Various: Otavalo market
The Otavalo market, especially on Saturday, is bustling with local people selling all kinds of crafts, clothing, and jewelry. Although the goods start becoming repetitive (now where did I see that scarf???), you could spend hours here looking at all of the colorful goods for sale. We didn't buy much, a few scarves made from alpaca wool, a couple of keychains for gifts, and a sweater with alpacas on it. I probably would have bought more if not for the time constraints as everything was reasonably priced and you could bargain if buying multiple items or if the price seems a bit high. Part of the fun of the market is people watching, the local women and men dressed in their native outfits, the women in white blouses, skirts with gold beads encircling their necks.
I was so rushed for time that I forgot to snap any photos except for some pretty flowers I saw at the food market at the very end of the craft market
Otavalo is about 2 hours away from Quito, regardless of how you get there. The bus is very cheap to get there and back but with only 2 days in Quito I decided to go with a guide instead.
New town: Mariscal Sucre
Mariscal Sucre, also known as either New Town or Gringolandia is the area of town with tourist hotels, restaurants and shops. I am very glad I stayed in the old town but the best souvenir shopping was here by far.
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Centro Comercial Granada, and Chile
Opposite La Merced is Centro Comercial Granada, a shopping centre with lots of stalls, mostly selling clothes. I had forgotten my black tank top at home and wanted a new one so I had a look around. In one of the stalls there was a green tank top hanging on the wall so I asked the woman if she had a black one as well. She didn’t have a black tank top, but if I came back in 5 minutes she could have one for me. For the tank top she wanted to have $8 (June 2013), but I told her I had seen t-shirts in stalls nearby for $5. She didn’t want to go lower than $7 and told me the quality was better as it was lycra and cotton. Well, my tank tops at home have better quality, but I needed one and accepted to pay $7.
Also on Chile, further uphill from La Merced you will find lots of shops selling clothes, not with the best quality, but cheap.
Ecuador is a large producer of cacao, but much of the cacao is sold to big companies in other countries. However, there is also production of high quality chocolate within the country from cooperatives and small producers, some are both organic and fair trade certified. The most common cacao bean is the Arriba bean.
When I was in Ecuador I tried some very good dark chocolate from Kallari, Pacari and Hoja Verde. They were all very good.
Here are links to those chocolate producers:
In Quito you can buy these chocolates at Tianguez, Folklore Olga Fisch, Galeria Ecuador Gourmet and the Tourist Office at Plaza Grande, and many other places.
Mercado Artesanal Metropolitano: Small Stalls, Big Selection
If you're confined to Quito, without the ability to visit the impressive Otavalo market (which is highly recommended), make a point to stop at the Mercado Artesanal Metropolitano. Located in the Mariscal Sucre neighborhood, this large covered market has nearly 200 stalls set up, all carrying different handicrafts, from textiles (shawls, scarves, shirts, panchos), to jewelry (rings, earring, bracelets, necklaces), woodcrafts, leather goods, specialty food (chocolate, tea, coffee), and general kitsch souvenirs. Even if you don't buy anything, it is worth wandering through the colorful aisles, crowded with all the goods you could imagine, hearing Spanish and Quechua spoken by the vendors. I wandered through this market on a Wednesday afternoon, so it was not very crowded, and was patronized by both foreigners as well as locals, which I was pleasantly surprised by. I picked up some Ecuadorian chocolate, an alapaca-wool shawl, and a pair of earrings, each a great deal and will be appreciated by special someones back home. Enjoy the market, it's worth the trip.
What to pay: Haggling is accepted, and bargains are to be had. A shawl of alpaca wool cost $6 after some working down from $12.
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Tianguez: Fairtraded souvenirs
The shop that bears the same name as the Café Tianguez occupies several of the arched spaces beneath the San Francisco monastery. It sells a wide range of high-quality crafts from all over Ecuador. Prices are not low, but everything is guaranteed fair-trade so you can be confident that the people who made the objects are getting a reasonable reward for their work.
And the selection is excellent – so-called Panama hats to Amazonian blow-pipes, Pre-Colombian ceramics, tapestries and Tigua paintings. We wandered around for quite a while on our first visit but didn’t make any purchases as it was our first day in the country and we hadn’t had time to think about what souvenirs we might want or where to buy them.
