The absolute thing to buy in Cusco, Peru is alpaca product. It is everywhere you go, on the streets, in every shop, at every tourist site and museum. Before you buy your souvenirs, here are a few things to know about alpaca in Cusco.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Baby Alpaca vs. Alpaca: Baby alpaca is considered more premium (and will cost more) because it is softer than regular alpaca.
Alpaca vs. Wool: Alpaca is a much softer but a weaker fiber than wool so it takes longer to weave or knit and will cost more than similar wool products especially if they are handmade.
Machine made vs. Handmade: Handmade will be much more expensive than machine made. Most of the products in the shops will be machine made unless specially noted. If you are looking at something woven where the pattern isn’t reversible that is a tell that it is machine made.
Synthetic vs. Synthetic-Alpaca Mix: There are a lot of synthetic products for sale and vendors seem to be hit or miss on whether they will tell you if it is real or not. Many products have 100% alpaca labels that are synthetic. I think it’s okay to buy synthetic as long as you know that it is and you bargain the price down accordingly.
Spotting Synthetic: The number one tell to whether the alpaca is real or synthetic is that it should feel cold to the touch. Go into some more expensive stores and feel the sweaters and then compare them to some of the alpaca in the markets and you will start to be able to quickly tell the difference.
WHERE TO BUY
Calle Triunfo: In the city of Cusco I think this is the best place to buy souvenirs. There seems to be a good mix of high and low end products.
Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco: If you are interested about learning about the weaving process in Cusco city this is a good museum that showcases the history of weaving in Peru. It is dedicated to keeping the traditional Andean weaving techniques in Cusco alive. Part of the museum houses a shop selling handmade goods that support the local artisans.
San Pedro Market: This is the biggest market in Cusco and you can probably get the best deal here but most things are synthetic so keep that in mind.
Chinchero: This is a good place to buy authentic alpaca product. Chinchero is a small town that many tours to the Sacred Valley will stop by for a fiber presentation of how the alpaca is prepared for weaving. A lot (not all) of their product is handmade (they will tell you which is).
At the tourist sites: Almost 100% of the products being sold at the entry to the different tourist sites are synthetic alpaca. There are plenty of other places to buy the same things so I wouldn’t waste time shopping there since you already have such a limited time at the sites.
Aguas Calientes Market: This is the big market in Aguas Calientes town if you are visiting Machu Picchu. Again a lot of this things here are synthetic but it’s a good place to buy little trinkets and small souvenirs.
Boutiques: If you have a bigger budget and want to be absolutely sure you are buying authentic alpaca there are several higher end boutiques in town.
*If you are headed to Puno, Peru and visit Taquile Island you can buy the highest quality weaving in Peru as rated by UNESCO!
SEE ALSO: A Quick Guide to Cusco, Peru