La Paz is a city that is deeply rooted in its ancestral traditions. The perfect place to discover this is the famous Witches Market. Its location is very central in Calle Jiménez and Linares between Sagarnaga and Santa Cruz. It is very easy to visit from any hotel in La Paz.
It is one block down from the church of San Francisco, very close to the Coca Museum. This is the most visited area by tourists in La Paz.
Within the ancestral traditions inherited by the inhabitants of La Paz, there are the rituals of gratitude to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the achachilas (ancestors). These consist in giving an offering or ritual table, which consists of illas (amulets) that symbolize the wishes of health, love, work and material goods, such as home, business, farm, money, animals, among others. To the offering is also added incense, quwa (ceremonial plant to burn) and a llama or vicuna fetus wrapped in colored wool and coca leaves.
Other elements such wine and alcohol are scattered on the ground, an act known as ch’alla. This ritual table is burned in sacred fire on Fridays of each month, especially in August. People go to Linares, Santa Cruz and Jimenéz streets where these offerings are found. This sector is known as the Witches Market.
We visited in January during the Alasitas Festival where you get what you want in miniature and a “yatiri” or shaman bless it. This tradition comes from the ancient Aymara Indians who still live in the area. Ekeko is the God of abundance and prosperity. His presence is noticed both Alasitas Festival and the Witches Market.
This is the place to go if you want to look for someone to read you the fortune using coca leaves. You can buy what you need to clean yourself or cast a spell. Magic for protection is considered white magic, while black magic is for cursing others.
The street has many stalls selling amulets, incense, plants and potions. You will find dried toads, some with cigarettes in their mouths, in reference to Ekeko, which are used for good luck. Condor figures are for good trips and amulets of the Inca sun for good energy.
Something that will surely get your attention are the llama fetuses hanging in the Witches Market. No worries, they do not kill the llamas to obtain the fetuses, since they are miscarriages. That’s why they are different sizes. They are part of an offering that is made to the Pachamama, especially when a new home is going to be built. The llama fetus is buried, along with other offerings to bring prosperity to the home or business, as well as to protect workers from accidents. Some wealthy Bolivians sacrifice a living llama, instead of the fetus.
If you want to visit this unusual Witches Market you can go every day between 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. to see the legacy of the ancient Aymara world in today’s Bolivia.