When it comes to markets in Cusco, San Pedro and San Blas take the limelight in most tourist guides. Every Saturday, however, something incredible happens along the city’s Avenida Ejercito: once of the city’s biggest roads becomes impassable by car, and is instead drowned in hundreds of blue tarps selling anything from donkey fat to severed doll heads. Here’s everything you need to know about Sabado Baratillo, Cusco’s craziest flea market.
What is Sabado Baratillo?
Affectionately known as Cusco’s “smuggler’s market”, Baratillo is one of Peru’s biggest, busiest, and most varied ferias. Unlike San Pedro, Sabado Baratillo is first and foremost a market by locals, for locals. Instead of llama keyrings, alpaca jumpers, and Machu Pichu fridge magnets, this place is largely about selling dirt-cheap, everyday practical stuff – some of which you probably didn’t even know you needed.
Spreading out over Calle Prolongación Pera, Avenida Ejercito, and Santiago Bridge, regulars start setting up their stalls as early as 3 am to bag their favorite spot. Shortly after, the market’s first buyers arrive to get the best goods at the best prices before the crowds arrive.
By 10 am, the tiny blue-tarped alleyways are packed with locals looking to buy anything from home-made cheese and sacks of potatoes to spare car parts. By this time, many sellers are forced to spread out onto adjoining streets, selling their goods on blue tarps on the floor wherever they can find space.
What can you buy?
Everything and anything. Whilst no two trips to Baratillo are the same, you’ll always find the market’s usual staples: second-hand clothes and shoes (not always a matching pair), electrical goods, kitchenware, children’s dolls (usually missing a few limbs), beds, wardrobes, hand-woven rugs, musical instruments, DVD’s and CDs, BBQ’s, gas tanks… the list goes on. You’ll also get weekly “surprises” such as labrador pups and donkeys. The best way to describe it: a car-boot sale, on steroids.
If you’ve arrived at Baratillo hungry, you won’t be disappointed in the food department either. As well as the “practical” homeware and clothes isles, you’ll also find plenty of Peru’s traditional street food served up. Expect churros stuffed with the delicious dulce de leche, arroz con huevo (fried eggs with rice), quails eggs, rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper), and chicharrones (deep-fried pork fat).
You’ll also find classic Andean tipples like chicha de Jora and Chicha Morada, as well as a huge range of medicinal drinks and ointments, such as emoliente (a tea made from toasted barley, flaxseed, lime juice and sugar), frog smoothies, and grasa de culebra (snake fat/oil).
Should I visit?
Absolutely! If you’re looking for a glimpse into a locals-only, what-you-see-is-what-you-get Latin American market, then this is your chance. Yes, it’s cramped; yes, it’s noisy; and yes, it’s probably a little stressful – but it’s an experience that’s totally worth all of that. Plus, if you are by any chance in need of some cogs, a Singer sewing machine, or a rusty bike wheel, this is probably the cheapest you’re ever going to get it.
In all seriousness, don’t underestimate it. Baratillo market is a great place to buy top-quality textiles and artisanal products at a fraction of the price that you would normally pay in some of Cusco’s touristy souvenir shops. Aside from all of that, it’s a great day out!
How do I visit?
Visiting Baratillo market is easy. If you’re staying close to Cusco’s Plaza de Armas or the San Blas neighborhood, you can walk to the market in just 10-15 minutes. In fact, it’s much easier to walk there as it’s impossible for taxis to get down the closed Avenida Ejercito on Saturdays. There’s no real order to the market, so just pick a street and get stuck in! If you want to avoid the mad rush, it’s probably best to go near closing time (around 5 pm). As with any busy market, be mindful of your bags and pockets.