Tips for navigating the markets of Cuzco, Peru

Perched sovereignly at 11,000 feet above sea level in the Peruvian mountains, Cuzco evokes the architecture of Europe and the tough ambiance of South America. There’s haphazard street art that references Pacha Mama, the Inca shout-out to Mother Earth. There are gilded churches that make their homes on top of ancient stone foundations. There’s also a lot of shopping. And if you’re the kind of person who likes shiny jewelry, mosaic mirrors and knit scarves, you’ll be attracted by the markets, too. Before plunking down a sole or two, however, it helps to fill your head with the overwhelming knowledge of bargains, bartering and the cultural basics. So we’ve put together this intrepid guide for any making the trip.

Everyone wants to emerge from Peru draped in the softness of alpaca fur, and for good reason. The fuzzy stuff that grows on these guys is among the rarest textiles in the entire world. When you reach the stalls, though, don’t fall for any old luxurious fur. While the merchant might swear to the authenticity of a scarf, sweater, or pair of socks, very few items you’ll find in a market actually are 100% alpaca. With tighter and more densely woven textiles, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with an alpaca mix. And those items that claim to be “100% bebe?” Not actually woven from (or by) baby alpacas. “Bebe” refers to the first sheer of the animal, or the seasonally virgin hairs from the area around the neck of the animal, thought to be one of the softest spots. Products made from these materials are still stellar, but it helps to know what you’re getting when you approach the bargaining table.

Nothing dazzles in a Peruvian market quite like the shimmering displays of gold, silver and copper, and all three are fantastic gifts to bring back from Cuzco. With the God of Exchange Rates smiling down on you, you can get amazing deals on rings, necklaces and other pieces of jewelry, particularly of the silver persuasion, to bring home and dazzle your buddies. When looking through silver jewelry, keep an eye out for a #925 stamp. That little number stands for the percentage of silver, 92.5%, and is actually the calling card of sterling silver, which is pure silver mixed a few alloying metals. This stamp could be the difference between 100 soles or 50, but if you’re still not convinced your score is worth the price, the old flame-under-the-ring trick can solve your dilemma.Of course, even with all of those dazzling jewels, you may be tempted to just grab a shot glass for your growing collection, and a llama glass would look epic against a row of shimmering Vegas-themed counterparts, but there are a few items you can’t leave Cuzco without looking for. If you’re stuck for ideas, start with carved items, like home goods made from gourds, or even pan flutes. If you fancy yourself a fashionista you can find bright, edgy textiles in Incan patterns etched onto high top sneakers and tote bags. You’re also sure to come across a few stands where artists are patiently drawing on sheets of canvas and pinning them to the walls of their modest kiosks. Besides being gorgeous, these gifts are a great way to give back to the locals, and they can be bought rolled up for easy transport.

Part of the fun of shopping in other countries is the barter and Peru is no exception. But keep in mind the type of good you’re up against before you ask the merchant to take half-off. Handmade items (think: anything carved, woven or painted) take time and care to make, and if you think the seller would rather take a massive hit than let a sale walk away, you’ll be flying home without a souvenir. Start just a few soles away from what you’re willing to pay and meet the merchant half-way. Oh, and while you’re bartering and perusing, be careful not to walk out of one kiosk, where you’ve built a relationship with the staff, and into another. With similar wares and squished spaces, you might find yourself paying for an item at a completely different price than the one you already agreed on.

Finally, take time to sit and take it all in – and take it easy. Altitude sickness is no joke. It can take you from happy to pukey in just minutes. Combat illness, at least temporarily, by taking a break from rampant consumerism with the milky looking tea made from coca leaves. It’s a staple in Cuzco and a great treat to replenish your energy after a day at the shops. You can purchase the leaves to bring home, but check with your local air authorities before marching into customs with a full baggie of coca leaves.

