Otavalo is a large town, two hours north of Quito and a 15-minute bus ride south of Cotacachi. I took a bus ride for 35 cents from Cotacachi to Otavalo with Gary and three other friends, one cloudy day. (These friends own a condo in a gated gringo community and come down about once yearly for a month or two.)
We wanted to see the famous Otavalo market, “Mercado Artesanal,” on a non-Saturday, to avoid the crowds. I wore my vest with zippered interior pockets to thwart any pickpockets in the crowd. Good thing we all packed rain gear! Rain arrived after just a few hours.
The Rapture of Raptors
On the way to Otavalo, we saw signs for Parque Condor (Condor Park), a raptor rehabilitation center, featuring condors, owls, eagles, hawks, and others.
Our traveling companions told us about how much they loved their visit there. Apparently, it’s breathtaking to watch these massive birds spread their wings and fly over the crowd.
They only Spanish speak there, so visitors benefit if they know the language.
Our buddies also mentioned a town near Otavalo called Punch. That town specializes in wood carving and weaving. There are demonstrations of people spinning and dying yarns from alpaca or llama wool, then weaving it.
Handcrafted… Or Not
I’ve seen some spectacular weavings and carved wood around here, and would love to visit the town where they’re done. My favorite was a hand mirror with intricate flowers carved all around it.
In the mercado, the booths are manned by indigenous Otavalos (that’s the name of their people).
We saw that there are three distinct categories of merchandise: items made in China with “Ecuador” stamped on it, Ecuadorian machine-manufactured items, and locally handcrafted items. After being advised to barter the vendors down 40%, I felt reasonably equipped to go shopping.
What I really enjoyed was getting past the sales pitch and into a personal conversation with the indigenous vendors.
When I began chatting, they dropped their sales persona, and we had some good laughter and conversation together.
Stunning Colors, Intricate Designs
The colors were the most stunning aspect of the market. Alpaca blankets, scarves & shawls, plus hats, bags, belts, clothing, and headbands were abundant. The colors were delicious, with intricate designs and soft textures that were nearly irresistible.
I really struggled to resist buying little stuffed llamas, guinea pigs, and bunnies made from puffs of alpaca fur!
A man was selling quartz crystals and lapis lazuli stones & jewelry, asking top dollar. He had several crystals that I truly wanted for my business. I tried talking him down to a reasonable price, but my bartering skills were no match for his.
In the end, Gary and I bought a small sumptuous alpaca blanket for ourselves, and several alpaca scarves for gifts. No crystals, no alpaca bunnies.
We lunched at La Cosecha Coffee Cafe & Bakery, right across the street from the market. My friend says it’s the cleanest public bathroom in Otavalo – worth knowing! We had a wonderful meal of sandwiches on focaccia bread and hot chocolate (chocolate caliente) made from incredible Ecuadorian chocolate. Though the rain cut the adventure short, I loved the entire outing.
Have you had any interesting day trips in Ecuador that gave you insight into the local culture? We would love to hear about them.
by: Bonnie Willow