This small Peruvian mountain town has a colorful outdoor arts market. Catering to tourists, it offers the best kind of souvenir shopping.
If you’re going to Machu Picchu, chances are you’ll have at least a brief stop in Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo). It’s the town at the base of the peak where the famous Machu Picchu ruins lie. And whether you’re staying the night or have just a few hours while you’re waiting to catch a train back to Ollantaytambo, the market is definitely worth a visit — even just to window shop.
My favorite souvenirs from traveling are the experiences themselves; so I don’t do a lot of shopping when I’m abroad. Especially since an increasingly globalized economy makes shopping in most cities around the world feel very much like shopping at home. But in some places, like the Paris Flea Market, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, or the Mercado Artesanal in Aguas Calientes, Peru, shopping is the experience.
Unlike the market in Cusco that caters mostly to locals with a variety of foods and other goods, the Mercado Artesanal (Arts Market) in Aguas Calientes thrives on the tourism. Stalls of individual vendors are hodge-podged together in a massive maze-like complex that begins above the train station. It follows the river Río Aguas Calientes all the way down to the bottom of town where it flows into the Urubamba River. We spent several hours over two days exploring the market. Bargaining with shopkeepers was a relaxing break from hiking and a fun way to interact with locals.
The vendors sell a variety of handicrafts with a special emphasis on items made from super soft baby alpaca wool. There’s a huge variety of wool beanies, scarves, blankets, and mittens. There are even stalls that sell fashion-forward mod wool handbags and shoes. But some of my favorite wool items were traditional-looking table runners, pillow cases, and headbands embroidered with beautifully bright flowers. In addition to wool products, there’s also a variety of other typical souvenirs: T-shirt, magnets, ceramics, games, jewelry, purses, etc.
If you go:
There are other arts markets in the area, such as in Cusco and Ollantaytambo, but we found the best prices and largest selection in Aguas Calientes. Plus it was the end of our trip, so we didn’t have to worry about hiking Machu Picchu with extra weight of souvenirs.
The Mercado Artesanal has soft hours with individual vendors opening and closing at their discretion. When we were there, most stalls were open by 11am and many started closing up shop as it got dark.
— Laura Rowley