Awesome Michigan lip dubs: Four reasons to visit the ‘Great Lakes State’

Sure, we’ve been occasionally lured-in to visit a new destination due to a cheeky tourism campaign, or two — guilty as charged. There’s nothing as reassuring, though, as seeing the citizens of a city band together to proclaim to the world, ‘hey world, my city is great!’ And we can’t help but notice the chutzpah overflowing in the state of Michigan.

Over the last year Michigan‘s citizens, students and seniors have pulled out their video cameras and uploaded tourism video after tourism video to YouTube in an effort to show their pride. There are four in total so far, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Grand Valley State University and the Clark Retirement Community, and it doesn’t exactly matter whether the videos follow the antics of a classroom full of a students, a building full of the witty elderly or an entire city, they all bring a special brand of magic you can only find in the hearts of people that truly love the place where they live and love to dance about it.

Call us gullible, but we’ve added a tour of Michigan to the bucket list, if not only to share a beer with the enthusiastic townsfolk that fill that state with so much love.

The residents of the Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids teamed-up with students at GVSU to create the world’s first-ever all-senior lip dub.

Over in Traverse City, townsfolk rocked out to Paul Simon’s “You can Call Me Al” and Van Halen’s “Jump.”

GVSU might have created the original Michigan lip dub last October, which a student quickly submitted to Reddit.

Grand Rapids is currently Michigan’s king of lip dubs, holding the world record of 5,000 participants in one video, parading through the closed-off streets of the Downtown area.

Summer Monday giveaway: stay in touch with an iPad

Nobody loves summer more than your friendly neighborhood Gadling bloggers. It’s the perfect time to plan an escape from the mundane trials of daily life, or maximize your adventures in the outdoors. And if you’re planning on flying the coop this summer, you’re going to need some fun swag. So every week this summer, in celebration of our own road trip, Traveling the American Road, Gadling will be giving away one item to help you run away on your dream summer excursion. But, be warned: we are not responsible for the hilarity that ensues.

This week we’re giving away an iPad. Read on below to enter to win or click here for the official contest rules.

To enter, leave a comment below telling us who you’ll keep in touch with while you’re running away from home this summer.

Or tweet using the button below, including the hashtag #GadlingSummerGiveaways.

This contest closed at 11:59PM on Sunday, July 10th. Stay tuned for more giveaways!

Good luck!

July 4th travel down 2.5%: are you staying home this year?

While the last few years haven’t exactly been easy on the wallets of holiday travelers, AAA expects that the July 4th weekend of 2011 will be hit the hardest with a decline of 40 million Americans traveling from last year. With a shopping 84% of Independence Day trippers driving, the $1+ gas rates over 2010’s prices are expected to hit the industry hard.

But on a day notorious with getting away from it all, will people really stay home?

We took to the ole’ Internet to find out if your July 4 plans involve fireworks, or a kiddie pool staycation.


Over on Facebook, fan Darlene is beach bound closer to home, Phyllis will be sunning in Cabo, while Gadlinger Tom prepares for a sojourn to Amsterdam, Bruges and Luxembourg. And congratulations to Bonnie Smith, who is headed to Boston to get married this weekend! Mazel tov, Bonnie.


[Photo: Flickr/Moto@Club4AG]

Join Traveling the American Road blogger Paul Brady for a Philly happy hour!

We’ve done Detroit, Cleveland and Boston. Now Paul Brady is headed to the City of Brotherly Love.

Join us at Independence Al Fresco, the outdoor garden at Philadelphia‘s Independence Visitor Center, this Thursday, June 23rd, as Mr. Brady recounts tales of epic country breakfasts, Stanley Cup confetti and many, many lobster rolls. As an added bonus to the snacks and beer we’ll inevitably chomp down out of summer road trip jealousy, Finger Lakes Wine will be serving some of their spectacular vino.

Oh, yeah. We’re also giving away some swag to attendees.

RSVP here before coming by, and tip Paul off to any and all of your favorite Philly spot, but be forewarned, we’re not responsible for any cheesesteak mishaps that occur post-happy hour.

[Photo: Flickr/Uberzombie]