We love sharing ideas for the best souvenirs to buy when you travel! In our latest guide, we recommend items to buy in Peru.
The Best Souvenirs to Buy in Peru
Alpaca Wool Products
If you are looking to buy some souvenirs in Peru, then you must not miss the multitude of alpaca wool products Peru offers. Even though you may find alpaca wool products in other South America countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia, Peru accounts for nearly 90% of the total population of alpacas. Not only will you find a lot of alpaca products in Peru, but you will find them in cheap and good quality.
In Peru, the cities of Cusco and Arequipa have the highest volume of alpaca products due to their elevation. Alpacas live in the high elevation of Andes and as a result, their products are much easier to find in those cities.
When buying, keep in mind that there are different qualities of alpaca wool. Baby alpaca products are definitely the most expensive but be aware that some vendors will claim that their products are baby alpaca when they are not. I remember buying my first alpaca wool product in Cusco and the vendor tried to tell me it was baby alpaca; I immediately knew it wasn’t because of how cheap it was. If it seems to good to be true, it is probably not true! Buy baby alpaca wool products from well-known shops and not just any vendors on the street.
High quality baby alpaca wool products can cost up to a few hundred USD or 1000 soles. Lower quality products can be found for as little as 25 soles or 8 USD. However, even the cheap alpaca wool products will leave you in awe in terms of beauty and warmth.
The Andean doll is a typical souvenir from Peru. They are small textile figurine dressed in the traditional colorful attire of the Peruvian Andes. Usually the doll also carries an instrument, an animal or a baby wrapped in Peruvian cloth.
The tradition of sewing, knitting, stuffing and dressing the puppets goes back to ancient cultures. The Chancay doll for example was found in many pre-Columbian graves, hence its nickname ‘burial doll’. The reason behind it is unclear though. One theory is that it belonged to the person buried. Another claims that its purpose is similar to the Egyptian shabti dolls in that they could become the buried person’s servant or companion in the afterlife.
In any case, the Andean doll is an easy and lightweight souvenir which comes in handy when you’re backpacking through South-America. The puppet can travel along and become your mascot for the rest of the trip. When she makes it back home, she’ll make a great souvenir for yourself or a nice gift to make a child happy.
As prices on Peruvian markets are not set, you will have to bargain. Keep in mind that the price is usually somewhere between 10 and 20 soles.
In Aguas Calientes, a town that is located close to Machu Pichhu, there are loads of souvenir shops filled with beautiful hand painted ceramics, all done by locals.
They have lots of pretty options from ornaments to serving plates and bowls. The shops are all over town but the largest number can be found in the marketplace that is located near the train station. The marketplace is filled with many lovely family shops selling any souvenir you could possibly want!
The ceramics are usually painted with pictures that depict significant cultural and historical events. You can ask the sales people to explain the significance of the pieces you like but their English tends to be limited.
Prices will vary but there is definitely room for bartering. You can find similar products in Cusco markets as well but there is a much larger selection in Agua Calientes.
Once the world’s largest producer of silver, Peru still mines a large volume of this precious metal, though its reserves are becoming exhausted. The historical wealth in silver (and gold) means that there is a strong tradition of beautifully crafted silver work, making Peruvian silver jewellery a beautiful and affordable souvenir.
Look for jewellery featuring traditional Inca designs such as a chakana – a stepped cross with a hole in the centre, symbolising the bridge between man and the gods; a ceremonial tumi – a knife with a semi-circular blade and an ornate figure of a god, sometimes inlaid with semi-precious stones like chrysocolla, turquoise or lapis lazuli; or birds such as hummingbirds and condors, intricately inlaid with multi-coloured natural stones.
The pieces I bought ranged from 20 to 100 soles, but you can easily spend more for larger, and more intricate pieces.
By Kavita Favelle, author of Kavey Eats. Find me on Instagram.
Senkapa Wrap Bracelets
I treasure my senkapa wrap bracelets bought in the villages from around Cusco. They are special for many reasons – most importantly they are part of the living, breathing tradition of the Inca culture.
These natural fibre bracelets have intricate white beads woven along the edges and were traditionally used to hold the montera (indigenous hats) of the Ausangate region in place. They also make fantastic wrist wraps, and are really easy to put on, just wrapping around the wrist as many times as you can.
You can buy senkapa bracelets direct from the artisans around the beautiful mountain Ausangate. Threads of Peru also sell them in Cusco. I have 3 senkapas and bought them for about 20 soles each.
Peru’s Sacred Valley is best known for being the homeland of the Incas and the gateway to Machu Picchu. This beautiful region has a history of creativity that long predates the Incas, however. Indigenous Quechua communities that populate the countryside have developed techniques for craftwork and weaving over many centuries.
The city of Cusco stands on the doorstep of the Sacred Valley, and in its vibrant marketplaces you will find a showcase of Andean weaving craft. Bright colours of hand-woven fabrics are on display throughout the cobbled streets of San Blas and the giant hall of Mercado San Pedro. Bags, scarves, shawls, hats, tablecloths and placemats are among the many textile souvenirs you can find here.
The price of textiles varies from as little as 10 Peruvian soles to several hundred, depending on the size, design and production time. A bit of friendly bargaining is to be expected, and payment is usually in cash using the local currency.
For an authentic insight into the origins and production techniques of Andean textile work, take a trip from Cusco to visit the local communities. At the Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op, expert weavers will demonstrate how they spin fibres into threads and apply natural dyes to create the intricate products you see on the streets of Cusco. Remember to bring a tip for the weavers.
What Not To Bring Back!
Coca Tea is the souvenir you should never try to bring home from Peru.
The first drink we were offered when we arrived at our hotel in Cusco was coca tea. ‘It’s a natural remedy to help with altitude sickness’ they said. We drank it down. It tasted okay so during our stay we drank a lot more. I wasn’t affected by the altitude in Cusco so the tea must have worked. At the time I had no idea what this innocent looking herbal beverage contained.
Coca tea, or just the leaves, can be bought at most markets and shops in Peru. You’ll find it done up in neat little bags. But this is the one souvenir you should never try to take home. Coca contains the raw materials for cocaine, albeit in minuscule amounts, and acts as a mild stimulant, a bit like caffeine.
However, it’s illegal to bring coca tea or coca leaves into the US, the UK and most other countries outside of Peru, Bolivia and parts of Argentina. You may think it’s just tea but this dodgy brew could land you in an awful lot of hot water.
Images contributed by authors of each souvenir.
Find more of my posts on the best souvenirs to buy around the world.