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Shopping in Bolivia


Among the best buys in Bolivia are llama, alpaca and vicuna sweaters (note the differences between handmade and machine-made items), place mats, handwoven chullos (stocking caps with ear flaps), rugs and ponchos, inexpensive gold and silver jewellery, hammocks (in the lowlands) and native musical instruments. In La Paz, the area above the Plaza de San Francisco has the largest concentration of shops selling sweaters, jewellery, musical instruments and souvenirs. Prices are slightly higher there than in other markets around the city – probably because of the number of tourists who visit the plaza.

In rural areas, look for folk art, wooden carvings, tin and other handicrafts, textiles and ekekos (statues of the god of good fortune in silver, ceramic or gold). In the lowlands, Santa Cruz is a great source for arts and crafts. In particular, Vicunita Handicrafts at the corner of Calles Independencia and Ingavi, has an outstanding selection, a long reputation for honesty and ships worldwide. Also in Santa Cruz are Manos Indigenas (Calle Cuellar 16) and Asociacion Pro Arte y Cultura (Calle Beni 228), both of which have excellent selections of regional folkloric items, music and books.

When shopping, bargaining is still considered acceptable and even expected in the Altiplano and central regions, but much less so in the southeast and east. If you feel it is appropriate to bargain, be polite, patient and respectful and never criticise an item in hope of lowering the price.

La Paz

At times, it feels as though La Paz is one big shopping centre. The streets teem with vendors peddling everything you can imagine. You never have to walk far to find what you need. The city is a mecca for handmade arts-and-crafts products. Calle Sagárnaga is shopper's central, with thousands of stores all packed to the gills with local handicrafts. In general, most of the quality is mediocre, but the variety and uniqueness of the goods sold here is mighty impressive. Some of the more popular items include alpaca sweaters (usually about $8-$10 each), hand-woven shoulder bags, leather bags, wool hats, textiles, gloves and all sorts of things that you'll never find in your hometown. ComArt, Calle Linares 958 (about one block down from Sagárnaga), is the only association of organised workers in La Paz. When you buy something here, your money goes directly to the workers, not the shopkeepers. Both Millma, Calle Sagárnaga 225, and Artesanía Sorata, Calle Sagárnaga 311 and Calle Linares 862, sell some of the best quality alpaca sweaters in town. On the other side of town, you'll find beautiful silver jewellery at Kuka Pradel, Avenida 6 de Agosto 2190.

The Witch Doctors' Market

Venture off of Calle Sagárnaga onto Calle Linares and you'll find yourself in the appropriately named Witch Doctors' Market. Here, you can buy a ghoulish variety of charms, spices and magic potions to help cast a positive spell on your future. Llama fetuses are one of the most popular items for sale here. Frogs are said to bring good fortune; turtles are the symbol of long life; owls bring knowledge; snakes are a sign of progression (or moving in the right direction); koa (a dried plant made with molasses), is supposed to help your harvest; and pumas will help you achieve victory over your enemy.

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