Whether youâ€™re on a year-long sojourn or just there to see the great Lake Titicaca, Bolivia is THE spot to shop. While itâ€™s not known for high-end purchases, you will be pleasantly surprised at the inexpensive costs and abundance of authentic goods. From multi-street markets to local tiendas, in large cities like La Paz and small towns such as Coroico, filling in that extra space in your luggage will not be an issue.Â
What to buy? Bolivia is known for its artesania, handcrafted goods made by local people with local materials. The crafts can come in all shapes and sizes, from hand-painted salt and pepper shakers to table clothes, ponchos, jewelry and more. While art isnâ€™t exactly Boliviaâ€™s forte, you can also pick up prints or originals, either in the streets sold by vendors or in the galleries of La Pazâ€™s Saganaga area. The most popular art is often lifelike drawings of the local indigenous, or watercolors of chismosas--â€śgossipingâ€ť women who wear long, black braids, skirts, ponchos and large Panama hats to cover their faces. Other goodies to pick up include embroidered leather (purses, belts, briefcases, etcetera), chess sets (Andean Indian verses Spanish Conquistador), wine from Tarija, chocolate from Sucre, and really anything else that catches your eye!Â
If youâ€™re looking for an authentic Bolivian style, check out some of the bowler hats or multilayered skirts called polleras, both which the cholitas, or indigenous women, don for cultural custom and ever day wear. These genuine Bolivian fashions arenâ€™t for everyone, however, so if youâ€™re in search of another popular trend, alpacaâ€™s got you covered. Socks, gloves, hats, sweaters, leg warmers, ponchos--you name it, they sell it.... 100% alpaca, or at least so promised.Â
What not to buy? As it is illegal to bring any plants or animals out of Bolivia and into other countries, itâ€™s best not to purchase any medicinal plants, pets or livestock. So, while it might be tempting to pick up a llama fetus at the Witches Market in La Paz, donâ€™t expect to get it through customs.Â
Another tempting item is of course the infamous coca leaf. If you plan to stay within Bolivia, it is OK to purchase small amounts of coca leaves, for altitude sickness, upset stomach, tea, chewing, and whatnot. However, you are NOT allowed to bring coca out of South America, specifically to the U.S.A. You can bring back pre-packaged tea bags, it is the loose leaf coca you will have an issue with.
Where to buy? Some of the best shopping in Bolivia is done outdoors. Towns like Sucre, Santa Cruz, Oruro and PotosĂ, have thriving markets, where vendors set up shop in covered stalls, offering all manor of fare, from food to leather goods, musical instruments to all sorts of alpaca knit. La Paz, however, has above and beyond the most popular, the Mercado de Las Brujas (Witchâ€™s Market), located in the Calle Linares district. This long street sells strange and unique goods, jars of herbs and llama fetuses, superstitious figurines and potions promising to enhance your sex life. You also find the Mercado Negro in La Paz, a market which winds with the hilly streets, selling bootlegged goods like TVs, computers, clothes, tools, toilet bowls and more. It is said that all that is sold here has been smuggled from Chile, so while itâ€™s not exactly â€ślegalâ€ť, even the Bolivian police offer do some shopping in these parts. For other decent but not-so-legit products, try the border town of VillazĂłn or Oruro or Tupizaâ€™s town markets.Â
How to buy? Bargaining is A-OK in Bolivia, in fact it is expected in most markets and even sometimes tiendas. You will hear the vendors offering a descuento, or discount, and itâ€™s best to try your luck even lower than their bid. A couple tips on bargaining: If you donâ€™t speak Spanish, ask for a calculadora to type your offering price rather than miscommunicating in Spanglish. Try to buy in bulk, as you are more likely to get a discount that way. Get a feel for the place you are in, who is shopping there, what the personnel is like, to make sure it is appropriate for bartering--you may be able to do so at hair salons or gift shops, but not necessarily the super market.Â
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