Cusco is Peru's acknowledged center of handicraft production, especially hand-woven textiles, and along with Lima the country's premier shopping destination. Many Cusqueño artisans still employ ancient weaving techniques, and they produce some of the finest textiles in South America. Peru's top tourist draw overflows with shops stuffed with colorful, enticing wares. From tiny one-person shops to large markets with dozens of stalls, there are few better places to shop than Cusco for excellent-value Andean handicrafts.
Items to look for (though you certainly won't have to look too hard because shopping opportunities are pretty much everywhere you turn) include alpaca-wool sweaters, shawls, gloves, hats, scarves, blankets, ponchos (in fact, there are so many cool and cheap cold-weather items here that many people end up replacing the things they've brought for the chilly nights); silver jewelry; antique blankets and textiles, beautiful but pricey; woodcarvings, especially nicely carved picture frames; fine ceramics; and Escuela Cusqueña reproduction paintings.
The barrio of San Blas, the streets right around the Plaza de Armas (particularly calles Plateros and Triunfo), and Plaza Regocijo are the best and most convenient haunts for shopping outings. Many merchants sell similar merchandise, so some price comparison is always helpful. If sellers think you've just arrived in Peru and don't know the real value of items, your price is guaranteed to be higher. Although bargaining is acceptable and almost expected, merchants in the center of Cusco are confident of a steady stream of buyers, and, as a result, they are often less willing to negotiate than their counterparts in markets and more out-of-the-way places in Peru. Most visitors will find prices delightfully affordable, though, and haggling beyond what you know is a fair price, when the disparity of wealth is so great, is generally viewed as bad form.
Alpaca & Andean Fashions
It's difficult to walk 10 feet in Cusco without running into an alpaca goods shop. Almost everyone in Cusco will try to sell you what they claim to be 100% alpaca scarves and sweaters, but many sold on the street and in tourist stalls are inferior quality (and might even be mixed with man-made materials such as fiberglass). What is described as "baby alpaca" might be anything but. (A trekking guide once joked that if you listen carefully, sellers claiming their wares are "baby alpaca" are in fact saying "may be alpaca.") To get better quality, not to mention more stylish and original, examples, you need to visit a store that specializes in upscale alpaca fashions; they are more expensive but, compared to international alpaca prices, still a true bargain. The following stores are some of the best, and they all feature great-looking shawls, jackets, sweaters, scarves and more: Alpaca 3, Ruinas 472 (tel. 084/226-101); Alpaca's Best, Plaza Nazarenas 197-199 (tel. 084/245-331); Kuna, Plaza Recocijo 202 (tel. 084/243-233) and Portal de Panes 127/Plaza de Armas; Alpaca Treasures, Heladeros 172 (tel. 084/438-557); and World Alpaca, Portal de Carnes 232/Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/244-098).
Many shops in Cusco feature sheep's wool or alpaca chompas, or jackets, with Andean designs (often lifted directly from old blankets and weavings). A different take on Peruvian fashions, sure to appeal to plenty of stylish backpackers, is available at Mundo Hemp, Qanchipata 596, San Blas (tel. 084/258-411), where you'll find 100% natural hemp clothes and housewares, as well as a funky little cafe. For t-shirts with hip Andean motifs, check out Mullu Arte Contemporáneo, Triunfo 120 (tel. 084/229-831).
Most of the best antiques dealers are found in the San Blas district. Antigüedades y Artesanías Sayre, at Triunfo 352-B (tel. 084/236-981), and Galería de Arte Cusqueño Antigüedades, at Plazoleta San Blas 114 (tel. 084/237-857), have lots of different antiques, ranging from textiles to art and furniture. Another shop worth a peek is El Armario, Carmen Alto 118 (tel. 084/229-809).
