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When people first start traveling, it is easy to be intimidated by local markets, but the more you travel, the more often the central market of a city is one of your first stops. You can handle the sometimes shocking items, the dirty floors, the crazy hustle and bustle that makes you wonder how in the world the locals don’t find this to be overwhelming.
In general, visiting the central market of a city, even for a seasoned traveler, has all your senses on high alert and not necessarily always in a good way.
What makes the San Pedro Market in Cusco so amazing is that this central market is clean, organized and aimed almost entirely at locals – which creates the ultimate tourist experience, too. We loved walking through the aisles of this massive open air market, strolling past the fruits and vegetables, red, yellow and blue corn, giant round breads, delicious chocolate and bars of 100% cocoa, plus more different kinds and colors of potatoes and tubers than we’ve ever seen and powders like Maca for sale that cost a fraction of what the health conscious in the US and Europe pay for the natural energy boost. Of course here at 3,300m / 10,800 ft, there is an endless supply of coca leaves, coca candy, coca flour – just about anything made of coca at all.
There are rows of vendors selling fresh, cheap fruit juice but if you wander just a few rows away, you’ll hit the meat section which is not for the faint at heart. It’s not just the usual suspects like hanging cow cadavers that mess with our vegetarian minds, but also things like the baskets of cow snouts casually on display, which we can only assume means it is an everyday ingredient used by locals.
There are corners that sell tourist trinkets, but honestly the main attraction for visitors is to experience the way local Cusqueños live – what they eat, how they shop, and no one bothers you to buy a thing. In fact, as long as you speak a little Spanish, the vendors will even answer a question or two for you about Peruvian foods you might not know (and there are quite a few!).