The Witch’s Market Of La Paz – A Bolivian Adventure

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Each and every day in La Paz, the streets of Calle Jiminez  and  Linaras are lined with dozens of Aymara witch doctors (known as “yatiri“).

Cloaked in black, the yatiri sell their mystical and downright strange wares to locals and tourists alike.The Witch’s Market (known as ” La Hechiceria”) is definitely a fantastic place to experience first hand the spiritual beliefs and practices of the Aymara people.

The best way to learn about a culture is to explore its marketplaces.

The Witch’s Market is a growing tourist attraction,yet it was not created for that purpose. In fact, this market is a real market that the local population goes to when they need supplies for their everyday religious practices.

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As a tourist, it’s important to remember that we are souvenir shopping in a serious religious market and should respect it as such. It’s advisable to ask before taking pictures of anyone or anything. Unlike a shopping experience in Target, its advisable not to touch an item unless you are seriously considering purchasing it.

As I slowly huffed and puffed my way up the steep street, I couldn’t help but notice the very strange merchandise being sold by the cloaked vendors.

The first item that caught my attention was a dried lama fetus. This is probably the most eye catching item in this market. At first sight, I was horrified, but after I realized that this was an important religious item to the Aymara, I became a little more complacent at the sight of the tiny mummified figure. The Aymara people bury a lama fetus under a new house or small building as a sacrifice to appease mother earth, Pachamama. They hope and pray for the safety, prosperity, and luck of the  new construction – something necessary on the steep unstable earth of the Bolivian altiplano.

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The Aymara tradition considers the lama sacred and they therefore procure these fetuses very carefully. In fact, the fetuses aren’t brutally taken from healthy pregnant lamas, they are taken from a lama that was not known to be pregnant, and sent to the butcher – who only found the fetus after the mother had been slaughtered for its meat. Alternatively,  fetuses are taken from lamas that were found dead on the side of the road – from natural or unknown causes .

Although the lama fetuses are the most striking product  sold  in this market, many other strange items are sold here as well.

Potions for almost any purpose can be purchased from these curious vendors. If you pay close attention, you can find a cure or a curse for almost anything. Potions, medicinal herbs, frog legs, and an entire range of ingredients are always in stock for one that might be in need for casting one of these spells. Amulets and platters of strange ingredients are available to go, for those who need help from the Aymara spirits in a hurry. If you’re lucky, you can even get your fortune told by one of the local witch doctors.

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The best way to learn about a culture is to explore its marketplaces. If you only have time to explore one market in Bolivia.. The Witch’s Market should be it.

In our modern world we are immersed in fictitious films and books about lands and people who use magic in their everyday lives. We must remember that there are still places left in this world where spells are cast and potions are brewed.

Bolivia is one of these places.

Zoe Green

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