I guess I could have put this tip under the "Shopping" category, but going to Cusco's mercado central is such an experience that I thought it deserved to be described as an attraction. Located in a huge warehouse just a few blocks south of Plaza de Armas, Cusco's central market houses hundreds of souvenir and food stands. There are plenty of fresh local produce and meat stalls, and it's also a popular place to go for eating on the cheap since several stands offer full meals. While these are especially popular with the locals, tourists have nothing to fear from the seemingly casual way the food is prepared for every stall must respect high quality standards. Our guide did warn us that we'd be able to find better-quality souvenirs in Pisac, but in general, it was much cheaper than what we found elsewhere in the city so we did make quite a few purchases. For those who are good at it (which is really not my case!), this is a good place to go to practice your bargaining skills :o)
Random Market ~
On the morning of our last full day in Cusco, our tour guides offered an optional walk and tour of the San Pedro Market, also called the Mercado Central. This market is located near the San Pedro rail station, hence its name.
I add this tip only for additional informational purposes and not because I have first-hand experience at the market. Although this market is a destination for tourists and locals alike, I opted not to visit the market because I had previously seen photos of displays of not just meat but odd assortments of animals parts, butchered animals, etc. While some may find this sort of thing interesting, I cannot stomach it. I would not bring children here --- if it is upsetting to some adults, the same could be true for children.
If you can manage the shock of seeing all sorts of animals and their parts being sold, you can move to other sections of the market and you will also find vegetables, breads, pastries, freshly squeezed fruit juice, and the more expected items you think of when visiting a market. You will probably marvel at the hundreds of different types of Peruvian potatoes and corn, and huge varieties of fruit for sale. However, there are many unusual food items for sale too such as coca leaves, quail eggs, fried cuy (guinea pig), "sangre de drago" or dragon's blood which is really an Amazonian tree sap, live frogs for frog soup, and more that is difficult to write about. You can purchase food for snacks, or a meal and eat at street stalls incredibly inexpensively.
Rather than being a market where sellers pile their goods and produce under pitched blue tarps, the San Pedro Market/Mercado Central is rather large and housed still in an open-air situation but in a more substantial structure with supports and a metal roof offering protection from the sun and rain. At least one online site mentions that pick-pockets are not uncommon at this market so be on guard.
If the San Pedro/Mercado Central is just not a place which would appeal to you, try visiting The Artisan or Artesanal Market (located at the corner of Avenida del Sol and Tullumayo) which is known for the sale of handmade crafts and souvenirs. It is said to be the largest indoor market of handicrafts in Cusco. Also, don't miss a visit to the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (located at Av. El Sol 603) which is the city version of the Center for Traditional Textiles in Chinchero where we had visited earlier.
It seems that markets and shops away from the Plaza de Armas have better pricing and you can negotiate for a better price with some sellers.
A visit to San Pedro-Mercado Central Market was to be the last activity in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, before catching our return flight via Cusco's Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, the gateway to Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Not exactly a tourist spot, but the central market is a bustling place where you can find a series of small inexpensive restaurants, juice bars, fresh produce that includes papayas the size of watermelons and watermelons the size of pineapples. While we were told meat generally is not a large part of the Peruvian diet, you wouldn't know by the large selection of unusually body parts from unusual animals. We had heard that there were hundreds of types of potatoes. But seeing the vast variety in person sold by their well worn farmers was far more interesting.
And unlike the central square and other touristy areas, the vendors were completely laid back. For 1 sole, we had a great fruit drinks made from a nice variety of fresh fruits. Since we had arranged for local guide through Kensington tours, we had a local who was able to explain the purpose of a wide variety of medical plants and learn about specialty foods for different occasions.
We decided to walk to the central market to check it out. There wasnt too many tourist at all here and it looked more like a local place. It is pretty big and toward the entrance is the touristy type of souveniers. Then as you go down the rows you get to the meat markets, then the flowers area, then the food stands. I liked it here but Adrianna started to get sick here. She didnt like to see the whole pigs, and the uncooked chickens. Or maybe it was the frog soup? We saw the frogs swimming in buckets getting ready to be cooked. I think all that freaked her out.
There were rows and rows of people selling different types of potatoes and different types of grains. This place had a very authentic feel to it and everyone eatting here in the food stands appeared to be locals
The Market is one of the neatest things I have ever seen. The fruits and vegitables for sale there were like nothing I had ever seen before! The meat market was the most revolting thing I have ever smelled and so unsanitary I could not walk away out of amazement. There was also an area where cooked food was sold that was very strange but also diffacult to leave. Many locals work in the market making baskets or other crafts and the clothing they were including no shoes is what their ancesters would have worn long ago. (Obviously only 1-2 hundred years ago)I just wanted to stay there for hours and watch the things that went on in that market.