone like Profe who comes every year, I’m not quite as sure it would be that awesome, but for someone coming to Peru for the first time on this Maymester, shopping is prime.
I love buying gifts for people and shopping in Peru offered almost limitless opportunities for gifts. Unfortunately for any boys coming on the trip, the majority of items you can purchase shopping in Peru are better suited for girls. I found it difficult to find Peruvian merchandise that didn’t compromise masculinity (or look straight up ugly) while simultaneously remaining balanced with the pragmatism of “Why should I buy this in Peru” (there were many fine sweatshirts etc for men, but they were so plain that it seemed kind of lame to get them as gifts when you could get something equal in the states. That said, if you’re just shopping for yourself and you’re into it, sure, go for it, but for gifts you obviously want something that has more of a link to Peru).
Fortunately for me, as my superlative at Papachos read, I have a lot of female friends, so I was nonetheless able to buy a lot (read: too many) of gifts for people both from Vanderbilt and from home in Chicago. And, as now something of an expert of Peru Maymester shopping as a student, here are my thoughts.
First and foremost, ALMOST ALL SHOPKEEPERS WILL LIE TO YOU. If it feels like repurposed newspaper and is sewn perfectly uniformly and as tightly as a Salvation Army blanket, chances are it’s not 100% handmade baby alpaca. Also, almost none of the street vendors selling art are actually art students trying to sell their and their fellow students’ work. You will see the some of the same art being peddled both in Lima and in Cuzco by people purporting to be starving art students. If you’re really into art, though, there are a few spots in Cuzco that sell legit art on canvas. Obviously it will be more expensive, but it won’t be printed copies of an original being sold as if they were original. Two such art stores are located in the same complex as Cicciolina, which is a nice Italian restaurant in Cuzco about halfway between Casa Elena and la Plaza de Armas.
You will start seeing awesome stuff immediately when you start seeing shops (we saw our first real shops in Paracas). Play it cool. You will see stuff that is even more awesome and it will probably be for the same price.
Also, in general, unless it’s something that is specifically being marketed for the location you’re in (i.e. Lima-specific paperweights or something), you will probably see it later in the trip.
If you’re into shoes, Cuzco is the place to buy them. They have some cool Peruvian twists on converse. If you’re more into other kinds of shoes, there are flats and boots also with Peruvian twists around fairly commonly. If you’re looking for nicer shoes that may be less self-evidently Peruvian but also way cheaper than you’d find in the States, if you follow la Avenida del Sol away from la Plaza de Armas there is a nice shoe store on the left side of the street a few blocks down that sells nice shoes for both men and women (and still some shoes with Peruvian twists).
The best places to shop are Cuzco and the side trip to Pisac, where there is a very impressive market as well as an array of interesting stores. Chincheros is decent also; the Centro Textil has some nice things (particularly scarves) and are ready to lower the price for you if you ask for it. Blankets in Chincheros are also cheaper than many other places, but consult Profe about purchases outside of the Centro Textil because they aren’t always so trustworthy. There is also an extensive marketplace in Aguas Calientes just outside the train station. I didn’t get the opportunity to look around there much (we just walked through it to get to/from the station), but the selection is definitely quite wide and you’ll be able to find some great stuff. The downside is, if the market follows the trend of the rest of Aguas Calientes, everything will be very expensive due to the tourist-trap-y nature of the town where people coming to Peru just to see Machu Picchu will stay there during their brief stay and thus, due to their inability to purchase things elsewhere (like Cuzco), the demand is more inelastic and the stands/restaurants charge higher prices.
Shopping in Peru was great. Definitely bring more money than you think you’ll need in case you end up wanting it, it’s worth it. I’m for sure gonna feel like something of a Peruvian Santa Claus when I arrive on campus next fall with all my presents!