Holiday Guide to Otavalo Market
The Saturday market in Otavalo is one of the real highlights of any holiday in Ecuador. An important textile centre since pre-Inca times, today it is home to the largest and most spectacular indigenous market in the whole of South America.
Although it's just a small town, Otavalo is in the heart of Ecuador's Quichua Belt, where most people are of indigenous descent and the first language is often Quichua rather than Spanish. Quichua was the language spoken by the Incas and is a real reminder that you are seeing traditions which for centuries have remained unchanged.
The Saturday Market in Otavalo
Although you'll find a wide range of traditional textiles and other crafts available throughout the week, Saturday is definitely the best time to visit Otavalo, as the handicraft market is on at the same time as the local livestock market. Much of the business at the livestock market is over by the time transport arrives from Quito, so if you want to catch the hurly-burly of Andean cattle-dealing then arriving in Otavalo the night before is a good idea.
Once the livestock dealing is over, the remainder of Saturday is given over to the handicrafts market and that's where you're likely to spend most of your time. Centred on the so-called "Poncho Square", thousands of traders offer a bewildering variety of goods from ponchos to panpipes - always shop around, always work out what you want before walking up to a stall and always, always haggle! It's great fun and haggling in Otavalo is nowhere near as aggressive as in many places around the world, so just relax and get stuck into it!
And when you're finished shopping, it might be time to head a little further away from Otavalo's main square to the food markets, where you can enjoy some of the best produce and cooking in Ecuador, from delicious fresh fruit from the rainforest and the banana plantations of the coast, to the delicious highland fried chicken, maize and soups.
Getting to and from Otavalo
Many people visit the Saturday market as part of organised tour of Otavalo from Quito, which leaves the capital early in the morning to get to Otavalo in good time. If you have the time, however, a nicer way to do things is to take a private driver from Quito on the Friday afternoon, visiting places like the Middle of the World complex and the Cuicocha crater lake along the way. Then you can stay overnight, have a lie-in but still see the best of the market, and then drive back to Quito on Saturday afternoon.