While I always like to bring back a souvenir or two from our travels, neither Chris nor I see shopping as a major holiday activity, and we hadn’t expected to buy a lot at Otavalo, being more interested in taking photos of the activity than participating in it. However a number of things did catch my eye and I couldn’t resist making a few purchases. These were:
~ A pretty silver necklace with inlays of different coloured bits of shell, depicting a bird (a quetzal I suspect), for which, after some haggling, I paid $20, having brought the vendor down from $26 and got him to throw in the silver chain
~ A small picture executed on leather in a style we saw on a few stalls, based on indigenous (pre-Columbian) mythology and symbolism – we paid $8 for this, which we thought so reasonable that we didn’t bother to haggle
~ a colourful scarf – I hadn’t planned on buying one, as I got a lovely one just last year in Guatemala and have a pile of scarves in any case, but we were approached by a woman selling them on the street near where we were waiting for our guide, Jose Luiz, to pick us up, and they were so bright and cheerful, and she was quite interesting (showing us photos of her home near Lago San Pablo), so I cracked and bought one for $2.50 (she had wanted $3 but I had seen similar at two for $5 in Quito so refused to pay more)
The Otavalo market has been in existence, in the same location, for centuries. It was there even before the Incas came. The Otavalo Indians are noted for their weaving, and many of them had booths at the market filled with rugs, scarves and sweaters. The market also had food vendors, jewelry, beaded belts, embroidered dresses, Panama hats, noise and color. And, yes, lots of T-shirts.
At one side, there were large open bags of beans, corn, and similar commodities on the ground in rows. Bargaining is expected but the base price is reached quickly and doesn’t vary much between vendors. I bought a small area rug—hand-woven wool—for $30,000 sucres, which is about $6.
Sights and impressions: the striking faces of the Indian people… a man selling rolls of toilet paper…men and women carrying bundles on their backs bigger than they were…the head of a live chicken sticking out of one woman’s bundle…children eating ice cream… toothless old people…a very small girl, probably not more than 4, responsible for the baby she was carrying in a sling on her back…
They say that the best day to go shopping in Otavalo is Saturday when the Plaza de Ponchos is full. I think the opposite. The Plaza de Ponchos is busy everyday and you can find everything that you see on Saturdays any day of the week. The Plaza de Ponchos is so large now on Saturdays that it even spills into the streets. But you will start to see the same things over and over. You will get a better deal in Otavalo on souveniers and gifts thats for sure and dont forget to bargain.
I went on Saturday and I was overwhelmed and how large the Plaza had become. I did alot of price comparisons and I walked around alot, for practically the whole day. I went again on Sunday and on Monday and I got better deals because there were less people and they wanted to make a sale. In some places I really didnt even have to bargain because I could already tell they were giving me the lowest possible price.
Another thing I noticed was that there are some shops along the street in Otavalo that sell items in large quantities. By large I dont mean too large but for example:i wanted to get some gifts for people at work so I was looking to buy six items or so for some close friends. My cousin took me into one of these shops and we negotiated a price on a few bulk items. This came out alot cheaper than purchasing each gift individually. I spent less than $15 on woven bags(about a half dozen), t-shirts and about a dozen Indian flutes.
I had alot of friends to buy for, so it worked out great for me.
What to buy: I also spent $5 on a beautiful sweater for my 3 year old. He is wearing it in some of the pictures. It kept him very warm in the evening and at night when it get pretty chilly. They originally wanted $12. I bought myself a nice sweater that they were asking $18 for I got it for $8.
I got alot of things and my money went along way there. I really dont buy my souveniers anywhere else.
Saturday is THE Market day for tourists and locals. It centers around Poncho Plaza (the main tourist section) where you will likely spend most of your time. But the market is actually much bigger than this and spills outward and down side streets. There is plenty to see and it's very busy.
What to buy: This is where I bought ALL of my souvenirs. You can get just about anything from hand painted dishware to knitted sweaters and much more. I bought some beautiful jewelry (one of my favorite pieces only cost $3) and an awesome and huge blanket.
What to pay: You simply must bargain. Pick a price that is lower than what you are willing to pay and much lower than the original they offer, and work your way to the middle.
I spent about $65 and left with 3 hand painted mugs, 1 blanket, 2 rings, 1 pendant, 1coin purse, 2 paintings, and a few other knick knacks.
