The San Pedro Market is considered, to this today, to be one of the leading supply centers for the city of Cusco. You can find a wide variety of products, including food stalls, handcraft shops, sections selling herbs, and even travelling fairs of seasonal products.
Any Cusco itinerary would not be complete without a visit to the market because it is not only an incredible cultural experience but also entertaining. It is one of the best places in which to learn about Andean culture, listen to the correct pronunciation of the Quechua language, to smell the aroma of different produce and flowers, and to watch up close how handmade traditional garments are made.
The market is located six minutes from the Cusco city center, facing the San Pedro Train Station and the PeruRail Ticket Office, in front of the San Pedro Main Square and Santa Clara Street.
Arriving at the San Pedro Central Market is easy, just five blocks west from Cusco Main Square. You only need to follow the street between the Society of Jesus Church on the right side of the Main Square, towards the La Merced Convent.
The food trade in the city of Cusco used to centered in the market that existed from the Main Square to Plaza San Francisco Square but, in 1910, when Manuel Silvestre Frisancho was mayor, it was moved to the San Pedro neighborhood. The location chosen for the project was the “Pampa de Qasqaparo,” which was part of the land that belonged to the Santa Clara Convent.
The construction of the market is made up of two sections. The first was built and designed in 1925 by the French architect Gustave Eiffel, the man who built the famous Eiffel Tower; it was the largest covered area built in the city of Cusco, and it still is. The market was inaugurated by the mayor and it was initially called the Mercado Frisancho.
The second section is an extension of the market, built in 1955, after the 1950 earthquake. Since then, the market has been the city’s largest commercial center, spreading out to the neighboring streets.
At first glance the market building may not stand out but the style of its design is neoclassical. It is an iron structure with an English calamine or corrugated sheet metal roof and wrought iron gates. The columns, coated in cement, form a rectangle to sustain the roof, with the taller columns in the center of the market and shorter columns toward the sides.
The market has a variety of stalls and sections, including:
Fruit, Sweets and Juice Stalls
One of the most popular stalls in the entire market sells a large variety of fruit-based smoothies mixed with honey or pollen, and you can also choose a fruit to eat with it. Ask for suggestions as the vendor or casera will always be willing to recommend something. It would be a crime to visit and not taste the delicious lucuma juice. You will also find stalls with the most exotic fruits in the region: golden gooseberry, custard apple, prickly pears, etc. Additionally, there are stalls that exclusively sell dried fruits and nuts as well as sweets. The products are clearly labelled. You will find walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, mixed fruits, blueberries, pecans, hibiscus or Jamaica flower, pumpkin seeds, kiwicha flakes, sacha inchi, almonds, spirulina algae, cashews and much more.
Here you will find dishes typical to Cusco, stalls with exotic products from the Peruvian Amazon such as herbal tinctures and ointments made from the animal fat. And of course, there are other typical dishes from other parts of Peru: lomo saltado, causa rellena, ceviche, potatoes in huancaina sauce, fried trout, chiri uchu, etc. Not to be missed is the soups section, where you’ll find the famous caldo de gallina, or chicken broth.
There are herbs of every sort and every use that you can imagine. They are usually sought for use in traditional medicine, which in this case is linked to ancient knowledge.
The increase in tourism has made many vendors reconsider their wares and today you will find a wide variety of handicrafts at good prices. Many visitors make a brief stop at the market to buy souvenirs before boarding the PeruRail train to Machu Picchu.
You will find cloth woven in baby alpaca, adult alpaca, llama wool and sheep’s wool. Other handcraft objects include a variety of cups, decorative plates, glasses, pots and much more. There are also shops selling leather goods such as handbags, wallets, belts, etc.
The dairy stalls deserve special mention and are very popular among locals and visitors alike, especially by cheese lovers. There is a wide variety to choose from on display. And, of course, there are locally made varieties of butter.
There are fairs offering seasonal products which must not be missed. For example, at Christmas time, there are any number of street vendors selling panettone, toys, wine, grapes, produce for Christmas Eve dinner, etc.
During the Corpus Christi season, there is a wide variety of exotic fruits such as cherimoya, coconuts, sugar cane, etc.
There are so many stalls in the market that it would take too long to describe them, but we cannot fail to mention the shops that sell all types of dry goods and foods. The San Pedro market is one of the few in the country where you can find a huge variety of potatoes, cheeses, cacao, mint and maize. There is also the opportunity to ready ourselves against altitude sickness by sipping a cup of hot coca tea.
The market is open from 06:30 in the morning until 18:30 when the sun goes down. The best time to go is somewhere in between, neither too early nor too late, since many posts might not open early or may close early.
If you go when the weather is cold, you may enjoy a broth of sheep’s head, but if you go when it is sunny, you can have a plate of ceviche accompanied by a glass of delicious chicha. It should be noted that there are both paid and free tours of the market, and of course the former will be more specialized or centered on a specific theme.
If you wish to know more about Andean culture, we encourage you to visit Cusco’s Central Market, an essential and richly varied example of Andean customs. And, considering how close we are, how about a train journey? Complement your experience of Cusco on our PeruRail Vistadome train bound for Machu Picchu. Get your tickets here!