There are markets in every Ecuadorean town, small or large, so what is so special about Otavalo? Well, for one thing, its size. It has to be one of the largest markets not just in Ecuador but possibly in South America – at least on a Saturday, the principal market day, when not only the Plaza de Ponchos is jammed with those selling and those buying, but also the surrounding streets. The other factor in its popularity is its location – it is an easy day trip from Quito (only 145 kilometres) and many tourists make the journey, as we did. And while Saturday is acknowledged as the busiest day, it's worth coming on any day as the market takes place every day and is always lively I gather.
The people of Otavalo and the surrounding area have been making textiles for centuries. As tourism to Ecuador has grown, their goods have become well-known and popular, and the market has grown because of this, and also because the local people have spotted a good opportunity and made the most of it! They are recognised as the most prosperous indigenous group in Ecuador, and perhaps in all Latin America.
The textiles are mainly of the practical variety, such as blankets, thick jumpers, ponchos, scarves, hats and so on, rather than the purely decorative wall-hangings that you see in other cultures. But it is not only textiles that you will find for sale here. We saw pictures (lots of Guayasamin reproductions of varying qualities, and some interesting paintings based on pre-Columbian motifs, one of which we bought); musical instruments (mainly the ubiquitous pan-pipes, but also drums and other percussion instruments); hats; jewellery; wood-carvings and tagua nut carvings; leather handbags and larger woven bags; hammocks and cushions and more. On one side of the square are a few stalls selling simple meals such as roast pork, corn and soups, but otherwise the emphasis is very much on handicrafts (there is an animal and food market elsewhere in town but we didn’t visit that).
Of course the sellers are hoping that you will buy, but we didn’t experience too much pressure, although when I stopped to look at a stall for any length of time I would raise their hopes and there would be a rapid explanation of the goods and how wonderful they were! For the most part we were happy to wander up and down, soaking up the atmosphere and taking lots of photos. A few people were OK about posing, but mainly I used my zoom lens to grab candid shots as I find these more natural and wanted to capture the activity as much as the individuals.
Altogether we spent about two hours just in and around the Plaza de Ponchos, including a break for a refreshing juice.
Otavalo Saturday market is said to be the larges handicraft market in South America with lots of craftsmen coming to town to sell their goods. Already since pre-Incan times there has been a market here. For centuries the Otavaleños has been known for their high quality weaving. Handmade leather goods and wood work are also produced in surrounding villages.
The artisan craft market can be found in Plaza de Ponchos and the surrounding streets. It is a very colourful place and here you can find woollen ponchos, sweaters, gloves and hats., woven tapestries, rugs and belts, hammocks, embroidered blouses, wood carvings, leather goods, paintings, jewellery and much more.
I visited Otavalo on one of my first days in Ecuador and I was not going to buy anything so early in my trip. Therefore I never asked for the price of things, but one thing for sure is that if you intend to buy anything you should haggle over the price.
A few blocks southwest of Plaza de Ponchos is the fruit and vegetable market, also an interesting place to walk around in. Near the train station is the covered Mercado Copacabana, where they sell fish and meat and where you can get a cheap meal. Also here there were a lot of fruits and vegetables on sale.
There are markets in Otavalo every day, but it is on Saturdays that it becomes really big. On Saturdays there is also an animal market between 6 - 10. As I visited on a daytrip from Quito I unfortunately arrived too late to visit that part of the market.
The condor park is an educational facility and a rehabilitation center for condors and other birds from the Americas. The private 30-acre park is on Pukara Alto, a pre-Colombian site, just a few miles from Otavalo. The unpaved road leaves a lot to be desired, but it is worth the effort to get there.
Visitors follow a marked path leading past all of the birds, finishing in front of a pair of Andean condors (Vultur gryphus.) There are flight exhibitions at 11:30 and 4:30, weather permitting, but the condors aren’t part of it at present.
