Sitting only two hours North of the capital city of Quito, Otavalo, Ecuador, is a hot new destination that should be on every travelers radar. Surrounded by the Andes mountains and three massive volcanoes, everyday here makes for some jaw dropping scenery. The famous craft market is the main draw, and has turned this once quiet farming town into a thriving tourist center. Even with it’s booming new economy, the music, art, and traditions of the Otavalians have survived! Make no mistake this popular Otavalo market isn’t the only Otavalo Market that’s worth a visit, there are actually three to check out!
1. Otavalo Market: Crafts
Time your trip to be there for the weekend, as on Saturdays this small urban center of 50,000 transforms into the largest craft market in all of South America. The main square, Plaza de Panchos, spills into every street corner and engulfs the entire town. This tradition spans hundreds of years and brings people from every nearby village together to sell their amazing work. This is by far the most well known Otavalo market, but also the most touristic.
What to Buy:
Alpaca Blankets: These are the warmest, softest things money can buy, and by far the most popular item in the Otavalo Market. Unlike the llama, the Andeans breed Alpaca specifically for their incredible fibers. I almost shipped ten of these home to Boston to survive the next winter!
Jewelry: The Otavalo market has an abundance of beautiful, handmade jewelry for sale. The pure silver mixed with precious gems, gleam brightly and seem to draw everyone in from the streets. Boyfriends beware!
Clothes: Leave the Polo and Ralph Lauren at the door. Unless you’re rocking a llama sweater you’re pretty much a nobody. Join the ode to Ecuadors most important animal and grab as many llama sweaters, hats, and scarfs as you can fit in you bag.
Art: The unique art you will find in this Otavalo market is absolutely amazing. The paintings, weavings, and wood sculptures are so filled with color and patterns that at one point I thought I was hallucinating. I also realized I’d actually seen these famous works before as they are sold around the world!
Hammock: A second bed? One that hangs OUTSIDE and can provide you with endless naps? This is a no brainer.
Quick Haggling Tips:
- The Walk Around- Take a spin through the Otavalo market when you first arrive and assess your target souvenirs. You will get very different prices for the same items so don’t bite at the first sales pitch.
- The Walk Up- Dont be naive. When they see tourists they see $$$$ signs. This means jacking the prices up 2 or 3 times the actual value. Starting as LOW as possible (without insulting anyone) will greatly increase your odds of getting a good deal.
- The Walk Away- When you feel like you’ve reached a stalemate for that llama sweater you can’t live without, take a deep breath and walk away. The majority of the time the seller will be chasing you down the street. Kind of a savage strategy, but you can’t argue with success.
2. Otavalo Market: Local Food
Stop into the local market for lunch to get an Authentic Andean experience. Pig row will be shocking at first, but all your fears will be long gone after that first taste of pork! We went to the food market 3 days in a row and didn’t see one other non-local person. Shameful!
Rule of Travel: If you want an authentic experience and guaranteed best food ALWAYS eat where the locals do. If not, you should have stayed home and went to Applebee’s.
What to Try
Pork: I’ve had a lot of good pork in my day, but none as juicy and tender as in this Otavalo market. It doesn’t really get any fresher than carved straight off the pig! Plate of the day will only run you about $2 including soup, meat, assorted beans, and salad.
Soup: A starter accompanying practically every meal in Ecuador. Most are creamy potato based, but I’ve found them to be extremely hit or miss. Go for the “locro de papa” (cheese and potato) if the opportunity presents itself.
Beans: Beans have always been an afterthought for me, and you’ll typically only see them next to my Tacos. However, Ecuador has a wild selection that’d be hard to find anywhere else in the world. Warm chick peas can go a long way with that slice of pork!
Fruit: On the bus, on the street, at the bar, (and yes even in the market). We pretty much buy fruit everywhere possible. Ecuador is blessed with fresh strawberries, bananas, mangos, and the best passion fruit ive ever tasted.
Tabasco’s: Just in case you need a break from the local food market, there are several bars and restaurants available in the main square. This Ecuadorian owned Mexican joint is a great place to grab a cerveza and soak in the beautiful market from above.
3. Otavalo Market: Animal
Located on the far, far side of town is the animal market. We really had no business at all venturing over here…and unless you’re looking to buy, sell, or trade animals with Otavalian farmers you probably don’t either. Cows, pigs, bulls, alpaca, horses, and chickens can all be found at this EXTREMELY local venue. It’s kind of like a zoo without the cages. Unfortunately, for that reason I wasn’t able to snap many pictures, so you’ll just have to settle for this llama face.
Hope this helps you navigate through the Three Markets of Otavalo a little easier. There are plenty of tours available if you’d like to explore or hike, but the markets are where are all the action is. The shipping is a bit expensive out of here so leave some room in your bag, and enjoy the big show!