The Witches Market, referred to locally as La Hechiceria or El Mercado de las Brujas, is in La Paz, Bolivia. The unique market is found in Cerro Cumbre, a clearing in the hills of the old quarter of La Paz, which locals believe is holy. Visitors to the market will find items used in healing and spiritual rituals in Bolivia as well as the local witch doctors themselves, known as Yatiri. Items sold include medicinal plants used in Bolivian rituals in addition to potions, powders, and amulets.

People go to the market for many reasons, such as help with a physical ailment, to purchase a potion for luck in love, or to get a blessing for wealth. Items range from herbs and dried turtles, starfish and frogs to feathers and candles. Pre-packaged potions in brightly colored boxes are available to treat all kinds of ailments. Those on the go can pick up an herbal mix for longevity, health, wealth, or romance. One of the most popular items sold are dried llama fetuses. The fetuses are used by Bolivians to bring luck to their homes by burying them under their foundations as an offering to Pachamama, a Bolivian goddess known as the earth/time mother who offers protection. The llama fetuses are perhaps the most eccentric items on display and can be disturbing to some foreigners. They hang from doorways and fill boxes and baskets at many different vendors. Because they are collected from miscarriages, and not from killed mother llamas, they represent various stages of development, and some are quite large.

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The Yatiri are community healers and medical practitioners who practice traditional healing arts among the Aymara people of Bolivia. The Aymara are an indigenous people whose nation spans Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. Yatiris have risen in popularity as Bolivia seeks to differentiate itself from western influence, especially that of the United States. Although Catholicism is prevalent in Bolivia, many ceremonies have both a Catholic and Yatiri presence. The Yatiri themselves wander through the market. They wear black hats and carry coca pouches, which are also filled with talismans, amulets and powders. Custom dictates that the Yatiri must wait for someone to ask for their help. They make their presence known in the market, and frequently wait outside the Catholic churches as well. The Yatiri offer fortune-telling services and may also be approached for a particular request for healing. Tourists are warned that the Yatiri take their craft and energy very seriously, and visitors should ask permission before taking their photographs, or photographs of their wares or potions.

History: The Aymara people have lived in these Bolivian hills for hundreds of years. The natives of the Andes and Altiplano regions fell under Inca rule in the 15th and 16th centuries, and then under Spanish rule in the late 16th century. The urban center of the Aymara Region is just outside La Paz, Bolivia in El Alto. The Witches Market offers a glimpse into the history of the Yatiri and their centuries-old customs. The Yatiri are a class of Qulliri, a more general term for any Aymaran traditional healer. While the Qulliri need no special calling to become healers, the Yatiri are said to have been “struck by lightning,” or to have “arrived.” The Yatiri are said to interact with their ancestors and the dead, to repair relationships, and to heal by bringing communities together. A Ch'amakani is an older Yatiri who takes on an apprentice. The Yatiri can be male or female. The Yatiri must never make the first move in healing, and must wait until he or she is asked. Once asked, she is obligated to treat all and any who come to her. In healing ceremonies, the key aid is a human skull, or riwutu, which represents ancestors who have been killed, and is seen as an intermediary between the living and the dead. Although the Yatiri is very important in Aymara culture, it is less so in younger generations, who have grown up in a western-style educational system.

Ongoing Programs and Education: Many different tour companies offer walking tours of the Witches Market, although it is easy enough to find and browse through on your own.

What’s Nearby: La Paz is the capital of Bolivia and the third-most populated city in the South American country. It is also considered the cultural center of Bolivia and as such is a popular tourist destination. Attractions in La Paz include the many museums, cathedrals, and the presidential palace, also known as the Burned Palace.

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