The single word, “Gamarra” elicits a volatile reaction when uttered here in Lima.
Gamarra is an area of Lima located in the district of La Victoria, just a few miles from Miraflores and other posh neighborhoods of Lima. Gamarra is known as the textile or fabric district of Lima. Essentially it’s a giant open air pedestrian-friendly fabric and clothing shopping area. The main areas are several streets that are closed off by metal fencing and gates creating a pedestrian zone (I predict that in ten years, this area will be gentrified and quite chic). Gamarra is named after Jiron Gamarra (named after a Peruvian president) and La Victoria was incorporated as a district in 1920. There is a metro stop in Gamarra, plus, a witch’s market (famous for frog smoothies and other talismans). Read more on Gamarra here if you wish.
When reading about Gamarra, the warnings are to watch your wallet. It is true that like any crowded place in Peru, you need to watch for pickpockets. Never put anything in a backpack that you can’t afford to lose. All this said, the young mayor of La Victoria, George Forsyth, of a renowned family, cleaned up Gamarra in 2019. He has taken some heat (even threats) for what he did. Some might say that he made Gamarra not as good a deal as it once was, but it’s still good for your wallet (if you can keep anything in it). Speaking of deals, fabric can be bought for as low as three soles per meter (maybe less?). Most fabric is 1.60 meters wide. That’s a lot of fabric. You can find any type of fabric but each type has an area so I’m not sure if they sell silk (having never been to the silk area). The names of the fabric are perhaps different from what you might call them (I like “chalise” — a cotton blend — for shirts), but go ahead and touch the fabric. There are many forms of fleece which is fun as it needs no edging. During the summer, the mind turns to linen (mine does), and that can be found in Gamarra as well (in Dhaka, linen and spandex were hard to find by the meter — even though Bangladesh is famous for sewing much of the world’s clothes).
There are shopping centers within Gamarra’s pedestrian streets as well stores that sell ready-to-wear clothes, toys, bags, and there are places that will custom print your bags or clothes. The area also sells plus-size clothing (as Peruvians are generally shorter and smaller than most gringos) and some of the signage will even say “ropa para gorditas” (I don’t know where the “gorditos” shop). Some of these stores sell up to XXXL size clothes, which is about a 20-22 in U.S. sizes plus sizes, but the selection is limited so it’s better to get your own clothes made.
Gamarra is also a place where one can buy thread, tailor’s equipment, sewing machines, and yarn. It’s also possible to buy alpaca and llama yarn in Gamarra but again, I have never made it to that area.
Gamarra also has restaurants and many restrooms, as well as lots of security. Like any shopping area in Peru, there are also street stalls. Gamarra was famous for the street stalls until the mayor pushed them out. The street stalls are now a few blocks outside the gated area. The busiest day in Gamarra is Saturday and most shops open around 10 a.m.
The best fabric prices are to be had in Gamarra but the prices will vary depending on how foreign you appear. What can cost 12 soles ($3.75) per meter for one gringo, can cost six soles per meter for another, less gringo-looking, foreigner. Learning to haggle helps get the price down but also shopping in the less crowded areas as well.