| | | | | |

7 Unmissable Markets in Latin America

One of the best ways to dive into local culture during travel is by visiting a local market. I’ve always gravitated towards markets when I travel and found them to always be some of my favorite travel experiences.

They’re often the best ways to meet people, learn about a culture, and try local food.

This is our ultimate travel guide to the best markets in Latin America – the places that will set your travel apart and should be on every itinerary. Keep reading for our favorites, and our top recommendations for how to best enjoy them.

Witches Market

La Paz, Bolivia

witches market

The Witches Market in the historic center of La Paz, Bolivia is easily one of the most fascinating markets in Latin America, and a favorite destination for visitors to Bolivia.

Known as El Mercado de las Brujas and La Hechiceria in Spanish, this market is home to countless products used in ceremonies and rituals performed by the indigenous communities in Bolivia.

Some of the most common items you’ll see are dried llamas – these have a very special place in the local Aymara indigenous culture, as they are thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

They are traditionally buried in the foundations of new buildings as an offering to Pachamama – Mother Earth.

Some other things you’ll find:

  • Dried animals like armadillos, frogs, and anteaters;
  • Medicinal herbs for healing;
  • Syrups and potions;
  • Statues used in ceremonies and altars.

Keep an eye out for the yakiri – these are men in the market who generally wear black bowler hats, and who hold the knowledge and practice of the market, and who perform healings and rituals with the products in the market.

This is a great place to visit as a part of a guided tourguides will be able to explain all the new things you’re seeing and their use in traditional ceremonies, and really bring the experience to life.

Red Cap Walking Tours offers $5.00 walking tours that last 3 hours and hit all the major sites in historic La Paz, including the Witches Market – you can’t beat that!

While the market caters mostly to locals, plenty of visitors to La Paz make a stop at this incredible market to learn more about the cultures and traditions behind it – you won’t feel out of place when visiting.

Things To Do Nearby

A trip to the Witches Market isn’t complete without a visit to the Museo de Coca – Museum of Coca, dedicated to the coca leaf plant widely cultivated and used in Bolivia, which you’ll see all over the market.

While coca is infamous for being the raw material for cocaine, it has been used to combat altitude sickness and for other medicinal purposes for indigenous peoples for generations. Located just a few blocks away, this is a perfect next stop after visiting the market.

Another must when visiting La Paz is riding the cable cars that criss-cross the city – while this is an everyday means of transport for many in la Paz, it makes for a perfect way to see the city from above and get some incredible views.

Where To Stay in La Paz

Selina La Paz offers dorms and private rooms in a central location and is a great accommodation option – their private rooms are quite affordable and nice, a great option even for those that usually prefer hotels or Airbnbs.

Stannum Boutique Hotel & Spa is a nice mid-range option – this boutique hotel in a historic building for less than $100 a night is quite spacious and comfortable.

Otavalo Market

Otavalo, Ecuador

7 days in ecuador

Tracing its roots back to pre-Incan times, the market at Otavalo is the largest of its kind in all of South America, and a must on any Ecuador itinerary.

Though Otavalo is just a small town, it’s easily one of the must-visit cities in Ecuador for travelers, thanks to its market.

While the market fills the Plaza de Ponchos every day of the week, the biggest market day is Saturday, when vendors set up stalls extending throughout the small town.

The main attraction here is the incredible variety of textiles, many of which are made from alpaca fur, which is known for being incredibly soft and warm. You’ll find everything from sweaters and hats to patterned blankets and tablecloths.

Some other things you’ll find:

  • Silver jewelry and jewelry made of tagua, a tropical nut native to Ecuador and known as vegan ivory for its shocking resemblance to ivory;
  • Weavings and tapestries;
  • Leather products;
  • Fresh fruit and veggies, as well as an early morning animal market nearby – start off the day here to witness this and then head to the market.

While living in Ecuador I visited Otavalo nearly a dozen times over just a few years, and always found something new to see and experience here in this fascinating market.

Not only does it have a lot of beautiful handicrafts to see (and buy!), but it’s also an interesting window into the local indigenous culture – you’ll see men and women wearing traditional clothing and hear as much Kichwa spoken as Spanish.

