There is so much more to do in Cusco, Peru than just climbing up Machu Picchu. From the ruins in Pisac to the gorgeous artwork inside the churches, the beautiful city of Cusco is teaming with things to do. One of my favorites (a little known secret) was the Baratillo market.
Affectionately known as “the smuggler’s market,” the Sabado Baratillo is one of the most vast and varied markets in Peru. Like the name suggests, a number of the things in this market were smuggled or stolen.
Basically, Baratillo is a black market. But it’s like a safe black market that won’t get you deported or in trouble.
So why should you go? Because unlike most of the other markets that guidebooks will send you to, the smugglers market is not geared toward tourists. It is run by locals for locals – and as a result, it is one of the most authentic markets in Peru. We only saw one other tourist in the market that entire morning. It was nice to see the “real” Cusco.
Instead of silly alpaca hats, they sell second-hand clothing. Instead of Peruvian refrigerator magnets, they sell assorted shoes (some without a pair). Every Saturday morning, vendors gather and locals shop.
Each vendor has a small table (or tarp) where they sell their goodies. Bargaining is second nature for the locals and encouraged for tourists. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t knock down the price too far – even the “foreigner” price is cheaper than most other places in Cusco.
They sell everything imaginable: clothing, footwear, broken doll pieces, furniture, antiques, used clothing from North America, second hand-items, food, seeds, and hardware.
My favorite stall was a little boy selling a box of puppies. I didn’t buy one, but he let me play with one of the puppies for a couple of minutes, guilt-free.
When to go to the Baratillo:
Every Saturday morning, hundreds of vendors gather over Calle Ejercito to sell second hand, counterfeit, smuggled, or “other” things. It is only on Saturday morning, though, so if you’re not in Cusco on a Saturday morning, you’re out of luck.
The market opens early in the morning; we got there at about 8am and it was already in full swing. It typically starts to wind down after lunch, but sometimes lasts all day.
How to get to the Sabado Baratillo (Smuggler’s Market):
Take a taxi. [There are busses who go to the smuggler’s market, but none went near our hostel]
It shouldn’t cost more than 3 or 4 soles to get to the market, regardless of where in the city you catch a taxi. Tell the taxi “Sabado Baratillo in Calle Ejericito” and he will take you to the most crowded section of the market.
If you want to walk, it is a straight shot (about 15 min walk) from the Plaza de Armas.
Things to know before you go to the Smuggler’s Market:
First of all, it’s called the “smuggler’s market.” It’s not the safest place in Cusco, especially for tourists with fancy cameras, backpacks, and easy-to-access purses. Watch your bags and wallets carefully.
If you bring a backpack, keep it in front of you. If you bring a wallet, make sure it is well hidden and difficult to retrieve. My husband had a little boy follow him around for a couple streets hugging him (and trying to push his hand into his pocket). If you bring a camera, don’t flaunt it around.
And, if you choose to take pictures, try to be a bit discreet about it.
His Japanese guidebook told him that if you had your wallet or belongings stolen during the week, you could try to find and re-buy them at the smuggler’s market on Saturday. I’m not sure how accurate this is; but it rings true.
Lastly, try not to get in the way too much. These people are (trying to) run a business. Respect that and you should be fine.
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