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When we are asked about Bolivia, the first place that comes to mind is our Uyuni Salt Flats tour and the scenery that is out of this world. However, Bolivia has much more to offer. Besides the breathtaking nature in this country, there are many “must see” cities, one of them being La Paz.
Even if you don’t have specific plans to see La Paz, you will most likely pass through it in some way or another. It may only be to catch a bus, or it could just be a stop along your journey, due to the fact that it is a main stop for the majority of transportation routes. In our opinion, it is a city worth dedicating at least one or two days to. Regardless of whether you visit the city for a few hours or a few days, you can not miss the The Witches market (Mercado de Hechicería or Mercado de las brujas).
How to get there
The market, situated in the city downtown, can be found between Calle Melchor Jimenez, Linares, and Santa Cruz. It is near San Francisco church, which makes it very easy to find. If you don’t find it, ask someone in the street where to find el Mercado de Las Brujas, as every local will know how to get there.
What you will see
We know that the name of the market sounds strange, as well as a bit intimidating. We can assure you that you will only find things that will surprise you, instead of worry you. The only “scary” thing you will have to be aware of is pickpocketing, which happens in many places all over the world. The first thing that we noticed, besides the smell of plants and incense, are the objects that they have on display – specifically unborn llamas or dried frogs. The interesting thing about this tradition is that they are not the ingredients of any wicked witches’ soups. To the Bolivians, they actually are used in ceremonies and offerings.
But why do they use llamas?
Llamas are highly valued offerings in the country. There is a tradition that whenever a person has to build a house or a facility that would disrupt the Pachamama (Mother Earth), one of the ancestral God´s (they consider nature as a God). In order to make up for it, that person then has to offer a sacrifice in exchange, so that Pachamama will continue to protect the land. It is said that the bigger the construction, the higher the value of the offer. Actually, the construction workers themselves are the ones who seek this kind of ceremony, so that Pachamama won’t “punish” them for bothering her.
Another example of a highly valued offer is a living soul – it is precious to Pachamama. An urban legend says that in the past, a homeless person would be given alcohol until they were extremely drunk. Then, they would bury this person in the foundation of the building. It is said that this practice may still exist today, but it is only an urban legend among the Bolivians, as well as a taboo.
In addition to llamas, other figures you may find in the market are dried frogs for good luck, condors (a type of vulture in the Andes) for safe travels, and Inca God Sun (called Inti) charms for positive energy.
As expected from the name of the market, you will be able to find witches (called Yatiris) with wicked potions that will help you curse exes, current partners, or politicians. We (fortunately) haven’t had the need to use them, so we can’t exactly assure you if they work or not. Besides that, the Witches market shouldn’t be too scary!
Apart from superstitious products, you will also find very practical things. Something to take note of while traveling in Bolivia is the altitude and cold climate. If you are not used to it, you may experience some altitude sickness. In this market, you will be able to find herbs and traditional clothes for both of these problems. There are many natural remedies for all different types of sicknesses, but the most sought out product is the coca leaf for altitude sickness. It may sound strange and it tends to have a negative connotation, but if you want to understand the history behind its importance, we recommend visiting the Museo de Coca at the end of the market. It supports traditional use of coca leaves and is against its well known processed product. If you want to try chewing on the pure coca leaf, you will have no problem finding it or finding a local to show you the way.
Who shops in this market?
What is distinct about this market is that it is a market for the locals, rather than one for tourists. Although it is highly visited by tourists, the majority of the clients are locals. With that being said, don’t be surprised if when you ask for the llamas or dried frogs, they tell you that you’re one of the few tourists to even mention those items. Normally, they only sell Inti charms or clothes to visitors.
The market has a calm atmosphere that radically changes close to January 24th of every year, which is the Alasitas Fair. Many locals come here to buy the items they want for the festival. At this fair, they use the goods to pray for what they want in the coming years.
As you can see in La Paz and the country as a whole, traditional beliefs are mixed with the contemporary (like Christianity). This creates a religious syncretism and a unique mysticism, which is perfectly reflected in the witches market.
And of course, if during your trip to Bolivia you are thinking of visiting Uyuni Salt Flats, don’t hesitate to contact us. We have chosen the best local agencies to ensure the best prices.
To finish, the only thing we have to say is getting out, get to know locals, explore the country and enjoy!