Relaxed and untouristy Cajamarca isn't brimming with chic shops and merchants hawking artesanía to visitors. Yet its colorful central market is an enjoyable place to absorb the flavor of an authentic Andean town market and pick up a regional specialty: Cajamarca has excellent handicrafts, including ceramics and Cajarmarquiña mirrors with decorative glass frames. The Mercado Central on Amazonas, which sprawls among several streets daily 7am to 5pm, is a great place to score one of those amazing, finely woven tall straw hats that virtually all natives wear. Those sombreros de paja are famous throughout Peru, but some are so finely made that you might be shocked at the prices. I'm told that some campesinos spend up to $400 for their hat, which is their most prideful article of clothing. As you'll see, the hats beg all sorts of individual style; forming and wearing the hat according to one's taste is part of the fashion. I own two, and they're certainly conversation pieces back home -- perfect for gardening -- though finding ones to fit large, non-Andean heads can be trying. Ask the seller to show you how to roll up the hat for easy packing. Other items of interest include saddlebags (alforjas), decorative glass-and-silkscreen mirrors, and dairy products.

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