Stroll with the locals in Cusco’s San Pedro market.
Photo by Richard Droker/Flickr
There are several sites in Cusco that form the staple for city tours and postcards: Koricancha, Sacsayhuaman, the Cathedral and other Baroque-style temples, and the artisan quarter in San Blas. But there are some spots that, although not included in a standard tour of the city, are well worth the visit. One such attraction is Cusco’s main market located in the San Pedro neighborhood.
The San Pedro Market sits under the shadow of one of the Baroque temples for which Cusco is known. It’s a bit of a walk from the city’s central plaza square, but normally you arrive there in a little over 10 minutes at a leisure walking pace. To get there, walk straight from the Square’s south corner. You will see a stone archway a few blocks away; walk all the way to it, cross under it and keep walking two more blocks. You’ll find San Pedro Market on your left.
So what is so special about this place? Well, for starters, this is no “tourist trap”. Although it has gained popularity with foreign visitors, on a typical morning you can find Cusqueñian housewives doing their shopping and locals stopping for a refreshment at one of the many excellent juice stands. If you arrive a little later, you’ll have the opportunity to share a table with the regulars at one of the restaurant-kiosks inside the market. You’ll be served a hearty two-course menu, typically a deep bowl of steaming soup followed by a plateful of one of Cusco’s typical dishes: fried freshwater fish, chicken on yellow pepper sauce, or sauteéd beef.
This market offers many opportunities to snap the perfect photo. In the flowers and fruits sections, you will find an unbelievable range of colors on display under the dramatic illumination of the market’s many skylights. But beware, if you are a vegetarian or somewhat impressionable, you will probably want to avoid the meat section.
Haggling at the market is to be expected and a wonderful opportunity to practice your Spanish and negotiation skills. But here comes what many tourists find to be an amusing cultural trait of Peruvian merchants: the yapa. Yapa is a small amount of extra merchandise a seller will give you on top of what you have actually purchased. Think of it as a gift – a sign of appreciation- and a way for merchants to build an amicable relationship with new clients, ensuring their loyalty. I’ve seen tourists be rather surprised by this. It’s like the client is the one being tipped!
If you find yourself with some extra time in Cusco, I encourage you to go beyond the beaten path, and explore the San Pedro Market.