Art & Handicrafts
Especially noteworthy is the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, Av. El Sol 603 (tel. 084/228-117; www.textilescusco.org), an organization dedicated to "fair trade" practices. It ensures that 70% of the sale price of the very fine textiles on display goes directly to the six communities and individual artisans it works with. On-site is an ongoing demonstration of weaving and a very good, informative textiles museum. Prices are a bit higher than what you may find in generic shops around town, though the textiles are also higher quality, and much more of your money will go to the women who work for days on individual pieces. (There's also a small outlet of the Centro in the courtyard at the Museo de Arte Precolombino, Plaza Nazarenas 231.) Casa Ecológica Cusco, Portal de Carnes 236 (interior; tel. 084/255-427) has a good selection of high-quality, handmade textiles from highland communities (in addition to natural medicines and organic food products). For a massive selection of antique Andean textiles, visit the small shop that appears to have no name, but which the proud owner calls Tienda-Museo de Josefina Olivera, Portal Comercio 173, Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/233-484). They stock some fantastic vintage alpaca ponchos and blankets, though some age claims may be slightly exaggerated. For antique textiles, there's also a very good little stall at the end of the corridor (on the right side as you enter) within the Feria Artesanal at Plateros 334. The stalls aren't numbered, and you might have to ask the owner to pull his older, more valuable pieces from a trunk he keeps them in, but he has some of the finest quality ceremonial textiles in Cusco.
For a general selection of artesanía, Galería Latina, Zetas 309 (tel. 084/236-703), has a wide range of top-end antique blankets, rugs, alpaca-wool clothing, ceramics, jewelry, and handicrafts from the Amazon jungle in a large, cozy shop. Centro Artesanal Cusco, at the end of Avenida El Sol, across from the large painted waterfall fountain and the Hotel Savoy, is the largest indoor market of handicrafts stalls in Cusco, and many goods are slightly cheaper here than they are closer to the plaza. Other centers with stalls and similar goods are Feria Artesanal Tesoros del Inca, Plateros 334 (tel. 084/233-484); Centro Artesanal "Conde de Gabucha," Zetas 109 (tel. 084/248-250); Centro Artesanal El Inca, San Andrés 218; Centro Artesanal Sambleño, Cuesta de San Blas 548; and Feria Artesanal Yachay Wasi, Triunfo 374. Puquna, Choquechaca 408 (tel. 084/255-257) is a stylish little shop with original design and popular art objects, including photography, textiles and jewelry; Indigo Arte y Artesanía, San Agustín 403-407 (tel. 084/240-145) is similar, though more traditional and loaded with good gift ideas from across Peru.
San Blas is swimming with art galleries, artisan workshops, and ceramics shops. You'll stumble upon many small shops dealing in reproduction Escuela Cusqueña religious paintings and many workshops where you can watch artisans in action. Several of the best ceramics outlets are also here, and a small handicrafts market usually takes over the plaza on Saturday afternoon. Check out Artesanías Mendivil, known internationally for its singular saint figures with elongated necks, but also featuring a nice selection of mirrors, carved wood frames, Cusco School reproductions, and other ceramics; it has locations at Plazoleta San Blas 619 (tel. 084/233-247), Hatunrumíyoc 486 (tel. 084/233-234), and Plazoleta San Blas 634 (tel. 084/240-527). Artesanías Olave, the outlets of a high-quality crafts shop that does big business with tourists, are located at Triunfo 342 (tel. 084/252-935), Plazoleta San Blas 100 (tel. 084/246-300), and Plazoleta San Blas 651 (tel. 084/231-835). Juan Garboza taller (workshop), Tandapata 676, Plazoleta San Blas (tel. 084/248-039), specializes in pre-Inca-style ceramics. Aqlla, at Cuesta de San Blas 565 and marked by a sign that says ETHNIC PERUVIAN ART (tel. 084/249-018), has great silver jewelry, folk and religious art, and fine alpaca items. Galería Sur, Hatunrumiyoc 487-B (tel. 084/238-371) sells fine, distinctive tapestries from Ayacucho.
Several artists in the San Blas area open their studios as commercial ventures, although the opportunity to watch a painter work can be fairly expensive. Look for flyers in cafes and restaurants in San Blas advertising such workshops.
For women only, Montse Aucells, a Catalan designer resident in Cusco, has a small shop at Palacio 116 (tel. 084/226-330) that features some of the most fashionable and original -- but still largely traditional -- alpaca designs and knitwear for women in town. Werner & Ana, a Dutch-Peruvian design couple, sell stylish clothing in fine natural fabrics, including alpaca; they have a shop on Plaza San Francisco 295-A (at Garcilaso; tel. 084/231-076). But the most unique designer that I've found in Cusco, or pretty much anywhere in Peru, for that matter, is a northern Irish woman, Eibhlin Cassidy, who sells her original clothing designs for women at her shop, Hilo, Carmen Alto 260, San Blas (tel. 084/254-536). Eibhlin has a keen eye for patterns and sometimes startling combinations of fabrics and color and adornments like buttons; her whimsical but beautiful tops and jackets may not be for everyone, but to me it's wearable art. Young, trendy sorts should check out the small shop Pulga, Carmen Alto 237, San Blas (tel. 084/9844-93537; www.pulgalatienda.com), which focuses exclusively on the funky clothing, bags and accessories (for both men and women) of young Peruvian designers from Lima and around the country. Also contemporary with an emphasis on wildly colorful is the shop Peru Moderno, Choquechaca 162 (tel. 084/244-135; www.perumoderno.com), with hip (and often neon) clothing, bag and accessory designs.
