From classically dressed vendors displaying their wares by the roadside to vibrant boutiques off cobblestone roads and alleys winding through various tourist area “plazas,” Cusco offers a treasure trove of arts and crafts. You can buy carved rattles to soft alpaca sweaters and intricate tapestries, for a bargained price in most cases. Many of these “hand-made” items are quaint but made from patterns duplicated throughout the city and of varying degrees of quality. And according to one European shopkeeper, most of the so-called alpaca sweaters and other textiles are mass produced in a Lima factory.

While any purchase helps local Peruvians, some are truly handcrafted and provide more direct value to the people, their families and livelihood than others. Here are three options to consider.

  • Onsite weaving demonstrations
  • The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco  (at 603 Avenida El Sol, a main street leading to Plaza de Armas) is a non-profit organization that aims to promote and preserve the survival of Andean textile traditions and supports weaving communities by serving as a fair trade dealer. At the centre of the store, women (and men) in native dress, sit in a circle and weave varied stitches on individual looms that are supported by a central pole. Their work is displayed around the store and reasonably priced but slightly more expensive than elsewhere. There are beautiful jackets and blankets, as well as smaller items, such as an ornate camera strap for 36 soles ($14 U.S.) and an evening purse for 42 soles ($16 U.S.). The shop also includes a small museum that explains the history, techniques and designs behind this tradition. www.textilescusco.org
  • Andean cross with circle of life inside.
  • Andean Magic Art Jewelry (Parque España E-3 Ucchullo Grande, east of Plaza de Armas) hires and trains people from the rural areas to become skilled artisans through an eight-year apprenticeship program (which includes free materials and training for the first two years). You can tour the workshop and watch a few artisans carefully form the 950 silver and cut semi-precious stones/sea shells to make the high quality alchemy jewelry. What you won’t see though are some 50 more of its artisans who work from home so they can care for family. Creating jewelry offers these artisans a more prosperous life with higher earnings than they might otherwise have. Many of the jewelry items also carry a spiritual meaning, as the family-owned company was founded by a Shaman (Andean healer). Pieces start at 81 soles ($30 U.S.) for earrings and each item comes with a lifetime guarantee. www.amajewelrycusco.com

  • Dolls made by prisoners' wives
  • Dolls Made by Prisoners’ Wives and sold at Paracas Shop  (half block off the main square at 128 Santa Catalina Angosta).  This store prides itself in selling authentic souvenirs, Indian costumes, hand woven ponchos and other clothing at reasonable prices without the need to bargain. When in, the owner speaks good English, which is a bonus. Items include truly one-of-a-kind fabric and wool dolls engaged in daily activities, like carrying a child or sewing. The wives of local prisoners carefully sew and knit these six-inch tall dolls to earn but a few soles to help feed their families, while their husbands are in jail. Amid some controversy, the store owner and other trusted vendors regularly visit the prison in the wee hours of the morning to purchase these dolls to sell to interested tourists.