Best Place To Buy Souvenirs In Cusco And What To Buy

We were in Cusco for over two weeks and got to explore all the best places to buy souvenirs!

If you had asked me what my favourite town or city was that we visited on our 10-month backpacking trip, for the first 8 months, the answer would’ve been Antigua in Guatemala.

But that changed AS SOON as I stepped foot on the beautiful cobblestone streets of Cusco. We got there over land after a long journey with multiple stops from Lima.

There was this feeling in the atmosphere that spoke to me right away. It might have been the altitude. Cusco is located at an astonishing 11,152 feet (3399 meters). But after a few days, and after doing some amazing things while getting acclimated, the feeling was still there.

You can almost smell the history. You can just feel the power of the Inca Empire right there, in the streets.

That feeling did not go away. After two weeks, we did the infamous Inca Trail. And after 4 days of hiking, we got back to Cusco. And it felt like coming home. I had not had this before. Cusco is special to me.

And naturally, when visiting such a special place, you want to take home the memories, right? And what better way to do so than with souvenirs! We knew we would be going home soon, so we started collecting souvenirs while in Cusco.

Cusco is usually the last stop on a Peru itinerary, which makes it a great place to go shopping for stuff to take home.


Best Place to Buy Souvenirs in Cusco

Let’s get down to business. Where is the best place to buy souvenirs in Cusco? There are numerous markets and shops scattered throughout the city, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: they’re all evenly amazing.

From vibrant textiles and alpaca wool products to traditional Peruvian art and pottery, you can find everything your heart desires in Cusco. Whenever you decide to visit does not matter in this case. Markets are year-round.

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The San Blas Neighbourhood – The Best Place to Buy Souvenirs in Cusco

So, what’s so special about the San Blas neighbourhood? Well, it’s like stumbling into a colourful painting! Hidden away in the hills above Central Cusco, San Blas is an area that’s brimming with artisan workshops and galleries.

Cobblestone streets lined with picturesque houses, each corner presenting a new surprise.

During our two-week stay in Cusco, we rented a cosy little Airbnb right in the heart of San Blas. It was the perfect home base for our (souvenir) expeditions!

Every morning, we’d step out and be greeted by market stalls flaunting handcrafted goods, food, vegetables, and other products in the San Blas Market.

The narrow streets are full of little souvenir shops. Each with its own different niche. Some sell mainly traditional pan pipes. Others sell little statues of Incas. Others specialise in clothes, and some have it all.

In every street in this neighbourhood, you’ll find shops and restaurants. Even if you’re not looking for the best place to buy souvenirs in Cusco, the San Blas area is worth checking out.

Triunfo Street

Have you ever wandered down a road and felt like every shop was calling your name? That’s Triunfo Street for you! Nestled between the main square and the San Blas area, this street is a haven for those who are looking for that ‘one-of-a-kind’ memento.

So, what can you expect? Imagine walls filled with colourful paintings, jewellery catching the sunlight, and textiles so soft you’d swear they were woven from clouds. Triunfo Street is where the local artisans proudly showcase their crafts.

It’s less crowded than some of the more popular markets, which means you can take your time browsing without bumping elbows with fellow travellers who are looking for the best place to find souvenirs in Cusco.

Ever tried bartering in Spanish? It’s an experience that will not only get you a deal but might also leave you with a new amigo. Shop owners here don’t “just” tell you a price, they expect you to bargain. Even if your Spanish is a little rusty, you’ll get there.

San Pedro Market

This market is often referred to as the best place to buy authentic souvenirs in Cusco. You’ll quickly notice that this is a place locals come to, but that it’s intended for tourists.

It sells everything from fresh fruits to vegetables and other food items. But don’t forget all the household items and handicrafts.

Located in the heart of Cusco, the San Pedro Market is a bustling hub of sights, sounds and smells. As you wander through the maze of stalls, you’ll find yourself surrounded by locals going about their daily business.

But don’t be intimidated, the market vendors are friendly and happy to chat. They will even offer you a sample of their delicious fruits or snacks. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try some traditional local dishes.