*see my local customs tip about money
What to buy:
If you want to get souvenirs, this is the place. Here, you can find something for everyone -- I couldn't stop myself from shopping, good thing I had separated a set amount that I should spend on gifts, otherwise.... :)
Prices vary, but you can find pretty much anything: hats, shirts, belts, ponchos, bags, wooden pots, necklaces, earrings, mini statues, paintings, etc -- the list goes on!
The whole market is pretty much divided by categories, so you will find things concentrated in one area, and sometimes scattered around, especially in areas of high (tourist) traffic.
While we were walking around the big souvenir market at Poncho Plaza, I noticed a small stall which was selling puppets.
But that kind of strange, as all these puppets looked like famous World leaders / dictators.
Here you could buy a Hitler puppet, there was also a Sadam version, or a G. Bush version and Fidel Castro was also available.
I had never seen that before, I must tell you that I have not bought such an evil puppet.
What to buy: A bad puppet
What to pay: I have no idea
The weavings of the people of Otavalo are among the best in the world, and well known all over the world.
Also these people make frequent trips to North America and Europe. So it happens that you see Latin-Americans on a market place here in Belgium, well then mostly they are selling weavings and sweaters, mostly these people come from the Otavalo region.
What to buy: A big variety on local weavings like: ponchos, sweaters, tapestries, scarves
What to pay: different prices, do not forget to negotiate.
Some of the stalls which were selling local craft were also selling Rain sticks.
These rain Sticks are pieces of bamboo wood filled with seeds, so when you turn the stick around, the seeds are rolling to the other side, and that produce sound as it is raining.
I believe that these are imitation rain sticks, as the real ones are on the black list of souvenirs which can not be bought and imported.
What to buy: Rain Stick, some of these rain sticks were beautifully decorated.
Some stalls were selling typical local goods, like these dolls which were wearing colourful local dresses.
Most of these stalls also were selling self made bracelets; these bracelets were available in every possible colour.
What to buy: Colourful dolls with local dresses and bracelets.
What to pay: a few dollars ( do not forget to negotiate)
There were many stalls with local craft. So The Market of Otavalo was a good place to buy some souvenirs to take home.
What to buy: Some stalls were selling typical Indian goods, like these dream catchers.
I had seen these dream catchers earlier on a trip on the West side of America. (I bought one over there)
On these Dream Catchers there is a legend. This legend says that it is believed that at night the good dreams can flow through the spirit hole in the middle of the catcher, and that bad dreams are trapped in the web and then these bad dreams disappear with the morning sun.
What to pay: a few dollars
Poncho Plaza and the nearby street (Calle Sucre) were also the ideal place to buy some gifts or local souvenirs. While wandering around in the narrow streets of Otavalo, my eyes catched a beautiful and colourful item.
It was a very beautiful Chess Game. And the most beautiful were the figures; it was not white against black. Och, No, It was the Maya’s against the Spanish.
What to buy: A Colourful Chess Game, with the figures which showed the Maya's on one hand, and on the other hand the Spanish.
Poncho Plaza and the nearby street (Calle Sucre) is the ideal place to buy some T-shirts of Ecuador. As here there is a big variety on different colours, sizes and printings.
Never forget to negotiate on the price. Mostly if you buy more then one T-shirt, you will get a better price.
What to buy: T-shirts with Ecuador printings
What to pay: 4 a 5 US dollars, depending on the quality and the size.
Open air markets - never seen such scenaries. The way local farmers are trying to earn their livings. Bargaining is a sport - but respect the way of culture and don't go to far in discussing the price !
What to buy: Food and clothes - vegtables and fresh fruit.
But believe me - the fruit is different in taste !
What to pay: Cheap
I travelled throughout the Andes and from what I saw in Otavalo, they locals there sell some of the best Andean crafts. The quality is quite good in my hombly opinion. I had just arrived at the Andean scene so I actually waited to purchase my gifts in Bolivia. Nevertheless, the prices here are good and the quality is high so don't let go of the opportunity to buy what you're looking for in Otavalo. You know how it goes, if you don't buy it now you'll probably never see it again so seize the moment!
You are supposed to haggle down the price if you want to buy anything . Not being a haggler I guess the locals thought we were real gringos. You can buy good sweaters at the market .