Where to Buy Traditional Clothing in Bolivia

Elderly Bolivian | © Gatol fotografia / Flickr
Elderly Bolivian | © Gatol fotografia / Flickr
Photo of Harry Stewart
21 September 2017

Upon arriving in South America, it’s impossible not to notice the throngs of young travelers gallivanting around in their oh-so-fashionable alpaca outfits. In order to fit in with the tourist crowd, it’s pretty much mandatory to pick up a fluffy traditional number for yourself. Here are the best places to do so in Bolivia.

Calle Sagarnaga, La Paz

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Calle Sagarnaga | © Embajada de Estados Unido / Flickr
This steep colonial street and its surrounding alleys are home to the city’s largest tourist market. Interestingly, Bolivian city-dwelling men have generally shunned traditional clothing for more Western attire, meaning foreigners are now the biggest buyers of these beautifully crafted, rainbow-colored alpaca wares. Items such as beanies, jumpers, legwarmers, scarves, and gloves serve to keep away the cold, while boisterously colorful ponchos complete the ultimate gringo getup.

Mercado Tarabuco, Tarabuco

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Tarabuco
Tarabuco | © vincentraal / Flickr
A two-hour journey from the colonial city of Sucre, this bustling Sunday market is the area’s premier tourist attraction. Indigenous villagers flock here from all over the region to trade in everyday goods, many of them dressed to impress in their most stunning traditional garb. Because the market has become increasingly popular with tourists over the years, entrepreneurial vendors have set up stalls on the main plaza to sell an array of spectacular clothing and textiles. Although it may be a little more expensive than other places in Bolivia, the Tarabuco Market is a worthwhile ethno-tourism attraction in and of itself.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca

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Isla del Sol
Isla del Sol | © Omar Andrés León Torres / Flickr
Fancy a bit of shopping as you wander between centuries-old Inca sites? Thanks to some business-minded locals, you can certainly achieve that. Vendors set up rugs on popular walking trails with all the usual alpaca accessories plus some colorful souvenirs and textiles to tempt passersby. Prices may be a little higher than La Paz, but it’s a super chilled out place to shop, and any purchases are a great reminder of time spent on this magical island.

La Cancha, Cochabamba

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Find colorful potatoes at the market too
Find colorful potatoes at the market too | © kristin miranda / Flickr
As one of South America’s biggest flea markets, La Cancha is nothing short of chaotic. A modest selection of traditional clothing is on offer somewhere within its perimeter, although you’ll need solid local advice to avoid wandering around aimlessly for hours on end. Keep an eye out for pickpockets too.

Mercado 16 de Julio, El Alto

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El Alto Market
El Alto Market | © Dvortygirl /Flickr
As another massive market that sells pretty much everything under the sun, you’re sure to find some traditional clothing somewhere in this twice-weekly market. Don’t come here looking specifically for alpaca goods, however, as they are much easier to find down in neighboring La Paz. Check out the wonderful antique section or peruse some authentic traditional medicine instead.

Max Paredes, La Paz

Gringos readily adopt traditional attire such as the poncho, yet gringas are never seen cruising South America in polleras (wide skirts) and bowler hats; this has to change. Ladies, pick up the full cholita outfit and show everyone once and for all how this incredible fashion combo can complement any shape or skin tone. In La Paz, there are a number of cholita fashion specialty stores just down from Max Paredes on Santa Cruz, each offering an impressive array of colorful polleras, shawls, and magnificent bowler hats.

Max Paredes, La Paz, Bolivia