A Word on Bargaining
In La Paz, prices are very rarely set in stone so it pays to shop around and ask for a discount. Bear in mind that bargaining here is pretty laid back, as opposed to Asia, and discounts are unlikely to be any higher than 10-20%. After inquiring about the price with ‘¿cuanta cuesta?’ or how much?, a courteous ‘¿podrías rebajarlo?’ (could you lower the price?) or ‘¿su precio final?’ (your final offer) is usually all that is required. There’s often little point going back and forth several times, unless you’re spending hundreds of dollars in one place and looking for a bulk discount. Also, remember that a couple of dollars to you generally means much less than it does to the vendor.
The most popular Bolivian souvenir is the ubiquitous alpaca outfit, which you’re likely to see every second tourist wearing in South America. It’s the epitome of gringo fashion and a quintessential accessory for those exploring the continent. When shopping for alpaca goods, you need to know the two basic types of alpaca wool: standard and baby. Standard alpaca wool is used to craft the majority of clothing because it’s much cheaper to produce. On the other hand, baby alpaca wool is sourced from the first sheering of an alpaca camelid, and therefore costs more. Thankfully, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two, even for the uninitiated. Just rub the material between your fingers – if it’s heavy and course it’s standard wool, but if it’s light and smooth, you’ve got baby wool. Baby alpaca products typically cost four to five times more than standard wool-made items. For example, a standard alpaca jumper will set you back around 70 BOB (US$10) whereas a baby alpaca equivalent usually costs around 350 BOB (US$50).
Shopping for Affordable Alpaca Goods
There are dozens of stores selling standard alpaca goods throughout Calle Sagarnaga and Lineras. All of these stores offer similar quality and pricing (after a little bargaining), so just go with whoever is friendliest, or whoever offers the best designs. Aside from jumpers, there’s beanies, scarves and legwarmers for a few dollars each, and even full body ponchos starting at 210 BOB (US$30). Be aware that the cheaper stuff is often mixed with synthetics or sheep’s wool, despite the vendor promising pure alpaca. Those determined to buy 100% alpaca should prepare to spend more at a specialty store.
Shopping for Baby Alpaca Goods
The finer baby alpaca goods should be bought from an upmarket specialty store. There’s plenty around Sagarnaga and Lineras, including UNIQUE, L.A.M, Ayni Bolivia and Suritayka Bolivia to name a few. Garments in these stores are generally of a very high quality, but prices vary so be sure to check out a few different places and bring your bargaining chip! Those after something really upmarket might prefer apparel from the late Bolivian fashion designer, Beatriz Canedo Patiño, known as the Queen of Alpaca.
Visit this Boutique Store: Beatriz Canedo Patiño, Av. Arce 2147, La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz is an ideal place if you’re looking to buy a quality handmade guitar, pan pipe, violin or almost any type of musical instrument imaginable. These can be picked up off the shelf or made-to-order – but be very specific about expectations and delivery time frames. You’ll find various instrument stores dotted around Sagarnaga and Lineras, all of which are known to be pretty decent.
Tapestries and Knick-knacks
The same stores selling cheap alpaca clothing are also brimming with wall tapestries, dolls, toys, key chains, rugs, decorations, carvings, statues and a myriad of other souvenir-worthy goodies! Most of these items draw inspiration from Bolivia’s cultural identity; with certain designs featuring cholitas, snowy mountain peaks and indigenous geometric patterns. Bolivian knick-knacks are generally cheap and cheerful, making them perfect token gifts to buy in bulk and hand out to your entire friends list.
Bolivians craft some pretty decent leather work, and you can get these tailor-made for reasonable prices. To find a leather tailor, simply head uphill on the pedestrian street, Mariano Graneros, where nothing short of half a dozen different stores offer their services. Leather jackets and accessories for men and women are available to buy off the shelf, although getting at least one tailor-made jacket is always a better option if time permits. As a ballpark figure, a leather jacket costs around 500 BOB (US$70), give or take, depending on its design and size.