Just two hours away from Quito, this is an easy day trip from Quito. Public buses leave frequently from El Carcelén bus station in Quito and cost just a few dollars, and group tours are popular (and not terribly expensive!) as well.

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Otavalo Market.

Things To Do Nearby

I always visit La Cosecha Cafe and Bakery when visiting the market – located on one side of the Plaza de Ponchos, this makes for a great place for a coffee break as you see the market. They also have delicious bagels and cakes.

Another must while in the area is visiting Cuicocha crater lake just a short cab ride away – this stunning crater lake formed in an extinct volcano is an impressive sight. You can walk up to the edge for photos, take a boat ride in the crater, or do the loop hike around the crater.

Where To Stay in Otavalo

If you’re looking for a hostel, I recommend staying at the Flying Donkey – I stayed here several times on several visits to Otavalo and it was a great, affordable hostel in the center of town.

La Posada del Quinde is an option for a bit nicer of a stay, though still very affordable – I LOVED my stay here.

The property is lovely and will make you feel like you’re at a retreat in the mountains while still being close enough to the center of town to walk to everything. The restaurant downstairs is worth a visit even if you’re not staying here.

Mercado Central

Santiago, Chile

mercado central santiago

Originally opened in 1872, this beautiful structure is worth a visit just to see its beautiful architecture alone, a symbol of Chile’s long and varied history. Mercado Central – or, the Central Market – in Santiago is truly everything you could want or ask for in a market as a visitor.

The market includes a large area filled with vendors serving all kinds of prepared foods. While there are more casual and smaller vendors, many are set up as full-service restaurants – this is a place to try some of Chile’s most delicious specialties.

This is the place to try the seafood that Chile is known for around the world.

In addition to prepared foods, this market maintains its fresh food stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables to meat and the fresh fish you’ll enjoy later. There are also stalls selling handicrafts, leather goods, and more.

Overall, Mercado Central is a great mix of locals and visitors thanks to its varied offerings.

Things To Do Nearby

Visiting the Bellavista neighborhood is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and evening – this area has plenty of trendy cafes and restaurants to try, plus plenty of incredible street art around every corner.

Patio Bellavista has a combination of concert venues, restaurants, and shops in one center, and is definitely worth a visit.

Make sure to explore the center of Santiago near Mercado Central – check out a free walking tour of Santiago to see all the best the city has to offer, including the historic Plaza de Armas and the surrounding area to get your bearings.

Where To Stay in Santiago

Santiago is one of the pricier cities to visit in South America, so check out hostel options like La Chimba or Urbano Hostel in the Bellavista neighborhood for budget options. Casanoble Hotel Boutique in the historic center is a great mid-range option.

San Telmo Market

Buenos Aires, Argentina

san telmo

The much-loved San Telmo Market is one of the most unique street markets in Latin America, as it truly has a bit of everything to see. You’ll find everything from antiques to Argentine street food, souvenirs, live music performances, and more.

Even after visiting many Sundays in a row while living in Buenos Aires, I saw something new each time I visited. This is a must on any Buenos Aires itinerary!

One of the main categories of items you’ll find for sale in the market is antiques – while the market offers so much now, checking out the antique books, jewelry, home goods, and more is like visiting an open-air museum in the city.

Antique stalls are spread throughout the market, but the most interesting items are found in Plaza Dorrego.

Some other things you’ll find:

  • Yerba Mate gourds and straws – if you want to try the very Argentine tea yerba mate while here (I love it!) this is the place to get an inexpensive gourd and straw;
  • Leather goods like belts, purses, and jackets;
  • Home goods;
  • Soccer jerseys;
  • Gourmet foods.

The easiest way to visit this market is by starting in the Plaza de Mayo, which at the heart of the city is easily accessible by most bus lines and the subway. The market starts at the Plaza de Mayo and runs down the Calle Defensa at the south end of the square.

Don’t leave the San Telmo market without getting your hands on some choripan! This simple but magical Argentine street food of grilled sausage split open on white bread with chimichurri sauce is sold out of parking lots repurposed on Sundays as outdoor eateries for marketgoers.

Things To Do Nearby

San Telmo is conveniently located just steps away from Puerto Madero, once a gritty port area of the city turned into one of the most upscale areas of the city with massive redevelopment projects.

