This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Handicrafts Overload in Peru

Artesania Overload

Being in the very touristy Cuzco - Machu Picchu region for a couple weeks now I am starting to suffer from artesania overload. Artesania in Spanish means any type of handicraft or art made from wood, leather, wool, cotton, ceramic, stone, metal, paint or other material I am leaving out. Quality varies greatly from cheap t-shirts to hand woven textiles costing hundreds of dollars; trinkets of pure silver to worthless baubles. Of course, these things make excellent souvenirs for visitors to Peru, but there is only so much a person can buy or even just look at.
A high-end weaving shop
In Cuzco, there are countless artesania markets, shops and stalls out in the open and hidden in courtyards. There are large markets in Aguas Calientes and Pisaq with smaller ones in other towns. Also, there are people setting up tables at every tourist point of interest along the road and mobile sellers who lay out their goods on a blanket or who hoof it around town hoping to find a buyer in the park or on the sidewalk.

Street sellers

Big Box Store: The largest handicrafts center in Cuzco
As you can imagine the handicraft and nick knack supply far exceeds demand. The superabundance of inventory being cranked out of factories and homes and put on display for prospective customers is quite overwhelming. I think that there are enough unsold alpaca wool sweaters hanging around Peruvian souvenir shops to keep all of Iceland warm for years. Seeing so many places with floor to ceiling items that are essentially similar to what is being sold by everyone else has me wondering as to how many people can actually eke out a decent living selling this stuff.


A pile of stuff


My personal favorite: The Conquistadors vs. Incas chess sets

Llamas, Alpacas and Condors, Ay Caramba!

Condors are mythical; llamas are practical; alpacas are fluffy and tasty (according to my non-vegetarian sources). All three animals hold a special place in Peruvian culture and history and the souvenir makers milk them for all their worth. Not literally, of course (they would if they thought people would buy alpaca dairy products). But these symbolic juggernauts can be found on just about any type of handicraft imaginable.  

Don't believe for a moment that a hardened traveler like myself would be immune to the irresistible charms of these critters:
My leather notebook
Condor finger puppet

Pisaq Market

From Cuzco we decide to take a day trip on Sunday to the market in Pisaq. I am coming here hoping to see many ladies coming from the surrounding villages to sell and buy fruits and vegetables, like a traditional small town market. But unfortunately this "real" Peru only covers about 10% of the market. The remaining 90% is dedicated to stall after stall selling handicrafts stretching through several streets and covering most of the plaza.
The remnants of traditional market day

Traditional tourist handicrafts souvenir market
Since we are here already we might as well enjoy ourselves. We have good lunches, do some browsing and Mika purchases a hand woven hat band right before my head explodes from handicrafts overload.


  1. I am very much enjoying your Peru travelog!

  2. Great Blog! Hope to see more exciting features in your travel. Best wishes!

  3. Actually, the spanish word is Artesania, (with an a not an e) which means "art made by hand". I agree the tourism explosion Peru has experimented in the last few years has overflow the markets with stuff that is not always quality or even handmade, it can be overwhelming and eyesoring! As a Peruvian expat whenever I go home though, I can't resist hitting these markets but I'll rather go for utilitarian pieces like wooden utensils, Baby alpaca pashminas or sober Chulucanas ceramic pieces that I can display and enjoy at home.
    Hope you had some Pisac bread while shopping. Cheers!

  4. Hola Peruvian girl,

    Thanks for the comment and the much needed correction on my Spanish.

    We are soon headed back to Peru, do you have any destination recommendations -- particularly north of Lima?