The alternative Christmas souvenir shopping guide in South America
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Travel to South America around this time of the year and you’ll undoubtedly be searching for a guide to super cool markets where you can do all your Christmas souvenir shopping. Eerr…this is not that kind of guide. From the occult to the bizarre, the unstomachable and the downright delicious: the most unusual markets to visit on your South America travels are there to amuse, inspire, shock and awe. You may not find much to bring home, perhaps, but you will find plenty to keep you enthralled.
Witches Market, La Paz, Bolivia
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The name alone conjures up visions of voodoo dolls and mysterious potions and if you think we’re exaggerating, well, why not come on over and take a look for yourself? Renowned as one of the most bizarre markets on our planet, the Witches Markets of La Paz is replete with desiccated frogs and snakes, fortune-tellers, witch-doctors (ready to conjure up a curse for your enemies for just a few bucks) and an endless array of lotions, potions and talismans meant to bring you untold goof fortune, prosperity and infinite fertility. The most famous and unpalatable items for sale are dried llama foetus (which look as delightful as they sound) Used by locals and buried in a new dwelling’s foundation during construction. This is apparently meant to guarantee good luck to both the builders and eventual home occupants.
Know someone who’s giving a housewarming party? Why not bring them a dried llama foetus for good luck from your South America travels?! Surely that’ll go down a treat!
Belen Markets, Iquitos, Peru
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Over half a million people live in the Amazonian hub of Iquitos, a bustling town that’s popular with foreign visitors (as the best base for Amazonian journeys in Peru) and with locals, who converge here to trade in all sorts of Amazonian delights (and a few unspeakables). The Belem Markets offer an insight into the amazing produce that comes out of the jungle: from fruits, herbs and magical potions to crafts and artefacts made by indigenous hands.
So far, so good.
Sadly, the Belem Markets are also a local hub for illegal wildlife trading and there are some sellers here that are known as the Wildlife Butchers of Belem. The back of the markets is where many endangered species are for sale, including a host of exotic birds and monkeys. This market can be confronting, to say the least, and highlights the continuing problems endangered species face.
The indigenous tribes living in the Amazon are still allowed to hunt and consume wildlife, although selling the meat is highly illegal. But as is often the case, old habits die hard, most especially in some of the world’s most remote locations. Given the nature of this trading market, visiting alone without a local guide is not recommended, so make sure you have a guide with you at all times.
Liniers Market, Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Touted for being the largest market of its kind on earth, Liniers covers an area of over 34ha and is the country’s main livestock trading centre, where over 20% of Argentina’s prized cattle is bought and sold. The markets have been going strong for over a century and have an impressive trading range of over 2000km. Granted that in a country the size of Argentina, and such a mighty beef producer, that’s probably not all that much. Liniers Markets is obviously not a place suitable (or enticing) for everyone yet there are plenty of specialised tours aimed at foreign cattle farmers who wish for an immersive experience in their trade. Tours must be pre-booked on special auction dates and you can also get a behind-the-scenes tour and speak to auctioneers and farmers alike. If that’s your thing, you’ll find this to be quite the incredible experience.
Liniers Market, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Feriadas Yabás, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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In this bustling city of over six million people, you’ll find a market for every day of the week yet none are more unusual – and delectable – than the Feria das Yabás. Held on the 2nd Sunday of the month, the Yabás Market features stalls run by more than a dozen prominent octogenarians, all revered for being the matriarchs of the city’s black community. What do these lovely ladies get up to at the markets, you ask? They cook up a feast, that’s what!
Feria das Yabás is a local secret that’s loved for its celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture, cuisine, dance and tradition. The markets are in their 10th year now and tipped to become a huge tourist attraction when the word eventually gets out. Feast with abandon on traditional dishes you won’t find on many restaurant menus, dance the samba like nobody’s watching (or at least try) and bag a truly authentic cultural experience in Rio on your South America travels.
Tapioca Crepes in Rio de Janero, Brazil
Otavalo Markets, Ecuador
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The continent’s largest outdoor market is a sight to behold and is an unmissable South American highlight both for content and cultural significance. Here is a market that actually offers the best souvenir shopping of the lot!
Indigenous Ecuadorians have been trading their wares here for centuries, certainly long before Europeans ever arrived, and the markets are recognised for their magnificent endurance. Besides all this historical prominence, however, you’ll find endless rows of exceptional artefacts, homewares, hand-knitted textiles and stunning pottery painted with iconic Andean scenes. The most exciting (and historical) trading is done at first light, when farmers descend on the Otavalo Markets to buy and sell livestock. After that, it’s the turn of indigenous artists, carvers, pottery makers and artisans to flog off their gorgeous wares. This is the most colourful, most unforgettable and most rewarding market you’ll probably ever visit anywhere and if you can swing by for a visit on your South America travels, you could go home with the best shopping haul of all. Just make sure your stay runs over a weekend as Saturday is the BIG market day here in Otavalo.
Indigenous wood carvings in the Saturday artisan market, Otavalo, Ecuador
Feria Artesanal Dalcahue, Chiloe, Chile
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We weren’t really going to leave you with only one choice of acceptable Christmas shopping options and, to this end, we’ll send you to southwestern Chile to one of the most amazing and unusual markets you’ll ever see. Isla Grande de Chiloe is one of Chilean Patagonia’s most unmissable highlights and everything about it – from its houses built on stilts to its UNESCO-heritage wooden churches – make this one of the most unique destinations in the whole continent. Remote, unspoiled and utterly spectacular, Chiloe is a nature lover’s paradise and, should you include a trip to the artisanal markets of Dalcahue, also a souvenir shopper’s dream.
Excellent quality hand-made and hand-carved wares are the market’s best buys, with a host of exceptional textile, wooden and leather goods on sale. Traditional Patagonian gear, made by hand and with love.
So you can finally take something special home from your South American travels!
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