The Markets of Cuenca


Geared more for a local clientele, Cuenca’s largest market is held in the Plaza Rotary a few blocks from the beautiful Parque Calderon in the city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors who travel to Ecuador here will find the most vendors on Thursday, with fewer stalls on Saturday and fewer still the other days of the week. Featuring clothing and crafts, another market takes place at the nearby Plaza Civica. Besides the outdoor craft market in San Francisco Square, visitors on Ecuador tours to Cuenca will also enjoy the Casa de la Mujer, an indoor complex packed with 100 stalls that specializes in regional crafts and is located on the west side of the square. Another smaller, indoor market is not far away. Contemporary art lovers will want to stop at the Museum of Modern Art, also located on the square in a building that once housed those afflicted with alcoholism, then called the Casa de la Temperancia.

Cuenca is a major export center for panama hats. It is also known for its ikat cloth, similar to tie-dying and batik in which fibers are bundled and dyed before weaving, a popular technique for making shawls and blankets in the Andes. Cuenca is also a place to purchase large straw baskets if your luggage can accommodate them or you are willing to ship. For ceramics, check out the historic neighborhood of Convencion del 45 on the outskirts of the old town where the traditions in the craft date back centuries.

A major exporter of blossoms, Cuenca is called the city of flowers. Besides photographing the profusion of flowers on balconies and other spots all over town, travelers on Ecuador tours to Cuenca can visit the outdoor flower market, held daily in El Carmen Square (also called La Plaza de las Flores) near the Parque Calderon. The city even has an orchid museum where species bloom from December to May.

East of Cuenca, the towns of Gualaceo, Choredeleg and Sigsig make a good Sunday outing to visit the craft markets of these villages. The closest of these towns, about twenty miles from Cuenca, is Gualaceo. Known for its tie-dye (Ikat) shawls and sweaters that its weavers craft on traditional looms as well as for its fedora hats, Gualaceo will also make a memorable destination for visitors on Ecuador tours who love orchids. This tiny village exports more orchids than any other place in Ecuador. You won’t be able to see all 2,500 varieties in bloom during your travel to Ecuador here but perhaps several hundred.

The jewelry-making technique of filigree, bending metal wire into designs that are soldered together, is known throughout the world. It was the Moors who introduced the technique to the Spanish and the Spanish who brought it to the New World. Four miles east of Gualaceo is Choredeleg, a village famous for its craftsmanship in jour filigree, intricate pieces, mostly silver, that are connected to one another but not to a base. The world’s largest indigenous-crafted earring hangs in a museum here. Visitors whose travel to Ecuador takes them to Choredeleg will also find weaving and embroidery crafts as well pottery.

Though named for the reeds that grow along the nearby river bank, the remote village of Sigsig is famous for what its citizens do with another straw, toquilla, used to make Panama hats. Besides seeing toquilla sold in Sigsig’s Sunday market, you may also watch the hats themselves being made by weaving cooperatives and individual craftsmen if you travel to Ecuador here. Along the way, you may wish to stop at the village of San Bartoleme, known for making stringed musical instruments such as guitars and mandolins.

Southern Explorations’ nine-day Ecuador Highlights trip travels to Cuenca and also visits two national parks as well as the famed crafts market of Otavalo, north of Quito, and other Andean towns famous for their crafts.