The best South American markets are not just for shopping. That’s not to say you’ll return to your hotel room empty-handed. We’ve seen die-hard non-shoppers lose it over a hand-woven blanket or an intricately carved tin frame. But along with the treasures you buy at a Latin American market, you will have a memorable travel experience you can’t get from a museum or a heritage site.

Ecuador_Charazani-IkatWeaving_VWe think meandering through a city market or a village as another kind of adventure tour. It allows travelers to experience myriad aspects of a culture in a single place in just one morning or afternoon. It may be a food you’ve never tasted (Grilled guinea pig, anyone?), a fruit you’ve never seen before like a spikey dragon fruit, or a sit-down with an artisan who works entirely with local materials. Markets are a venue for performers, too, so you’ll be surrounded by the sounds of the country.

The crafts people, farmers, musicians, and cooks are there because you are, so make the most of your visit and engage with them. Trust us, you’ll be richly rewarded.

Here are our favorite markets in South America.

The Best South American Markets

Traveling to Ecuador? Ecuador_Cuenca_Flower_Seller

Don’t miss the Otavalo Market
For maximum market experiences, go on Saturday when the square and all streets leading to it are taken over by vendors, most of them indigenous people of Otavalo. This is the largest market in South America, and on a Saturday you’ll be surrounded by the colors, smells and sounds of Ecuador.

Shopping in Pujili–a Tourist-Free Zone
Perhaps because of its distance from Quito, the Pujili market offers one of those “off-the-beaten-track” experiences that make a trip memorable. This indigenous market is held only two days a week: a large market on Sunday and a smaller version on Wednesday, so time your travels to allow for a day-trip.

Little, if anything, at this market is mass-produced. Here you’ll see carefully crafted ceramics and colorful textiles created by the people in nearby villages. Another plus: the money you spend goes directly into the hands of the artisan.

There’s food, too, harvested and brought to the market by the men and women who grew it.

Have A Layover in Santiago?

Have lunch at the Pueblito de Los Dominicos Market
While Los Dominicos is noted for its crafts, the market is also an opportunity to sample traditional Chilean cuisine, including empanadas. a kind of sweet corn porridge, and a mote con huesillo drink.

Los Dominicos has been described as a “rabbit warren” of workshops and stores so you will get lost. That’s part of the adventure. Most stores are managed by the artisans themselves. Buying directly from the person who made the rustic rauli wood bowl or knitted the soft alpaca sweater is an experience you won’t get in the airport gift shop.

On the Way to Machu Picchu?

Tour the Pisaq Market
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn hour from Cusco in Peru’s Sacred Valley is the 16th century Andean town of Pisaq. The market in the town plaza in a beehive of vendors. Sunday is the day the Pisaq market explodes onto the side streets, and a smaller version occurs on Tuesday and Thursday.

From plastic tarps to finely woven textiles, vendors sell goods from stalls and blankets on the street. What to look for? Among the jewelry, flutes, alpaca sweaters, fruits and flowers are delicate pottery vases, urns and pots painted with unique geometric designs. Though expensive and fragile, this pottery will be the purchase that rides shotgun in your lap on the flight home.

A Weekend in Buenos Aires

An Urban Adventure at the Feria de Recoleta Market
A short walk from Recoleta Cemetery, a must on every tour of Buenos Aires, is the weekend arts and crafts market in the Plaza Francia, the best of several ferias (markets) in the city in our opinion.

Whether you’re shopping for the perfect yerba mate gourd or a contemporary painting, you’ll find it in the tangle of aisles of as many as two hundred vendors at this market. While street musicians entertain and clowns mime your walk, you will see some of the best leather goods and high-end silver jewelry in Buenos Aires.

To round out your Argentine urban experience, catch the next puppet shows and sample a chorizo sandwich, the Buenos Aires version of street food.