If you’re visiting any one of the Andean countries make sure you visit a local market. I’m not talking about famous, touristy markets like the Pisac market in Peru or the Mercado de las Brujas in La Paz (although these are both fascinating) but rather about the honest-to-goodness hives of activity which are at the heart of every Andean town.
In these towns there are no supermarkets and very few conventional stores: it all happens in the market. If you’re in a small village the market may only sell food and a bit of clothing, but in bigger towns and cities you can buy absolutely anything. All markets are divided into sections, though, and I’d advise starting with fruit and veg (Meat is a bit gnarly and livestock can be difficult to take home!).
Even if you don’t really need anything, the feast of colors on display will make you hungry. Marvel at the hundreds (literally) different types of potato on display and have fun trying to guess what some of the weirder looking tropical fruits might taste like.
Even if you’re not really hungry (and if your Spanish isn’t up to much) have a go at buying something. The ladies who run the stalls are friendly, and they invariably find ‘gringo’ customers amusing. Once you’ve paid (you’ll almost certainly be overcharged, but not drastically so) be sure to ask for la yapa…
Yapa is a Quechua word which means ‘to add a little more, something extra’ and it is quite normal to get an extra tomato thrown into the bag; a head of garlic added to a pound of onions; or to be rewarded for buying an expensive melon with a free banana. Everyone loves a freebie, but receiving a yapa is a feelgood experience which will stay with you long after you’re back home.
Thanks to Pablo Lopez for taking the cover image of this post.