$3.50 admission (discount for kids & seniors)
There is an anthropologist who runs an extraordinary tourist guiding service in Otavalo. His name is Rodrigo Mora. His company is Zulaytur. His office is on the second floor at the corner of Colon and Sucre streets. He can take you to surrounding villages, into the homes of Indian families where they make hats, sweaters, weavings, and other crafts and it is very interesting and educational. His work is praised in many guidebooks, with the result that other tourist agencies in Otavalo try to steal his potential clients by putting "Zulay" in their name and locating nearby. Don't be fooled. Get the real Rodrigo!
He's also an excellent resource for arranging horseback riding, choosing a hotel, climbing nearby mountains or visiting nearby lakes. Mr. Mora is a bundle of energy and passionate about his work. He also is a collector of old photographs and has amassed a huge collection of historical photos of the Otavalo area by going door to door, asking families for permission to see and copy any old photos they may have in their homes.
A very interesting man who offers a variety of very good services at fair prices. He's really fun to be with. We heartily recommend buying some of his time while you are in Ecuador.
There is more to Otavalo than the market! Check out the Central Plaza and the surrounding buildings.
There is a large bust of Ruminahui, an Inca general (and brother of King Atahualpa) in the Central Plaza. He hid a lot of the Inca gold to keep it from the Spanish, and people are still running around the Andes looking for it.
There is a nice church on one side of the square, and a government building on another.
Otavalo is renowned for its marketplace, and it is well worth the praise. This huge indigenous market caters to all sorts of people, from tourists to locals. It contains crafts of any shape and form you can imagine... textiles, ceramics, paintings, jewelry, musical instruments, toys, some antiques, and more. In addition, there is a food market, where you can dine on great street vendor food or purchase supplies for your own kitchen.
It is rumored to be one of the largest markets in South America; I cannot verify that, but it is an experience to check out, and be sure to dedicate several hours to the market. Bring a camera and some spare suitcase space... it is virtually impossible to escape without buying some choice items!
Otavalo town is famous for its market, saturday is the best day to visit it. The indians from the nearest villas come to town to sell their handicrafts. There are hundreds of stalls selling handicrafts around the Plaza del Poncho.
Imbabura Volcano is the towering volcano you see as you walk along Lago de San Pablo.
The slopes of and areas around Imbabura are very fertile. You can observe many farms growing maize, sugarcane, and beans.
Standing at 4,630m, it is nearly always enshrouded in clouds. If you are those who come to Ecuador to climb every volcano, you certain can do this one. There are apparently 2 different routes. One is not difficult and people of no formal mountain-climbing experience can achieve it, provided he/she is in good physical health. The other needs rock-climbing experience, where helmet, harness, ropes are needed. It is also possible to walk around the open crater.
I can offer no tips except to engage a trusted travel agency to guide you up there and be very prepared for the cold.
[continue from Lago de San Pablo]
After about 2 hours, the old road turn off left but a stony path continues straight on. Take the stony path and soon, you will hear the sound of waterfall down in the forest to your left. Keep walking along the stony path until you reach the bottom to a small town (Peguche) where there is a more obvious path into the woods to your left. This should be within half an hour.
Following the path, you will finally arrive at Cascada de Peguche - a waterfall. Again, this is nothing to write home about but hey, you have arrived so bask at the pretty little waterfall for a moment.
Following the path (not retracing your steps, but another path that continues on), you will walk through more pleasant woods and get to a side-road for vehicles where you can wait and catch a minibus back to Otavalo easily.
Lago de San Pablo is so-so. The nicer lake I believe is Laguna Cuicocha. To go there, you need to hire a taxi (rather expensive) and this is more economical if you are in a group.
If you are alone and have a day to spare, you can try this little day-trip to Lago de San Pablo.
Take the local bus to San Pablo. It is right at the east end of the lake. Once at the town, ask around for a path that leads to the lake. It is generall heading west back towards Otavalo.
You will be walking along the old road running through the north of the lake that was used before the Pan American Highway was built along the south of the lake. Soon, you can see the lake in the distance.
