El Mercado de las Brujas… the name just rolls off the tongue and straight into the cauldron. For some, it conjures up images of elderly ladies with sun-withered skin and charms strung around their neck who beckon you into their small, gritty stall decorated with shriveled animal parts for fortunes told.
Alas, it’s a little more touristy but fortunately, there’s still plenty of interesting sights to see at Bolivia’s Witches Market in La Paz.
You’ll know you’re in the right area when you spot the tiny herds of dried, llama fetuses hanging out the front that are sure to startle a few wide-eyed tourists.
While you might cry, ‘Whyyy, what did those lil unfortunates do to deserve that?!’ keep in mind that llamas have a high natural abort rate due to genetically fragile wombs and with the animal being common livestock in Bolivia, the desiccated carcasses in varying stages of development, aren’t exactly hard to come by. They are in fact used as an offering to Pachamama (mother earth) by the indigenous Aymará people of Bolivia and can be burnt as an offering, buried under the foundations of a new building or hung by the front door for good luck.
But at the market you might also find bags of coca leaves, great for warding off the evil effects of altitude sickness, potions in various forms and lots of good luck charms.
The stall-owners, usually dressed in the lovely Bolivian skirts and bowler hat, are more than happy to explain items to you if you make a purchase. So don’t be a jerk and just takes photos and run.
The carved, soapstone charms here each have a different purpose. Owls for wisdom, a couple entwined for love, a sun for energy, pick a frog for business, a tortoise for health or a carved condor for safe travels. For luck in general, pick up one of the tiny bottles filled with coloured wood and metal charms.
But if you’re into the darker arts, ask them what’s kept behind closed doors!
The Witches Market in La Paz is situated in Zone 9, just up the road from San Francisco Church and Plaza. On maps, the market covers the northern ends of the laneways Linares and Melchor Jimenez, the former being given the unofficial name of Calle de las Brujas.