To truly know a country, one must visit its markets. The food, people, crafts and activities give you a glimpse of the country's culture and how folks navigate in their daily lives. You will see how the locals talk, eat, and dress. The colors, sounds, smells, and tastes of a market are an experience all on its own. There is no better place to explore local markets than in Peru. Visiting its food or craft markets is necessary to really see authentic Peru, which prides itself on its gastronomic creativity, native arts, and ancient traditions.
The following is our guide to the best food, crafts and flea markets in Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley:
Mercado Surquillo No. 1
Just minutes away from the center of Miraflores is the Surquillo Mercado (market), one of the most popular and diverse markets in the country. It is an enormous and bustling place where locals do their everyday shopping. The market is full of a colorful assortment of tropical fruits and vegetables that can only be found in Peru, such as chirimoya, lucuma, and goldenberries. Butchers offer fresh meats, fish, and seafood from the area and around the market hall are hundreds of small stores selling everything from kitchen and housewares to clothes. Along the adjoining Calle Narciso de la Colina, a gastronomic boulevard was opened in 2010, where locals and tourists alike can enjoy a delicious Peruvian meal.
San Isidro Mercado de Productores
Overlooking the ocean in the affluent San Isidro district is the Mercado of Productores. A small, very clean market that is surprisingly quiet and filled with photographic opportunities of locals selling their fresh fruit and vegetables from their nearby farms. This market is particularly good for seafood and you can find fish and shellfish for a great price and even taste some of Peru's famed ceviche. It's a wonderful and safe place to acquire more knowledge of the fruits and vegetables native to Peru, buy nuts and sweets per pound, and taste coffee from different parts of the country, all while surrounded by beautiful flower stands.
Mercado de San Pedro
Just walking distance from the main plaza is the San Pedro market. Built in 1925, it's the oldest market in the city of Cusco and was designed by Gustav Eiffel. Smiling women and men in traditional Andean dress are happy to offer samples of their different products and will happily yell out their fresh fruit juice stand menu to get your attention to have a taste. You will of course see produce, meats, and cheeses from the region, but you will also find souvenirs, alpaca scarves, and sweaters. While there is an entire aisle dedicated to chocolate, the more adventurous can try some Peruvian delicacies like pig head soup, frog juice, and various cuy dishes (guinea pig). This is the market where you can feel the buzz of the city, see the ingredients used in traditional Cusco dishes, hear Quechua spoken by true natives, and try delicious local dishes and desserts.
Mercado Centro Artisanal
The Mercado Artisanal is a great shopping experience where you can choose from a simple hand woven alpaca scarf or acquire a piece of fine art, all while engaging the artist in conversation about their work and life. The market is safe, clean and quiet but also very vibrantly colored and filled with welcoming vendors who are happy to share their story. Each stall offers different handicrafts from Cusco such as textiles, silver jewelry, chocolate and coffee, Inca-style masks, clothing in Andean styles, leather items such as wallets and backpacks and much more.
This market in the town of Pisac is held every day, but Sunday is the big market day. It's great fun wandering through the produce market and observing locals (speaking a mix of Spanish and Quechua) buying, selling or bartering their fruits, vegetables, grains, cheeses, spices, and more. In addition, there are hundreds of market stalls with individual vendors selling their artisan wares. While this market has become a popular stop for tourists, visiting on off days can help ease the crowds and give you more time to chat with the vendors. Go ahead practice your Spanish or even Quechua!
Slightly less visited than the Pisac market is the small market in Chinchero. The market is held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Sunday tends to be busiest to visit when traditionally dressed villagers from the surrounding communities come to market to buy and sell vegetables, animals, and household goods. Since it's geared more towards locals than tourists, this Sunday market tends to attract less visitors than Pisac. Chinchero is also an important center for Peruvian weaving and you may be able to see talented weavers demonstrating the process at a local workshop.
For a more authentic market experience in the Sacred Valley, visit the indoor Urubamba market, open everyday and located a quick block away from the main plaza. You won't find many crafts for sale, but there is no better way to get a taste for how people live in this bustling urban center. This is where the local people shop and where local restaurants source their food. Everything from fruits and vegetables to freshly butchered meats to local chocolate, household goods, clothing and flowers are for sale. You'll find a dizzying assortment of potatoes and peppers. Fresh juices are made before your eyes, and vendors on the street sell grilled meat, popcorn and other tasty street food.