Just blocks from Cusco’s elegant Plaza de Armas, Mercado de San Pedro bustles with the air of a typical Peruvian market. Vendors sell everything from salted alpaca to birthday balloons to dried mescaline.
Mercado de San Pedro is one of Cusco’s most famous, most visited markets. It’s easily accessible on foot from the city center and thrives with local shoppers and tourist voyeurs seven days a week. In the blocks leading up to Mercado de San Pedro you see, smell, and hear the market literally oozing at its seems.
Vendors and hawkers fill the sidewalk selling just about anything you can imagine from ball point pens to dried starfish. Various food vendors hold court in the gaps between blankets, creating a undeniably attractive aroma of simple Peruvian delights.
These street spreads are a glimmer of what waits inside the stone structure that is Mercado de San Pedro. It’s not just a market but a full on community center. Mercado de San Pedro is no tourist attraction. Sure you can buy the same art, clothing, bags and souvenirs for sale throughout Cusco, but make no mistake, this is a serious market. A serious market for serious shopping, and, we’ve heard, serious pickpocketing. Visit Mercado de San Pedro mid-day with friends to watch your back. We didn’t have any trouble, but the market is notorious.
Inside Mercado de San Pedro, narrow alleyways bottleneck with people in every direction. Vendors clamor to make sales, shoppers haggle over prices, children run amuck. Mercado de San Pedro is its own wonderful world. Juan, one of our stellar Inca Trail guides later said, “Cusco has three faces: the face of Plaza de Armas, the face of Mercado de San Pedro, and the face of the hills.”
Farmers, salesmen, chefs, and shamans—someone at Mercado de San Pedro sells everything the people of Cusco want or need. It’s all here in one city block. The bounty reflects the Quechua people and Andean land. Walking through Mercado de San Pedro is as informative as an afternoon at the Smithsonian.
As with any large social group, Mercado de San Pedro has a hierarchy that’s hard to read as an outsider. There’s a divide between outdoor and indoor vendors. Inside the market, there’s another divide. Most vendors have permanent stalls, but some cluster, selling their wares on the floor.
Beyond the selection of produce, meat, cheese, spices, and other food stuff, a thriving holistic medicine scene enthralled us. Natural meds are popular throughout Peru, and Mercado de San Pedro is awash in herbaceous options to ingest, steep, and bathe with. With a bit asking around, it’s even possible to pick up commonly used hallucinogenic spiritual substances like the cactus San Pedro and Ayahuasca.