What to buy: When we returned to Quito at the end of our holiday I did come here to shop, but by then we had bought all the souvenirs we wanted (and more!) as we travelled around. What I did want however was good quality coffee and chocolate as gifts for my family, and I knew I would find it here. And I wasn’t disappointed! There was a lot to choose from too, and I didn’t have a lot of time as we were meeting up with our friends Betty and Marcello later that morning. In the end I purchased a selection of different chocolate bars, including one flavoured with rose petals and another with crystallised orange; some small boxes of chocolate covered fruits (such as pineapple) and coffee beans, and a jar of jam made by women in a local cooperative. I spent almost $50 here – a lot of money but I bought a lot of things :-)
By the way, unlike at the markets, you can’t haggle here – prices are fixed to ensure a fair wage for the craftspeople who make these lovely objects.
Next tip: a wander past some rather different shops in the colonial city
Mercado Artesanal Metropolitano: A covered market
This was one of the places in Quito that we visited with our friends here, Betty and Marcello. We had already done most of our souvenir shopping by this stage (or so we thought – see next tip!) so we didn’t buy a lot, but we did enjoy wandering around and taking in all the activity. This large covered market reminded me a little of a Middle Eastern souk, with its narrow passages threaded between stalls piled high with colourful crafts etc. I was surprised to see quite a lot of locals shopping here, as the goods seemed to be mainly aimed at the tourist market – textiles (scarves, table coverings, hats and other clothing); pictures (some reasonably good Guayasamin reproductions, Tigua paintings and other rather tackier souvenirs); ornaments of various kinds; leather-work and speciality food-stuffs such as coffee and chocolate. We did buy some ground coffee ($6.50 for a large bag) as that was one typically Ecuadorean souvenir that we hadn’t yet bought for ourselves – and very good it was too! Betty bought a small traditional mask for Marcello to take as a gift to friends in Venezuela whom he was to visit the next week ($5) and also bought us a bar of passion-fruit flavoured chocolate – delicious! I don’t know how much the latter cost, as it was a gift.
If you won’t have a chance to shop at the markets outside the city, such as famous Otavalo, this is a good option for your souvenir hunting. The prices seemed to me to be reasonable and I’m sure a bit of haggling is in order!
Next tip: a very different shopping experience at the Galeria Latina
Galeria Latina: Classy souvenirs
After we left the market Betty suggested that they show us one of their favourite shops for traditional crafts. We weren’t particularly planning to shop, having already bought a lot on this trip (by our standards – we’re not usually big shoppers on holiday), but we agreed to check it out as it sounded interesting. And it was – interesting, lovely and rather expensive, at least when compared with the markets!
What to buy: The shop specialises in crafts from all over Latin America, not just Ecuador, and they seem only to have the best of everything. Nothing here was tacky, nothing badly made or uninteresting. There were musical instruments, textiles, beautiful silver jewellery, wall-hangings, paintings, wood-carvings, tagua nut carvings and even some very good antiques.
As I have said, we had no plans to shop so just browsed around while Betty picked out a pair of silver earrings as a gift for her daughter in London, which we were to deliver on her behalf. But my eye was caught by a table full of very attractive wooden coasters, all different and in a range of colours. We asked about them and were told they were from Peru – so not much good as a souvenir of Ecuador then! We walked away ... and then returned. They really would go in our room, and we really did need new coasters ;-) So we decided to buy a set. They were being sold on the basis that you could pick out any six that you wanted for the price of $35, so we went through and selected some that would best match our décor while also appealing to us – see what you think of our choices in photo two.
What to pay: Nothing here is cheap and you can’t haggle, so don’t come here for bargains. But it is all of exceptional quality, making this a great place to come if you’re in search of something a bit special. I was glad that Betty had introduced us to such a lovely shop.
Next tip: going further afield to the Capilla del Hombre
Where to buy souvenirs
Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal is situated between Mera and Reina Victoria and here you can find half a block full of souvenir stalls selling lots of different things, like wool sweaters, caps and mittens, paintings, bags, jewellery and much more. The quality varies and you can haggle over the prise. I walked around here but didn’t buy anything.
On Mera and Avenida Amazonas there are also several souvenir shops, some with better quality goods. I bought two t-shirts in a shop on Mera. When I came home and washed them the first time the print started to get off.
