How to Successfully Barter in Cuzco Markets

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When you travel to Peru, it becomes almost inevitable that you will reach the artisanal markets at some point.

The markets in Cuzco are widely known and were one of the first stops I made upon my arrival.

In preparation for my trip, I found myself becoming increasingly anxious when thinking about perusing different shopping stalls. As opposed to grocery stores and shopping malls in the United States, the prices vary and can be easily adjusted with a little persistence.

You will need to learn the necessary skill of how to barter and eventually lower the price of what you are looking to purchase if you are going to thrive in Cuzco.

(Photo: Flickr)

Bartering can be tricky, but that will happen when you overthink the act itself. Cultural barriers may have you feeling awkward to even try to be outspoken when it comes to the price. Step out of your comfort zone and own it. Exude confidence and you will not be disappointed with the end result.

The Act of a Successful Barter

A lot of times I find if I lead with confidence, the rest of the conversation will be tailored to it. Ask the vendor how much they want for the item, and then offer something a little less. Make sure you leave enough room for a gap so that some negotiation can take place. You and the vendor will reach a common ground and agree on a price. Let’s be honest, you were probably going to buy the item, either way, so a few Peruvian “soles” off of the price will feel very rewarding.

Sometimes the savings could be substantial. You can be a little aggressive when bartering if you want, but do know that the amount they are bartering over could be their entire profit margin.

(Photo: Flickr)

I knew when I was in the main square at Cuzco that I would most likely be approached by some vendors selling everything from clothing to paintings. My most memorable bartering experience wasn’t really a choice for me at all. A man approached me one morning offering his “baby” alpaca wool sweaters as if throwing the baby part out there would sway me one way or the other. I remember him asking for a lot, like over 100 soles. I looked in my wallet at the dust and found 20 instead. He was very persistent and didn’t seem to believe me when I told him all I had was 20. He kept lowering the price himself until I physically showed him that I had close to no money in my wallet. He relented and finally accepted the 20.

I admit that I felt bad, but he must have really needed that sale. The airport had lost most of my luggage so this alpaca sweater was one of my only articles of clothing that I had. Needless to say, I wore it very proudly.

Bartering can be a very enjoyable experience, and especially rewarding when you are able to negotiate a better price. One of the most important things that I do tell people though is to be mindful of the people you are dealing with. They are only performing a job, and their persistence can be mistaken for aggressiveness. This is not the case at all; in fact, they may just be very good at their job.

Now that you know the nuances of bartering, go out and have fun. Buy a souvenir for me!

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Garrett Heng

Author, dedicated father, and gym nut. I spend most of my days either working, planning future travels, or watching the seasons battle each other in Wisconsin.