This area is home to some of the city’s nicest bars, cafes, and restaurants. You’ll also get to see Puente de la Mujer, a beautiful pedestrian bridge crossing the port.

Beyond Puerto Madero is the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, a peaceful ecological reserve along the water. This is a favorite place to escape the city and enjoy nature, and it also has some of the most beautiful views of the city skyline. Renting a bike here is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Whether you want to stay close or explore the rest of the city, there are plenty of things to do in Buenos Aires to keep you busy for days, or even weeks. The city is a popular digital nomad hotspot in Latin America for this exact reason.

Read More: 31 Best Things To Do in Buenos Aires

Where To Stay in Buenos Aires

Anselmo Buenos Aires is a total hidden gem in Buenos Aires, located just a few blocks from the San Telmo market, which is an excellent area of the city.

It is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, and feels totally modern and luxurious – but at under $75 a night it’s a total steal.

Palermo is where to stay in Buenos Aires for endless restaurants, bars, cafes, and nightlife.

Selina is a chain of upscale hostels in Latin America with plenty of beautiful and spacious private rooms as well, and their Buenos Aires site is a great choice. It is an excellent choice in this neighborhood and friendly for all budgets.

Read More: Where to Stay in Buenos Aires + Best Buenos Aires Neighborhoods

Chichicastenango Market

Guatemala

If you’re interested in textiles, you don’t want to miss this market! Located in the small town of Chichicastenango in the highlands of Guatemala, a visit to this market ensures travelers get a close-up look at the incredible textiles and embroidery that have made Guatemalan artisans world famous.

One of the main things you’ll see here is the array of intricately embroidered huipils, the embroidered blouses worn by indigenous women in the highlands.

Each embroidery style and design corresponds with an area and indigenous group, so they’re very important for indigenous identity and culture.

While the embroidery and vast array of textile designs make Chichicastenango easily one of the best markets in the Americas for textiles, this market has a lot more to offer as well. The market also has a mix of produce, local products, delicious street food, and much more.

This is the most well-known market in Guatemala and a highlight when visiting Central America. While it is a popular place to visit for travelers, there are plenty of locals here as well, which adds to the experience tenfold.

Locals come from nearby villages to do business here during the main market days on Thursday and Sunday, though the Sunday market is bigger.  

Most visitors to the Chichicastenango market make it a day trip from one of the towns around Lake Atitlan (about 1.5 hours drive), or from Guatemala City or Antigua (about 3 hours drive).

The easiest way to access the market is by joining a small group tour, as public transportation on the local chicken buses involves transfers and can be tricky for those not accustomed to the journey.

Things To Do Nearby

Explore Lake Atitlan

There is plenty to do nearby at Lake Atitlan, including exploring all the towns around the lake and taking speedboats across the lake from town to town – this is an inexpensive way to get to see the lake in all its glory.

Hiking up “Indian Nose” is a fantastic way to see the lake from another view and enjoy sunrise or sunset, but be prepared for 30 minutes of uphill hiking! This is one of the best hikes in the area, and you can go it alone or hire a guide to show you the way.

There is an entrance fee of around $7.00 per person.

Explore Antigua

Easily one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala, Antigua is not to be missed. Here you’ll find tons of shops, activities, and beautiful, historic accommodations, plus there are countless delicious restaurants in Antigua to try.

You’ll want to spend at least two or three days in Antigua to make sure that you’re able to get to all the interesting things to do in Antigua and in the surrounding countryside!

Where To Stay Nearby

Since Chichicastenango is so small, most visitors just come for the day. Travelers tend to stay near Lake Atitlan or in Antigua, both beautiful areas of the country well worth exploring and part of an unforgettable Central America itinerary.

I’ll admit, I love Selina – this chain of upscale hostels is such a great option for dorm rooms while also having beautiful and spacious private rooms at an affordable price while feeling a little luxe.

  • Selina Atitlan located along the lake in Panajachel is lovely and has its own pool and yoga overlooking the lake and volcano.
  • Selina Antigua also has its own pool, plus tons of space to hang out on their patio. Rooms in both are lovely.

