“Do you have any dried llama fetuses?”
“How about a spell to punish a cheating lover?”
“Perhaps a little something to help altitude sickness then?”
For those suffering an ailment, searching for wealth or looking to exact revenge on a cheating partner, La Paz’s Witches Market (Mercado de Hechecería or Mercado de las Brujas), is the place to go for a variety of potions, medicinal plants, spells and spiritual advice.
Taking up only a small section of La Paz’s lively tourist area, this is the part of the city where ancient Aymaran beliefs are still practiced.
The majority of merchandise sold by market vendors are used in rituals to bring health, love, intelligence, protection, happiness, wealth and longevity into peoples’ lives and to manipulate the many spirits that populate the Aymara world. Some of the more alluring items on offer include native herbs, black penis candles, Bolivian armadillos, various parts of frogs, naked couple figurines, aphrodisiac formulas, owl feathers, dried turtles, starfish and snakes.
A great alternative for Bolivians on the move are the pre-mixed spells and potions, neatly packaged up in brightly colored boxes. All one needs to do is state their problem, pay for the care package and be on their merry way.
One of the most peculiar items travelers will come across while perusing the market’s stalls are the dried llama fetuses. According to locals, Bolivian families make a cha’lla (offering) to Pachamama by burying a llama fetus under the foundations of their new homes for protection, health, happiness and good luck. The llama sacrifice also encourages the fertility goddess to protect builders from accidents and to bring good luck to their business.
Walking through the stalls you will notice the llama fetuses come in all different sizes. This is because Bolivians don’t actually kill baby llamas, instead they use the fetuses that have come from miscarriages.
Roaming through the stalls of La Paz’s Witches Market, you will notice women wearing black hats and coca pouches. These are the yatiri, some of the last witch doctors in South America.
The yatiri are said to have the power to contact the supernatural and deal as much in spiritual matters as they do in physical ones. Due to the large catholic population in La Paz, yatiri often wait outside Catholic churches on Sundays, offering ceremonies to Bolivians who want pagan rituals performed on their behalf, just to be safe.
Whilst the majority of the yatiri’s customers are now tourists, Bolivians still seek out the witch doctors to have their fortunes read, their illnesses cured and to obtain spells to improve their money problems, fertility issues, and luck.
The Witches Market is certainly an entertaining sight for travelers, but remember that the market is a serious and sacred business to the people who work there. While many of the vendors will be happy to answer tourists questions, they may not appreciate tourists picking up items willy-nilly or taking photos without permission. Beware that if you do they may place a curse on you!
For a more in depth look at Bolivia’s Witches Market we highly recommend doing a Walking Tour of La Paz