Local Markets, Quito
Mercado Central is a good place to come to if you want to eat a cheap meal. There are several eateries serving traditional Ecuadorian food and fresh fruit juices in the market building. And of course you can also buy fruits and vegetables here. There are also stalls selling dry goods, flowers, meat and fish.
I enjoy walking around in local markets with all its colours, smells and people. However I have only visited Mercado Central twice, even though it is situated in El Centro where I stayed during my visits to Quito in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The first time I visited Mercado Central was when I took a few Spanish lessons during my first visit to Quito, and we went to the market to practice words for fruits, vegetables and other things for sale there. It was very good to learn as it later became easier to buy the yummy fruit juices they have in Ecuador when I knew the name s of the fruits how they looked like.
I am writing this to counter the preceding review of this craft market. I visited it this past Saturday. On the sidewalks around El Ejido Park are stands selling paintings -- mostly art fair schlock and fake Guayasamins. In the Park was the "craft" market itself -- about 50 stalls selling nearly identical stuff -- hats, shawls, fabric, jewelry. If there was a true handcraft there, I didn't see it. Skip this, and skip the covered market two blocks away in Mariscal -- also stall after stall selling identical shlock. For real handcrafts in Quito, visit Tianguez, the store beneath Iglesia de San Francisco.
On weekends, El Ejido becomes the sight of a large outdoor market featuring handicrafts typical of Ecuador. Everything here is the typical sort of tourist souvenir that you might expect from the country, ranging from small oil paintings of native scenes to dolls, textiles, butterflies and insects preserved under glass, and wooden carvings. Prices are by no means fixed, and there is a general expectation that you will bargain for your goods, with prices falling as the number of pieces purchased rises. Various stalls sell similar goods, so it’s a good idea to act disinterested at first, until you see a seller eager to bargain and with something particularly attractive. I purchased a cloth doll, small oil painting and wooden carving here, all of which was about USD15. The vendors are friendly and helpful and love to chat about their goods, so being social might just help you to get an even better bargain. The market is open until 6PM on Saturday and Sunday, but it does close down early if there is heavy rain.
This market is far superior to Otavalo IMHO (which was uber touristy, overpriced, low quality and NOT very kind or open to bargaining when I was there) - it has all the touristy trinkets you can want, tons of art, clothing, llama and alpaca type weavings, etc. The vendors are really friendly and open to bargaining. Look through the different booths and get price quotes from people before committing to a purchase. There are also tons of art vendors (with much larger more expensive pieces) all along the sidewalk that surrounds Parque El Ejido.
***NOTE*** For the time being, construction inside Parque El Ejido has forced the vendors to relocate across the street to Parque Arbolito just south of the Casa de la Cultura
There are buses that you can ride to bring you to the market towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi. But since I already had a good driver and guide, I just asked him to bring me to these places.
Note that Panama hats were originally made, not in Panama, but in Ecuador! I also saw this mentioned on TV too. And you will find these hats in Otavalo, but I did prefer to buy the nice black cowboy hat.
Otavalo, located in the Imbabura Province, is in a valley surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura, Cotacachi, and Mojanda volcanoes. The place is famous for its natives who weave textiles since 400 years ago. My driver brought me to the Plaza de los Ponchos where tourists can rubble through household furnishings, food, clothing, meats, handcrafted woolens, fine leather goods, toys and more. Saturday is the best time to visit.
Then, my guide asked me if I wanted to buy some leather, and I said “yes”. So, he drove me to nearby Cotacachi which is the center of Ecuador's leather industry, known for its polished calf skins.
I also have a wood carving collection and I was not disappointed when he brought me to nearby San Antonio, where the main street displays carved statues, picture frames, and furniture – at very affordable prices! I brought some home.
The most popular park in the city is El Ejido at the limit of the old city and Mariscal. During the weekends all kinds of people gather here to spend a carefree day in its grassy surroundings. Families set pick nicks including food, drinks and...sleeping. Others are engaged in volleyball or “cocos”, which is a game with metallic balls rolled on the ground towards a circle. It's something like the french “petong”. Children have their share of fun in the park's playground. The tall trees and plants around keep the city noise away and give an illusion of being in the countryside. Craftspeople from all the mountain villages come on weekends to sell their ware. There are all sorts of crafts, clothes, silverware, sculptures and music. Street bands play their music and actors give impromptu performances. Hundreds of paintings are displayed around the park. Local women dressed in their beautiful traditional costumes proved to be camera shy, which I respected. Finally I took some photos of the ..brave ones!
3 more photos
The Ipiales market is one of those tight, partially indoor markets where you can really feel you're "not in Kansas anymore." Of course, there's little there for a traveler to buy, but the smells, sights, noises and memories come free. If I lived in a city like Quito, I'd be in such a market every day, for a battery, a spoon, socks...
There's actually more than one level to this market, and it looks like the hybrid between a souk and a mall. There is much police presence and, right or wrong, I felt safe.
If you want to be SURE of your status as a carnivore, you might want to visit a meat market in Quito. There's nothing like a smiling butcher putting down an ax (with which he was just hacking up a carcass) to take your order.
And, a nice pair of testacles hanging up, not to mention a cow brain or two on display... well, let's just say it makes you want to consider sticking with pasta for a day or two.
OK OK, I'm being so American here. It's very interesting to tour a huge city market. Ecuador may be, in the eyes of many, a poor country. But by golly, there's a wide variety of food products for sale at very reasonable prices...downright cheap by US standards. I realize that prices have changed since we visited Quito in 1995. But back then, a vegetarian could have eaten like a pig for about $5 a week by shopping at such markets.
GET THE FULL EFFECT. LOOK AT ALL OF THE PHOTOS. :)
Local towns that surround Quito offer markets any day of the week. The most famous, Otavalo, buzzes seven days a week, however, the best day to go is on Saturday. Artisans, weavers, and vendors of every sort come from miles around to share their ware with the world. There are also smaller, less touristy markets in towns such as Zumbagua and Guangaje.
Sunday: Santa Domigo de los Colorados, Otavalo, and Parque Ejido in Quito
Tuesday: Latacunga, Otavalo
Wednesday: Pujili, Otavalo
Thursday: Saquisili, Otavalo
Saturday: Otavalo, Latacunga, and Parque Ejido in Quito, and Mitad del Mundo
The most colorful scenery - on different places in Ecuador
People are selling handycrafts - and a deal is a deal !