At most markets you’ll expect to find your usual Sunday basics – milk, eggs and bread – but not so for the citizens of Bolivia’s capital city, La Paz. Climb up a steep hill in the city’s Rosario district and you’ll find the Mercado de Hechiceria, a cobbled street filled with occult and downright bizarre artefacts guaranteed to take your breath away (and not just because it’s a whopping 3,660m above sea level).
To be fair, the market starts off innocent enough. You’re greeted at first by rows of smiling vendors sitting together in their traditional little black bowler hats and colourful skirts, the tangy scent of incense drawing you further down the street before things begin to take an eerie turn. It’s here when the market earns its tantalising nickname: ‘the Witches Market.’
On either side you’ll find wooden omens and stone totems staring out with their big saucepan eyes, promising to bring good fortune and adventure to those who buy them. There are tables laid out with a range of bottled potions featuring Mills & Boon style labels promising everything from fixing a sore stomach, to helping with weight loss, pregnancy or even performance in the bedroom (just say you’re buying for a friend). If you think you’re travel buddies might be possessed, there’s also bundles of incense to help ward off ghosts and evil spirits.
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While you can find all manner of ingredients for your next witches brew, such as dried frogs, animal bones and herbs, the most confronting ingredients are the llama fetuses on offer. Hanging in doorways like bizarre bunting, laid out on tables or in buckets, the dried-out specimens are everywhere.
Put down your pitchforks folks, the fetuses serve an important cultural purpose. They are buried in the foundations of any new building as a cha’lla (offering) to the goddess Pachamama in exchange for good fortune. The llamas found at the Witches Market are for poorer folk to use while wealthier Bolivians are expected to sacrifice a live llama.
If you’ve brushed up on your Spanish you can also try and politely convince one of the yatiris, shaman men who wonder the market in their black hats with pouches of coca leaves, to toss the leaves and read your fortune. Don’t be offended if they decline though, as they will often refuse a gringo.
The Witches Market is a short walk from Wild Rover Hostel and Loki Hostel and, in addition to being a good spot to look at some oddities, it’s also a popular place to stock up on rainbow alpaca jumpers guaranteed to keep you warm through the cool Bolivian nights. Be respectful when you visit and keep photographs to a minimum, if you can’t resist taking a photo just remember to tip the locals afterwards.
5 Things To Buy:
- Alpaca jumpers/ponchos to keep you warm at night;
- Leather pouches and backpacks for your next music festival;
- Totem necklaces to protect you on your trip;
- Alpaca blankets to cuddle on the overnight bus;
- Incense to travel home with you.
The Witches Market is a 10-minute walk from La Paz’s central square, Plaza Murillo. Walk northwest along Calle Socabaya and Mercado before turning down Calle Sagarnaga. You’ll find the market on Calle Linares just off Calle Sagarnaga.