It is common among those on South America tours to say that travellers going to La Paz in Bolivia should not miss the famous Witches’ Market. This market is a collection of booths, makeshift stalls and shops where local women wearing bowler hats and dressed in layered skirts trade in occult knowledge and souvenirs. There are also the “yatiris” or fortune tellers and medicine healers wandering the streets to offer their souvenirs and skills to residents and travellers. They can be recognized by their coca pouches and ponchos. You can expect a lot from having a (bizarre) shopping day in La Paz’s Witches Market.
Finding the Witches Market
From La Paz downtown, in Bolivia, walk from the Plaza San Francisco (San Francisco Square) and leave it with the church on the right side. Then go to Sagarnarga, which is where you can find plenty of travel agencies and souvenir shops. Following a couple blocks, you are already in the Witches’ Market.
The Main Draw of La Paz Witches’ Market
Anyone can tell when they are on the Witches’ Market in La Paz, as they see the sight of desiccated llama fetuses that can be found everywhere along the streets, hanging on display, crammed into boxes or piled into baskets. For Bolivians, the llama fetuses are good luck charms. They bury one of these fetuses under a new building’s foundation for protection. Also, witches prepare them with incense, sweets and sugar and wool dyes in many colors in order to make an Andean table. Once burnt, the preparation gives good luck to a business or household.
What’s on Sale in the Witches Market
At La Paz’s Witches Market, travellers can find quantities of cheap trinkets, happy pants and alpaca sweaters along with less attractive piles of owl feathers, insect parts, dried rats and frogs as well as love potions, medicinal plants, amulets and ceramic figures.
The shop called Goya, located on Jimenez Street, sells owl feathers, toad talismans, candles, soaps, gems and stone amulets. Old liquor bottles contain potions concocted by boiling animal parts and medicinal plants. Best-selling items include boxed herbs from Peru and Brazil which enhance sex life.
At Sagamaga Street, a witch doctor named Pedro Victor Luina Castro examines scattered coco leaves to divine the future. Pedro leads the group of “Kallawayas” or medicine bringers consisting of 32 soothsayers who cater primarily to a clientele in Bolivia. At streets along Santa Cruz Street, travellers can find women selling medicinal plants such as “molle” for flu and fever, as well as “retama” for urinary tract disorders.
In the Witches Market, white and black magic apply. A sorcerer may cast a spell in order to avenge the behavior of an oppressive boss or grant a child great school marks. Some sellers say they have made ceremonies and burn llma fetuses in order to help out troubled marriages.
Interestingly, businesses owners in the La Paz’s Witches Market are mainly women. The market has been in existence of many years and a lot of the shops and knowledge exchanged within them have been passed on through women generations. In addition, in Bolivia, the folk healers and witches who do their trade along Linares Street have made the street their permanent residence.