We had one more day before our flight to the Galapagos, and I was feeling overwhelmed. Quito had had so much more to offer than we had imagined, and I was loving every bit of it. Too big of a city for me to want to live there most likely, but great for visiting. Tomorrow we’d be headed to my number one travel destination in the WORLD – the Galapagos Islands! But we still had today, and it was nothing to bat an eye at – for we were headed to the largest outdoor market in all of Ecuador.
We had heard a lot about the town of Otavalo from our friend Morgan last year, on our way to the jungle. It was where she was living at the time. When she saw how giddy Elliott got at the local Quito markets, she just laughed and said we’d go crazy in Otavalo at the enormous Saturday market. And ever since then, Otavalo was a big item on our list of places to go in Ecuador. It took us so long because it is far from Cuenca – 12.5 hours plus by bus – but it was only about two hours from Quito.
Otavalo is a small town between the Cotacachi and Imbabura mountain peaks, and it isn’t known for its beauty within; the drive to get there offers much more splendor in its vistas. But Otavalo is famous for its Saturday Market, which has been going on for hundreds of years. In the beginning, it was only the idigenas (indigenous peoples) who brought their crafts and produce down the hills of the surrounding villages to barter. These days, producers come from across Ecuador and Colombia every weekend for the market.
There are authentic animal markets which start at 5am (guess who missed them) as well as large local markets. In addition, now there are substantial sections of the markets devoted to tourists. The vendors sell their carvings, clothing, crafts, ceramics, musical instruments, and souvenirs. And the market is most famous for its weavings.
We walked around for hours, and literally only covered ONE street (the market covers several streets and goes for many, many blocks). We’ve been to many different markets now in Cuenca, Quito, and smaller towns of Ecuador, but in our opinion, this was absolutely the best. It had great variety, good quality, and excellent prices. My favorite thing was the fact that every vendor seemed to be the one who made the items they were selling!
We bought a painting, had the painter sign it, and got his photo. We purchased a purse and as we were bargaining the woman showed us where she hand-stitched the little picture squares onto the leather. Elliott picked up a belt from a strolling belt vendor who had to cut so much off of it (to make it fit him) that the vendor nick-named him Flaquito – skinny person. And we found a myriad of gifts for friends and family that would be hard to find elsewhere.
At the end of the street on which we shopped, we found the town’s central square, Parque Central. It was gorgeous and full of people enjoying the sunny day. There were lots of other sites to take in too: the air plants happily growing on the electrical wires, the dirt bus “station” filled with buses facing and driving every which way, the native woman carrying a bag of chickens like you’d carry a shopping bag with your new sweater.
We could have stayed much longer, and bought much more. But we had a week plus in the Galapagos coming up, and not a lot of room in our suitcases. So we resolved to come back to Otavalo another time; when we can arrive on a Friday to watch the vendors come into town, stay the whole weekend, and fill an empty suitcase to bring back to Cuenca. Okay, so maybe it was *my* fun day of shopping, too….