Mercado del Puerto

Montevideo, Uruguay

mercado del puerto montevideo

The Mercado del Puerto – or, the Port Market – in historic Montevideo, Uruguay has changed a lot since its opening over 150 years ago, and now it’s one of the must-see markets in South America.

Located right at the port (of course!) it makes a convenient first stop if you’re arriving in Montevideo via ferry from Buenos Aires.

Opened in 1868, this covered market is now a popular food hall with an old-world feel- the waiters at the sit-down stalls dress for the part with shirts and ties.

This is a popular destination for some of the best food that Uruguay has to offer. If you think Argentina loves its steak, well, it has nothing on Uruguay.

The market is filled with barbeques, called parrillas, cooking steaks, chorizo, and everything in between, which fills the entire market and surrounding area with the most delicious smell – it really is the best marketing tactic.

Part of the fun of exploring the market is watching the grill masters at work. Find a stall that looks particularly good and order up something

In addition to food, you’ll find some shops selling handicrafts, produce, and souvenirs connected to the market and around it outside as well.

Things To Do Nearby

There is plenty to do and see directly around the Mercado del Puerto in the old historic center of Montevideo. Take a FREE walking tour and cover the whole of the historic center and downtown are a great way to see a lot of the city and get your bearings.

Would you be surprised if I recommended visiting another market? The Mercado Ferrando used to be an old furniture factory but has been reimagined as a food hall, market with prepared foods from around the world, and shops. It is an enjoyable place to eat and drink with friends and explore.

Where To Stay in Montevideo

Check out this bargain in Montevideo: the Esplendor by Wyndham feels so luxurious and modern – but at under $50 a night you’re getting a serious bargain! Plus, the rooftop deck has a view of the ocean and a pool!

A great budget option in Montevideo is MedioMundo Hostel, within walking distance of the sights and things you’ll want to do downtown in the city.

Pisac Market

Peru

pisac market

This indigenous market located in the heart of the Sacred Valley in Peru is one of South America’s best, made only better by its historic, Incan surroundings.

Located about an hour outside of Cusco, Pisac is home to some of the Sacred Valley’s historic ruins, as well as this incredible market, which makes for a perfect and easy day trip.  

Here you’ll find lots of local textiles like alpaca blankets, ponchos, and sweaters, as well as other brightly-colored textiles like purses and backpacks. In addition, expect to see plenty of jewelry, weavings, and other souvenirs that will remind you of your trip.

On the main market day on Sundays, you’ll find even more here, including local produce and street food.

Make sure to visit the Incan ruins in Pisac while you’re here – they’re extremely varied and include terraces, royal Incan buildings, and even an Incan cemetery to explore. Making these ruins even more impressive are the incredible mountain views around every corner of the valley.

Whatever you want to do in the Sacred Valley, make sure to get a Cusco Tourist Ticket – this will grant you access to nearly all the ruins in the Valley for one low price. You can book in advance!

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Pisac: Pisac Market and the Pisac Ruins

Things To Do Nearby

Pisac is located in the heart of the Sacred Valley in Peru, which is filled with Incan ruins – far too many for the average traveler to visit in a single trip – so there are endless things to do and see nearby.

Pisac’s ruins are included in the same Cusco Tourist Ticket price as the following destinations, making them obvious choices to visit next:

  • The ruins at Ollantaytambo – this small town between Pisac and Machu Picchu has some of the best-preserved Incan ruins in all of Peru. The Ollantaytambo Archaeological Park will leave you speechless.
  • The hypnotizing terrace structures at Moray.
  • Some of Peru’s oldest inhabited buildings and Incan walls at Chinchero, as well as countless structures and terraces.

Check out more things to see and do in Peru’s incredible Sacred Valley in this Complete Guide to the Sacred Valley in Peru!

Where To Stay in Cusco

Cusco is an incredible, lively city filled with plenty of accommodation options. In fact, I have an entire guide to accommodation options in Cusco that you should check out before booking.

My favorite sports are located just steps away from the Plaza de Armas the center of Cusco:

These are so you’re close to everything you’d want to see in the historic part of Cusco. They all have fantastic features like rooftop decks with views and will hold your luggage for you if you head off on the Inca Trail or another nearby overnight.