At the next tiny village, Aragua, there is a semi-path that leads right to the lake. Well, it looks like a normal lake, with many Otavaleños doing their laundry along the river leading to it. Apparently, Lago de San Pablo is stated as the largest lake in Ecuador or something.
Along the way, to be honest, I felt a little nervous at first, having read that the guidebook said not to walk alone due to armed robberies but as nothing bad had happened recently, just be brave. Oftentimes, the locals were staring at me really hard and many vehicles which passed by gave me little beeps on their horns. I always wondered what that was for.
In general, I guess the locals are just curious and mildly harmless. Just enjoy the country-side, the little houses and farms along the road, the cows, pigs, dogs and even a dead mouse or two… and of course, the misty view of Volcano Imbabura nearby.
And there are many lovely smells to enjoy. Eucalyptus trees!! They are found along the sides of the mountains and at one point, right by the old road. This is also your only chance for a pee-break as you can try and hide behind the trees, for the rest of the way, you are really quite exposed along the road or in front of someone's yard. Sometimes, I can also smell the aroma of 'palo santo' which are holy sticks that guys use to burn for religious practices.
[to be continued]
Plaza de Ponchos is the huge famous square in Otavalo. Famous for being a gigantic artesania market.
The Saturday Market is renowned here in Otavalo. Besides artesanias, there is a livestock market somewhere around town, thereby making the atmosphere very busy with locals streaming in from nearby towns.
However, the artesania market is there on the square everyday to cater to the tourists. Every morning, these Otavalenos will carry HUGE sacks of woollies on their backs and start laying them out patiently. By about 6pm, they again make the tedious task of folding everything back into the sacks and plodding home.
There is indeed a huge variety, from woollie bags, to sweaters, to scarves, to carpets, to hats, to gloves, etc... I guarantee that you will definitely walk away with a handful of plastic bags of shopping, even if you had psyched yourself beforehand 'Thou shall not purchase anything'.
I understand that they not only sell their own Otavaleno's weavings and sewings, they also bring in goods from Peru and Bolivia. Very resourceful. In fact, the Otavalenos must be the most business-savvy of all indigenous tribes around.
If you arrive on other days besides Saturday, unless you have really good reason to, I do not think it is necessary to stay til then. The artesania market on all the other days are sufficient to assuage your woollies needs. The quality and variety are indeed mind-boggling. In fact, on other days, with things being a little slow, you just might get better bargains.
Besides the square, you will find many shops all over the town centre selling similar woollies stacked from floor to ceiling. Gosh, a humongous number of Otavalenos (or those from other tribes) sure was working very hard to churn these quantities out.
If you go to the street Luis Albert Dela Torre (my cousin Beto's name) you will find La virgen de Monserat. The Virgen appeared in this cave and they decided to put a statue of the Virgen here. There is a cave with fresh water running down from the top of the mountain forming a small river stream. You are able to light candles here and pray. On top of the mountain is the huge cross.
It is said that the kids around here go commit their sins up by the cross and come down and pray at the Cave for forgivness. At the top of the mountain/hill where the big cross is at is a wll known place by teenagers who come to party, drink and mess around here. Especially at night.
One one of the paths to the waterfall Peguche you will see a tree. They call it the tree of faces becuase the tree has these things that look like tumors and some resemble faces. Its a little creepy like something you would see in Lord of the Rings or something.
This is the largest lake in the Provence of Imbabura theres also alot of legends involving this lake too.
I like coming here because its so peaceful and the landscape is amazing. You can see two volcanoes from this lake Taita Imbabura and Mama Cotacachi. There are also lots of fun activities to do on the lake for not too much money. There are also a few places to stay right on the lake.
The is the main Catholic church here in Otavalo. It is located in the main square in front of the Plaza Bolivar. It is not a fancy church but it looks nice and you can almost see it from wherever you are.
There are a couple of evangelist churches in the area as well and they have done alot to help the people of Otavalo. The evangelist are credited for helping the Otavalenos curb their alcoholism. Before it was very comon to see alot of public drunkeness in Otavalo and that has changed alot here.