A couple of hours north of Quito is the small town of Otavalo, famous for its markets and resident people who are recognisable by their traditional dress (white trousers and a dark poncho for men; a dark skirt and a white blouse with colourful embroidery and colourful waistband for women.) The men also favour long, plaited hair. They are famous for their handcraft and pan-pipe music. Otavalo is THE place to kit yourself out like a local!
Plaza del Ponchos – Otavalo
The most famous market in Otavalo is the “Plaza del Ponchos” which takes place every Saturday. Fabric, woven material, jewellery, wood and stone carvings, and the Panama hats are all available. Prices are fair and everything is negotiable.
Also good to explore is the near-by “Mercado 24 de Mayo” which is where local people shop for fresh fruit and veg, and just about anything else with an horticultural origin. This is a daily market. There is also the new “Feria Imbabio” which is promoted as an “organic market” where local ladies sell all sorts of local dishes, freshly cooked, and fruit that has been picked that morning. This is a Saturday only market.
Mercado Animales – Otavalo
To complete the picture there’s the “Mercado Animales” which is akin to a livestock market where horses, cattle, sheep, goats and a host of other animals are sold. Not many llamas pass through this market because this is too low for a high altitude specialist such as the llama. Livestock markets are not for the faint-hearted in Latin America.
Further exploring – Otavalo
There is no doubt that Otavalo is an experience that will show you a balanced blend of tourist Ecuador and “local” Ecuador. Markets (around the world) are the place to see local life and witness the hubbub of daily trade. Otavalo is a lovely spot and there are lots of things to explore in the surrounding countryside including Peguche waterfall (particularly at Summer Solstice 21st June because this is a sacred Indian site). San Pablo Lake at the foot of the Imbabura volcano (not to be confused with the mountain of the same name) which is known as Chicapan in the local dialect. This is also a sacred spot and a great place for a day-walk. Chachimbiro hot springs are a brilliant place to explore too. The water is around 50°C and of volcanic origin (so doesn’t smell too good!). They say the waters are good for you ….
Museo Vivante just outside town is impressive; it’s also known as Museo del Pueblo Kichwa and is housed in an old cloth factory and pays homage to handmade textile manufacture. But more than just fabrics, this museum is all about indigenous Andean Indian culture. Highly recommended.
To complete your visit to Otavalo pop in to the Red Pub on Calle Morales in the centre, or El Fauno which is opposite. Lots of local flavour, lots of noise and a couple of unusual things to drink!