Foodstuffs & Mercado Central
Cusco's famous, frenzied Mercado Central (Central Market) near the San Pedro rail station is shopping of a much different kind -- almost more of a top visitor's attraction than a shopping destination. Its array of products for sale -- mostly produce, food, and household items -- is dazzling. Even if you don't come to shop, this rich tapestry of modern and yet highly traditional Cusco still shouldn't be missed. If you're an adventurous type who doesn't mind eating at street stalls (which are generally pretty clean), you can get a ridiculously cheap lunch for about $1. Don't take valuables (or even your camera), though, and be on guard because the market is frequented by pickpockets targeting tourists. The market is open daily from 8am to 4pm or so.
A great selection of homemade chocolates can be had at a small shop in San Blas, called, appropriately enough, Chocolate, Choquechaca 162 (tel. 084/229-001). Mundo Hemp, Qanchispata 596, San Blas (tel. 084/258-411; www.mundohemp.com), has hemp-based sweets and soups in its cafe, in addition to the more expected hemp t-shirts and clothing and home-design accessories. The Coca Shop, Carmen Alto 115, San Blas (tel. 084/260-774; www.thecocashop.com), features all things derived from coca leaves (save the obvious), including coca- and lúcuma-infused chocolates and teas.
Jewelry & Silver
Ilaria, one of the finest jewelry stores in Peru, deals in fine silver and unique Andean-style pieces, and has several branches in Cusco: at Hotel Monasterio, Palacios 136 (tel. 084/221-192); at the Casa Andina Private Collection, Plazoleta de Limacpampa Chico 473; at Hotel Libertador, Plazoleta Santo Domingo 259 (tel. 084/223-192); and another at Portal Carrizos 258 on the Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/246-253). Many items, although not inexpensive, are an excellent value for handmade silver.
The contemporary jewelry designer Carlos Chaquiras, Triunfo 375 (tel. 084/227-470), is an excellent craftsman; many of his pieces feature pre-Columbian designs. Claudia Lira, a Lima designer, has her elegant and unique gold and silver pieces within the funky shop Peru Moderno, Choquechaca 162 (tel. 084/244-135; www.claudialira.com). Another nice shop with silver items is Platería El Tupo, Portal de Harinas 181, Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/229-809). Chimú Art & Gifts, Carmen Alto 187-B, San Blas (tel. 084/801-968), is a funky shop featuring cool contemporary designs in silver, many based on interpretations of Chimú culture art. Rocío Pérez shows her original designs (packaged in handmade bags) at her little shop, Jewelry Esma, in the entryway to the Quinta Paccha Papa restaurant, at Plaza San Blas 120.
As the gateway to outdoor highlands and Sacred Valley activities, including mountain climbing, trekking and cycling, Cusco is well stocked with outdoor gear shops for those who aren't adequately equipped for their adventures. In the last few years, the selection of international, high-end name brands has increased while prices have come down to pretty standard international levels. Tatoo Adventure Gear, Calle del Medio 130 leading just off Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/224-797) has probably the best selection of camping, trekking and mountain climbing shoes, backpacks and equipment. Another good nearby shop with similar goods is Cordillera, Garcilaso 210 (tel. 084/244-133).
Lots of shops have hand-carved woodwork and frames. However, the best spots for handmade baroque frames (perfect for your Cusco School reproduction or religious shrine) are La Casa del Altar, Mesa Redonda Lote A, near the Plaza de Armas (tel. 084/244-712), which makes retablos (altarpieces) and altars in addition to frames; and the small taller (studio) where Miguel Angel León Sierra and children and grandchildren make splendid handmade cedar frames to order (the kind one sees on most art from the Escuela Cusqueña originals and imitations). The taller is just off Plaza de Nazarenas, at Córdoba del Tucumán 372 (tel. 084/236-271).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.