We all know Lomo Saltado and Cheviche, but this is the spot to have the local “delicacy” of cuy. The poor little fellas that we refer to as Guinea Pigs. I don’t agree with this one as a vegetarian, but hey, every country has different food and traditions I guess.

Wanchaq Market

Similar to the San Pedro Market, Wanchaq Market is a lively and bustling market where you can find a variety of goods. From fresh produce to clothing, souvenirs, and even electronics, this market has it all.

But unlike the San Pedro Market, Wanchaq is more geared towards locals rather than tourists. You’ll notice very few tourists, making this experience more authentic.

The things for sale here will be less like the generic tourist stuff, and more like stuff the locals actually use. Including clothes and stuff like pots and pans. This means that prices may be slightly lower and bargaining may not be as necessary.

One of the unique things about Wanchaq Market is that it has a section specifically for medicinal plants and herbs. Locals believe in natural remedies and you can find all sorts of plants and herbs to cure any ailment you may have.

Baratillo Market

Baratillo Market, also known as the ‘smugglers market’, is an exciting and expansive marketplace that happens every Saturday. Unlike other major markets, it’s mostly visited by locals instead of tourists, which gives it an authentic and non-commercialized atmosphere.

This lively market offers a wide variety of products including clothing, food, antiques, and much more. Don’t hesitate to haggle with the vendors to snag the best deals!

But be careful, as the market has a reputation for selling smuggled goods. Not necessarily illegal, but sometimes stolen. So if you get pickpocketed, come here to find your phone.

One of the things you might hear about Baratillo Market is that it’s dangerous. But after talking to local people, they refer to pickpockets. So yes, it’s not safe in the sense of pickpockets, but you won’t be violently robbed.

So keep the best practices in mind. Wear your backpack on the front. Don’t take unnecessary valuables, and if you do, don’t flash them. And don’t put anything in your back pockets!

For those looking for a unique experience, Baratillo Market also offers traditional food and drinks. Try some delicious empanadas or chicha, a fermented corn drink popular in the Andean region. It’s the best spot to find local and unique street food. You can also find local handicrafts and souvenirs here, but not as many.

It’s located at Prolongación Pera street.

Cusco Main Square

Along Cusco Main Square (Plaza Mayor) many shops and vendors are selling their goods. But some of these are not local shops! There is a North Face shop, great if you forgot to take proper hiking boots for the Inca Trail, but the money does not go to the local people.

But don’t be discouraged, there are still plenty of opportunities to support local businesses in Cusco Main Square.

You can find unique handicrafts and souvenirs made by local artisans, as well as delicious traditional food and drinks. Plus, the Plaza Mayor is a great spot for people-watching and immersing yourself in the culture of Cusco.

On the square, you’ll see people selling anything from handicrafts to artwork. But beware that some of the art sellers don’t really care about selling their art, and are more about selling other, more illegal stuff. That being said, most of them sell some amazing drawings and paintings.

If we weren’t on a longer trip I would’ve bought some to take home.

Around the square and in all the side streets you’ll find some more of the best places to buy souvenirs in Cusco. The whole area is filled with souvenir shops, handicraft shops, and art shops.

There is a great indoor handicraft/souvenir market on Plaza Regocijo where we bought loads of little items. Just 1 street behind Plaza Mayor.


Best Souvenirs to Buy in Cusco

Right, we’ve now discussed the best places to buy souvenirs in Cusco. Which means we know where to go! But what are the best items to buy? There are loads of different options. So let’s find out, shall we?

Textiles

Peruvian textiles are an absolute feast for the eyes, wouldn’t you agree? The vibrant colours and beautiful patterns are more than just cloth—they’re stories from the Inca times woven with the rich threads of Peruvian heritage.

Materials common in these textiles, such as the silky softness of alpaca wool, are to Peru what fine silk is to Asia—a luxurious staple. Have you ever felt alpaca wool? It’s the softest wool you’ll ever find!

This brings me to a relatively common ‘scam’ if you may call it that. Llama wool is often sold as Alpaca wool. Usually, if you ask “Is that Alpaca wool?” the vendor will say yes. Even if it’s not. The difference is quite obvious though. Just stroke it! If it’s really soft, and trust me, you’ll notice it’s REALLY soft, it’s Alpaca wool. If it’s a little harsh it’s not.