On weekends there is an Art Fair in the north part of Parque El Ejido when artisans set up their stalls. There are a few stalls selling souvenirs during the week too.
Also in old town you can buy souvenirs. One place is in the Archbishop Palace, where I bought a Tigua painting I like very much, and another place is Tianguez at Plaza San Francisco. They have many nice things, but it is quite expensive.
One place with high quality souvenirs is Folklore Olga Fich in new town.
Around Parque Carolina there are several big Shopping Centres.
- Centro Comercial Quicentro is situated northeast of the park in the corner of Naciones Unidas and Av 6 de Diciembre.
- Centro Comercial Iñaquito is situated in the north-western corner of Parque Carolina on Amazonas and Naciones Unidas.
- Centro Comercial El Jardín is situated along the south-western side of the park, on Av de La Republica and Amazonas.
All three shopping centres are large with mostly clothe stores. Iñaquito seems to be the oldest of them, with cheaper clothes. I looked for a music store and the only one to be found was a small one at Iñaquito.
At all three shopping centres there are restaurants and cafés. At El Jardín I saw my favourite from Colombia Crepes and Waffles. They sell big delicious ice-creams, but I didn’t stay as I didn’t want to have an ice-cream at the moment.
The shopping centres are open daily, around 10 - 20.30.
Confederate Books: read and trade...
Should you need a good book for the road, a guidebook or a dictionary go to "Confederate books" in Mariscal. There is a large collection of English books new or used ones. Foreign books are generally very expensive in South America so if you need to buy something have a look at the used ones which are cheaper. You can sell your books to them, too.
It's open from 10.00am-6.00pm.
Otovalo Market: Negotiate and bring small change!
This market is located 2 hours north of Quito and is a must. The local indigenous people display and sell handmade linens, scarfs, jewelery and clothing with beautiful detail at a crazy low price. Learn your money in Spanish and negotiate on everything.!
What to buy: The silk and alpaca scarfs can be bought for as little as $3.00. The jewlery has amazing detail and can be bought for as little as $5.00 for a handmade ring or a necklace. Be firm on your price and walk away. 90% of the time the will give in and and you will get a beautiful gift you will treasure!
What to pay: As little as $3.00 us dollars for a scarf or ring!
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Cheap cheap cheap!
You need some extra piece for your wardrobe? You forgot to put your bathing suit in your bag. You need cheap T- shirts or an extra padlock right away? Don't worry. Everything is very cheap in Quito. You can even find good trendy clothes at ridiculously low prices. Amazonas is the street with cheap clothes but in a very good shape. One example is “Casa de las Maletas” at Amazonas 724 and Veintimilla st., which has clothes, bags and more. Go on walking in the same street and you will meet panama hats at excellent prices, nice sweaters, trousers, T-shirts, bags and suitcases and a lot more.
Another place where you can find anything you can imagine is the old city, especially Chile, Montufar, and Sucre streets. A 3-floor shopping mall with the best prices in Quito is in Chile and Cuenca corner, called Granada market. It's packed with clothes, footwear, hats, bags, underwear and many more. If you look carefully you will find very good pieces for everyday use.
For small inexpensive gifts and artcraft go to the artisan market in Mariscal, Juan Leon Mera and George Washington. There is a great range of items and it's fun browsing.
Also El Ejido park especially on the weekends.
For more fashionable and well sewn clothes or more serious gifts you'll have to go to the shopping malls in the New Town.
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Located in Plaza Fochs in La Mariscal, you'll find this shop selling coffee, teas and all things chocolate. I stopped in for a drink and to buy a small gift for Catalina, since I knew she'd share with me! ;-)
They have plenty of nice chocolate-related gift items and this is also a good alternative if you didn't like the dessert menu at one of the area's many restaurants.
Quitocentro: Nice mall
Quitocentro is a big mall of the same standard that you'd expect to see in the USA or Western Europe. That being said, it's the type of place I try to avoid when I'm at home! However, since I had a bonus day in Quito and I was just exploring the area around the Sheraton hotel near the soccer stadium, I decided to walk across the street and see what the place was like.
There are a number of international designer labels here as well as some local brands, a grocery store, cinema, restaurants and plenty of ATMs for your convenience. I strolled through and was out the door in twenty minutes.
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