Every country has its textile, pottery or art that itâ€™s famous for. But Peru is an exception. It has so many quality choicesâ€”almost too many. If youâ€™re a shopper, youâ€™ll enjoy Lima and Cusco and not only for cheap prices. From hand-woven tapestries, beautifully crafted silver jewelry, knitted sweaters, scarves, gloves and clothing boutiquesâ€”it is a challenge to choose: traditional folk art or modern contemporary painting? Antique tapestries or newly woven weavings? Ceramics or CDs?
Soft, cozy, finely knit alpaca sweaters are one of the best buys in Peru. While they might be really expensive by Peruvian standards, the cost would still be much higher in Europe or the United States. Alpacas evolved thousands of years ago developing a fine hair with remarkable softness, fineness, length, warmth, and strength. Finding the right alpaca sweater or product is worth a little shopping around. Alpaca products, from sweaters to gloves to hats to ponchos are abundant through-out Peru, and especially in Cusco. There are 22 different natural colors of alpaca and baby alpaca makes the most luxurious and soft products.
While there are many high-end stores where you can get gorgeous sweaters at a hefty priceâ€”acrylic fakes are abundant too. Donâ€™t get duped. Real alpaca is beautifully made; the texture is super soft and feels like cashmere. If itâ€™s too silky though, itâ€™s probably been spun with polyester and if the texture is too rough, itâ€™s been spun with sheepâ€™s wool. These still make fine products, but just arenâ€™t what you thought you were paying for. The label also makes a difference. A real alpaca sweater will have the label of the person who made it, or company. Most often, true alpaca items are found in mid-to high-end stores in Cusco and Lima.
Since you are in the land of the Incas, artists have designed some exquisite pre-Colombian art work that you can purchase nearly anywhere from street markets to museums. A range of Inca designs are painted in a variety of colors from bright oranges and reds to earthy browns and stone blues. Relatively cheap and beautiful, they make great wall hangings for framing. They also make good gifts. Most artists and galleries have suitable packaging so that you can take it home with out damaging it.
Intricate tapestries are another great purchase. Indigenous people still use these today to hold their babies, or carry fruits and vegetables. In Lima there is a store on the southwest side of the Plaza De Armas which sells these delightful tapestries in a range of colors. Also in Lima at the Avenida la Paz Market in Miraflores, many tapestries can be found, of rich, deep reds and blues.
The closer you get south towards the silver mines of Bolivia, the more you will begin to see silver stores. Earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets, jacket pins, hair pins, silverware, serving plates, candle stick holders and frames can all be found in both Lima and Cusco. Many are one-of-a-kind and most are handmade.
Lima tends to be more expensive, but, at the same, there are a slew of exceptional silver stalls especially at the market on Avenida La Paz in Miraflores. Here unique designs can be found, and many are created into Incan symbols, which are filled in with red, blue and green crushed stone to complete the design. Necklaces and decorative pins are mostly done in this motif.
Cusco on the other handâ€”and even though it is still a tourist townâ€”tends to be cheaper for silver, probably because it is closer to Bolivia. But in Cusco there are many, many shops along Plaza de Armas, which although nice for variety, require more sifting through to make sure what youâ€™re buying is true plata (silver). Always ask what type of silver it is. Since silver is a soft metal in its purest form when mined, itâ€™s too soft to be used for jewelry and other items. So itâ€™s mixed with other metals to make it more durable. Only .925 is pure sterling silver, meaning that .075 is an additive, usually copper is added to make a pure 1000 parts silver. So anything around .925 is a good bet. In Cusco you might also want to head up towards Calle San Blas, will find many small, funky independent jewelry boutiques that have some incredibly exciting finds.
Finally, follow the guidelines below for securing and buying some great quality Peruvian products regardless of which town you are in:
First trick of the trade: From September to May is considered low season and many shop owners are likely to cut you a deal. Second tip: As in all of South America it bargaining is accepted and expected. Donâ€™t feel bad or feel like you should give more because they are small indigenous shop owners. Indeed, if you donâ€™t many locals will actually be offended. Third hint: If you can pay in cash, do. You are likely to get a bigger discount on the items you are purchasing. This includes high-end stores where credit cards are common, and readily accepted. The fees associated with credit-card payments tend to be higher than discounts, so itâ€™s worth their while.