We stopped in the small town of Pujili on our way to Quilotoa, to visit the market. As we had been in Otavalo a few days before, I wondered whether this would be similar, but it was an altogether more local and authentic affair. Market days here are Wednesday and Sunday (we were here on a Wednesday) and are a major event for the local people, as the jammed streets around the town testified. Farmers from all the villages in the surrounding area head here to sell their wares and to buy what they need themselves. But this is more than simply a place to shop; going to the market is an important social activity, and locals dress up and take time to mingle, to greet their friends and to catch up on the gossip.
There were no tourist handicrafts here, though one woman was selling the local felt hats. Instead, it was all about food! Live chickens, fresh fruits (many that I didn’t recognise but whose juices we realised we had been drinking once we heard their names from Jose Luiz), herbs and vegetables and more. We also saw several stalls selling the traditional Day of the Dead breads, guagua de pan. Most of the customers were locals (in fact, I don’t believe I saw any other tourists apart from ourselves) and were mainly intent on their shopping, though on one side of the square a small crowd had gathered around a girl who was singing and selling her CDs, and a nearby food stall was doing great business. It was a fantastic place for people watching (and photographing) and for getting a good introduction to local produce, including several of the fruits we had been enjoying as juices but not seen “whole” before. I can definitely recommend a stop here if you’re in the area on market day.
Location of Pujili on Google maps
Next tip: Laguna Quilotoa.
Driving around the Quilotoa Loop, you'll be impressed by the landscapes. You'll find jagged cliffs, interesting rocks, rough, wind-whipped grasses and sturdy, weather toughened locals. Even the animals are hardy creatures, able to withstand the fairly harsh conditions of cold, wind and a dangerously close and burning sun.
You can do some nice walks into the surrounding hills, one to a local cheese factory but carry a walking stick and some stones as there are territorial dogs along the route that unfortunately ruin what otherwise would be a serene walking experience. You are walking on small roads but don’t expect much traffic aside from the ubiquitous political rally trucks with their tinny speakers blasting indecipherable ramblings. The trip up to the cheese factory is about three hours. The local hostels will set up horse riding trips that go there which will ensure that the factory is open. Otherwise, get a very early start as it seems they close quite early. We got up there at 1 PM and there were no signs of life. We were not too happy as we had planned on getting some cheese to flesh out our lunch of fruit and a few rolls. From there you can continue along in a loop and get back to town in about 1.5 hours though its not impossible to get on the wrong road so be sure to keep asking locals for directions. Of course, for locals it’s not entirely impossible that they take a different route than the one you might choose!
We got to try the excellent cheese at the hostal thanks to a generous fellow traveler. It's much more robust than typical Ecuadorian cheese which tends to be bland.