I recommend just feeling different materials at different stalls. You’ll very quickly understand what I mean. Another good thing to know is about ‘baby Alpaca wool’. It’s not from a baby Alpaca. It’s the first wool that comes off an Alpaca. So it can be of any age!

And let’s talk about colours! They’re made from natural dyes and they have a depth that simply can’t be mimicked. Traditional items like ponchos, shawls, and chullos (those charming earflap hats) showcase these dyes in full splendour.

I bought a handwoven Alpaca wool jumper and felt immediately as though I was wearing the Peruvian mountainside because of the earthy tones.

So, while the range of items is vast, including everything from elegant scarves to full traditional outfits, it’s not just about the aesthetic; it’s about feeling a connection to Peruvian culture and history. Each piece isn’t just a garment, it’s an art form.

Art

Speaking of art forms, art galleries and vendors selling paintings and drawings are abundant. In addition to the well-known indigenous textiles, Cusco offers a wide variety of traditional and contemporary art pieces.

One thing that sets Peru apart from other countries is its use of vibrant colours in its artwork. Whether it’s a painting, sculpture, or handmade craft, you’ll notice bold and bright colours being used.

This is because colour plays an important role in Peruvian culture. It is believed that colours have symbolic meanings and can represent emotions, social status, and even spiritual beliefs.

Pisco

Let’s talk about something many people like; alcohol! One of the most popular drinks in Peru is Pisco, a grape brandy that has been produced since the 16th century. It is usually served as a pisco sour, a cocktail made with lime juice, simple syrup, and egg whites.

Pisco production is taken very seriously in Peru, and there are strict regulations on how it can be made. Each bottle must be made from 100% pure grape juice and aged for a minimum of three months. Eight different grape varieties can be used, each bringing its own unique flavour to the final product.

So while visiting Cusco, make sure to try pisco and savour the history and craftsmanship behind this popular drink!

Coffee

More on drinks, but now a caffeine buzz instead of an alcohol one. While most people think of Colombia when it comes to coffee, Peru is actually one of the largest producers of coffee in the world. In fact, coffee production plays a significant role in the economy and culture of many Peruvian communities.

Coffee beans are typically grown in the highlands of Peru, where climate and altitude contribute to producing high-quality beans. The taste is described as smooth and nutty, with a hint of chocolate.

Many cafes in Peru offer locally grown and roasted coffee, giving visitors a chance to taste the unique flavours of Peruvian coffee. Please, do keep in mind that coffee beans are a natural product, so check with your government for the rules on taking this home.

Chocolate

Who doesn’t like the brown gold? That sounds a bit weird. But you know what I mean. Chocolate, one of the most beloved treats all over the world, has its roots in Latin America. The cacao plant is native to the Amazon and was first cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs.

Chocolate production is still a significant industry in countries like Peru, where high-quality cacao beans are grown. The process of making chocolate involves roasting and grinding the cacao beans, then adding sugar and other ingredients.

Many chocolate shops in Peru offer tours and workshops where visitors can learn about the history and process of chocolate-making. And of course, don’t forget to indulge in some delicious Peruvian chocolate while you’re there!

I mean, you gotta have some chocolate. It’s only fair. It’s just to indulge yourself in the Peruvian culture! Right? …right. Nobody is going to believe you. Oh well.

Ceramics

Peru is also known for its handcrafted pottery. The techniques used to make these pieces have been passed down through generations and are a significant part of Peruvian culture. Many tourists visit Peru specifically to purchase these unique and beautiful pieces of art.

The most famous type of pottery in Peru is called “huacos”, which are vessels adorned with beautiful designs and patterns. These designs often depict scenes from daily life, nature, or religious beliefs. Each piece is truly one-of-a-kind and represents the skill and creativity of Peruvian artisans.

Musical Instruments

Have you ever felt the soulful tunes of a pan flute calling out to you? In Cusco, it’s common to come across traditional Andean instruments that just seem to vibrate with stories to tell.

It’s tempting to bring home every charming piece you find. Especially the charangos, with their armadillo shell backing, and the haunting sounds of the wooden quenas and zampoñas, each one showcasing the fine craftsmanship of the locals.

