Get an insight into the world of Aymara witchcraft and medicine at the lively Mercado de Hechicería or Mercado de las Brujas (Witches’ Market) in La Paz. Browse the collection of intriguing stalls for anything from amulets and herbal remedies to clothing and handicrafts from the Andes Mountains. The Aymara culture has its origins in the highlands of Bolivia and Chile.
Running down narrow cobblestoned lanes in La Paz’s city center, the market is often as crowded as its stalls. An unimaginable array of medicinal herbs and potions, amulets and offerings are stacked high in tiny stalls. Indigenous locals who have the need to cast a spell against the spirits will come here to source the required items. Amid the stalls you’ll see frogs to generate good luck, turtles for longevity and toucan beaks for curing sickness and injuries.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the market’s offerings are the mummified llama fetuses, brought here by wrinkled “witches” from the Andes Mountains. When constructing a new house or business, owners bury a fetus beneath the buildings cornerstone as an offering to the Andean goddess Pachamama (Mother Earth). The belief is that Pachamama will protect the workers and bring good fortune to the business.
Keep watch for the yatiris, the witch doctors that wander the market and offer to tell the fortunes of locals. They are recognizable by their hats and pouches full of coca leaves. Away from the witchcraft, you’ll also find stalls selling traditional Andean souvenirs. These include knitted sweaters, alpaca wool blankets, musical instruments and jewelry.
Witches’ Market is located on central Calle Jiminez and Linares, just off the city’s main tourist street, Calle Sagárnaga. It’s easy to find the market from the nearby Church of San Francisco and the Museo de la Coca.
The market is held daily during daylight hours. You can take photos if you ask for permission from the stall owners. They may urge you to buy something first or to offer them some bolivianos, the local currency. The vendors are often happy to answer questions about their medicines if you speak a little Spanish.