Otavalo is a must-see destination in Ecuador.
Just under two hours’ drive north from Quito, the journey itself is a treat. We travel through the beautiful Andean scenery, with plenty of great little places and stalls to stop at on the way.
The market is an experience for all the senses: the aromas of traditional foods, soothing Andean panpipes, a kaleidoscope of colours, soft alpaca scarves, and obligatory (and usually friendly) bargaining.
The biggest market day is Saturday, but the Plaza de Los Ponchos market is open every day of the week, so you’ll never come away empty handed.
The colourful handicrafts make for some great local shopping including the famous alpaca blankets which will be hard to fit into our already bulging suitcases. We buy five of these, one to take home and the other 4 for our sponsored family here in Quito.
Not generally ones for shopping we find this market hard to resist. There is alpaca everything: jerseys, hats, blankets, scarves! Our local guide Patricio is a great help with our shopping.
Textiles are the speciality of the many stalls, which overflow with intense geometric tapestries, rich earthen-coloured ponchos; woven agave knotted bags, delightful hand-knitted sweaters and intricately embroidered cotton shirts.
As Otavalo is famous for its textiles, many of the nearby villages and towns are famous for their own unique crafts. Cotacachi for example, is the centre of Ecuador’s leather industry.
And in San Antonio, where the local specialty is wood carving, the main street prominently displays carved statues, picture frames, and furniture.
The colourful bustling atmosphere of the markets is not to be missed, and the quality artisan products are definitely not just tacky tourist pieces; this may be why some people feel they are not getting a ‘bargain’ like they might in an Asian market full of fake Western merchandise.
Instead, items from these markets are to be treasured as unique to this area of the world and one can definitely appreciate the skill taken to produce many of the pieces for sale.
Make the most of this fantastic day – trip either as a sensory experience or a shopping bonanza – or both!