But here’s a heads-up: Some of these instruments are made with animal parts and, due to conservation laws, you might not be able to take them across borders as easily as you’d think.

And it’s not just about the materials. Ever consider the wood itself could be a hitch? Yep, wood may require a special certificate to prove they’re not made from endangered species.

So you see, it’s not just about picking up a souvenir; it’s about respecting and preserving the beauty and heritage of Cusco. Isn’t that something to ponder over? Who knew shopping could get so ethical, right?

Jewellery

Last but not least. Jewellery. Now, I don’t know about you, but Callie’s heart starts racing at the sight of those colourful Andean fabrics and the shiny metals that are found in Cusco.

From traditional earrings to modern necklaces made with delicate beads, there’s a wide variety of options for jewellery lovers.

But what makes them so special? Well, for one thing, each piece is unique, handmade by skilled artisans using techniques passed down for generations. You won’t find anything like it in a mass-produced souvenir shop. Plus, purchasing from these craftspeople directly supports their livelihood and helps preserve the traditional craft.

But here’s a word of caution: Some items may be sold as silver or gold when they are actually just plated or made with cheap materials.


Tips for Finding the Best Place in Cusco to Buy Souvenirs

Let’s discuss some things you should keep in mind while shopping around for souvenirs and gifts!

Explore your options

Avoid impulse buying and take your time to compare different products. Wander through markets, shops and street vendors to get a feel for prices and quality. You never know what gems you might find in unexpected places.

Bargain with respect

Haggling is expected at markets and small shops, but remember to do it respectfully. These sellers rely on their income from sales, so offer a fair price that benefits both parties.

If the seller doesn’t budge on the price, it’s best to move on and find another option. Or pay the price, if you think it’s fair.

Keep an eye on your belongings

Stay alert and ensure the safety of your personal belongings while shopping. Markets can get crowded and pickpockets may take advantage of distracted tourists. Keep your bag in front of you or wear it across your body, and avoid carrying large sums of cash and other valuables.

Ask for recommendations

If you’re unsure where to start, ask locals or fellow travellers for their recommendations on the best places to buy souvenirs. They may know of hidden gems or have tips on where to find the best place to buy souvenirs in Cusco.

Support local artisans and fair trade

Consider buying souvenirs directly from local artisans or shopping at fair trade stores. This way, you can ensure that your purchases are supporting the community and contributing to sustainable tourism.

Enjoy the browsing experience

Take your time to browse and discover unique finds. Don’t rush through the shopping process, as it’s part of the experience. Engage with shop owners and learn about their products and culture.

It’s a great way to connect with the local community and learn more about their way of life.

Consider cleanliness

Prioritize hygiene when purchasing items in the market. Check for cleanliness of food items, and avoid buying anything that may have been exposed to unsanitary conditions. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.

Be informed about materials

Learn about the properties of different materials to make informed purchasing decisions. Inform about the rules of what you may and may not take home before deciding to buy something. Generally speaking, natural and animal products are a no-go, except wool.

Try something new

Step out of your comfort zone and explore new products or brands. You never know what hidden treasures you may find, and it’s a great way to support local businesses. Don’t be afraid to try something new and expand your horizons.

Remember the cultural significance

When purchasing souvenirs, remember that they are not just items, but also carry cultural significance. Take the time to learn about the meaning behind certain products or symbols before buying them. This will not only give you a deeper understanding of the culture but also help you make more meaningful purchases.

A fountain at sunset on plaza Regocijo in Cusco

Final Thoughts – Best Place to Buy Souvenirs in Cusco

In my experience, finding the best place to buy souvenirs in Cusco—or any city for that matter—is less about the destination and more about the journey. Every market stall and artisan craft carries a story, an echo of tradition that begs to be heard.

Remember, whether you’re bargaining for a handwoven alpaca sweater or admiring jewellery, you’re not just shopping; you’re immersing yourself in culture and history that is unique to this corner of the world.

As for the best place to buy souvenirs? I’ll leave you with this thought: the best place is where your curiosity peaks, your heart connects, and your memories are made. Happy travels, and happy souvenir hunting!