Friday, Apr. 02, 2010

Alpaca 111

It's hard to choose just one thing to buy in Peru, a haven for craft- and jewelry-lovers if ever there was one. But perhaps the most Peruvian of all Peruvian finds is the alpaca-wool sweater (or scarf, blanket, hat, gloves, etc.). The alpaca is a small, domesticated Andean camelid, similar to its more famous cousin, the llama, whose wool has been used in Peru since pre-Incan times. Alpaca wool is exceptionally soft, but be careful of vendors trying to rip you off. If you are offered an alpaca sweater for cheap, it is likely acrylic or mostly acrylic. For the real stuff — and amazing designs — check out Alpaca 111; there's a shop at Larcomar and, even better, one at the airport. Alpaca 111 also carries scarves and blankets made from vicuña, a much softer — and pricier — cousin of the alpaca.

Bonus Souvenir: Peruvian Crafts

Still longing for more? Lima has a crafts store for every taste and wallet size. Start at Mercado Indio (Indian Market), a crafts-market strip stretching four blocks (Blocks 52 to 55) along Avenida Petit Thouars in Miraflores. Everything from bric-a-brac to fossilized shark teeth is available in literally hundreds of shops. Be wary of cheap deals on silver (likely low grade) or artifacts and fossils, which are legal to buy, but illegal to take out of the country.

For traditional crafts, visit Manos Peruanas, also in Miraflores, which has a crafts museum and top-quality goods. The store is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to 6 p.m.

A similar shop is Las Pallas in the Barranco district, run by an expat Scottish woman who has spent years scouring Peru for goods and cultivating relationships with local craftsmen. Las Pallas has folk art and crafts from all of Peru's diverse regions; it's open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.