The market in Otavalo is what draws tourists here, but this little town has much more to explore, not just a market. Otavalo market is, of course, wonderful, and is open every day, from around 9am to 5pm during the week. The real fun is on Saturday when the market spills over onto nearby streets, and locals from across the region come to make their purchases, but even on a Tuesday there is still plenty to see, and buy!
In Otavalo market, expect to barter for your purchases. Stall owners will bargain hard to get you to buy from them – asking what price will get you to buy. There is a lot of competition, especially on quiet days when the flow of tourists is much slower, and is actually quite difficult to browse without being pressured to buy something.
That said, there is a wide range of products on offer, and it is possible to pick up some real bargains. I bought some jewellery made from orange peel, a magnet for my mum made from a jacaranda leaf, and a painted feather bookmark for my dad. There are some beautiful paintings, carvings, and hand painted bowls and spoons, jewellery, sweaters, blankets, bags, everything you can imagine. As per usual, I had to be strict about what I bought as I had limited space in my backpack!
However, this isn’t the only Otavalo Market – another market for local people can be found a few blocks away, and is much more ‘real’ than the tourist market. Here you will find traditional dresses, fruit and vegetables, and usual market items that the locals buy.
There is more to this little town than just Otavalo Market
In nearby Plaza Bolivar I sat and watched for a while as children played in the square. Music was coming from somewhere, a couple of hippy travellers were selling handmade bracelets as you often find in squares in South America. In the centre there is an ugly statue of the head of Rumiñawi, and a church, the Santuario del Señor de las Angustias, watches over the square.
The traditional dress of the women here is quite beautiful, if not particularly practical. They wear ankle length straight black or blue skirts, usually layered with a slit to allow for easy movement. Coupled with white lacy blouse, and a brightly sewn belt with patterns of flowers or foliage in various colours. Canvas sandals, hair tied back in a single plait, or covered with a headscarf. The ensemble is always accompanied by narrow strings of colourful beads. The men usually have long hair tied back in a plait too, and often hats are worn by men and women, sometimes decorated with a feather or two.
I enjoyed spending a couple of days in Otavalo, just soaking up more of the culture here that is disappearing in Quito.
Apart from Otavalo Market, Parque Condor is well worth visiting if you are in town, although it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays as I discovered after a wasted trip there! Every day they are open they have a flight display where they fly some of their birds – really you must time your visit with the display otherwise it probably isn’t worth the journey up there just to see the birds in their enclosures. It is outside of town, a short taxi ride up the hill, or an hour’s hike I guess – $4 each way in a taxi from the main square, plus $4.75 per person entry fee.
Once you leave town the taxi climbs the hill overlooking the valley. Surrounded by volcanoes, Otavalo is snuggled amidst the fearsome mountains, and up here you get quite lovely views of the valley and lake below.
The Parque del Condor is a rescue centre and educational facility, they occasionally breed native birds, although their primary focus is education. The flight display is led by one of the handlers – in Spanish. When I was there he flew a barn owl, a cara cara bird, and one of a pair of bald eagles they have, among others. We had the chance to hold a kestrel (with gloves of course). The bald eagles are siblings – Gringo and his sister Gringa who were bred in Holland and brought here to educate the public. Seeing these birds fly really was special, even they are not native to Ecuador it was still a pleasure to see them soar above us.
In the evening, during the week at least, the town seemed very quiet. I found some tasty street food stalls to sample, and headed off to bed. Perhaps at the weekend Otavalo is a little more lively, but this time I was happy to enjoy being in the peace & quiet away from Quito.
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