The crafts market’s epicenter is the Plaza de los Ponchos in downtown Otavalo. Though the biggest market day is Saturday, any day in Otavalo is a treat for tourists seeking souvenirs of their travel to Ecuador. Sales get going between 8 AM and 9 AM, winding down about 3 PM. Crowds are smallest before mid-morning. Prices for most merchandise are not fixed, allowing shoppers to negotiate with the artisans. Should one tire of the market itself, Otavalo is filled with art galleries, and many private homes contain craft workshops.
It isn’t just tourists on Ecuador tours who visit the market. Importers also come here to buy items for resale in their countries. This bustling market town is an economic powerhouse that exports its crafts worldwide. The Otavalo market is best known for its Andean knits, selling unique sweaters, scarves and mittens as well as tapestries with a multitude of designs including Inca themes, depictions of village life, geometric patterns, flora and fauna, and carpets to match the color scheme of any room.
Nor is Otavalo just about weaving. Visitors will also find wood and stone carvings, puppets and dolls for the kids, Andean musical instruments, colorful pottery decorated with a variety of patterns and Andean scenes, paintings, large and small, and jewelry for all occasions. Visitors on Ecuador tours will also enjoy the fare of many street vendors selling a yummy array of Ecuadorian snack foods to sustain shopping stamina. The streets of Otavalo are filled with folk music played on Andean instruments.
For photographers who travel to Ecuador, Otavalo offers an endless array of colorful subjects beyond the crafts market. On the northwest edge of town, a livestock market is held on Saturday, starting at a time most of us would consider the middle of the night and ending when we are just waking up. Livestock sales wrap up by mid-morning.
From Quito, the town of Calderon whets the appetite of crafts enthusiasts as they head north to Otavalo, making their first stop in the Guayllabamba Valley. Just six miles from Ecuador’s capital, Calderon is famous for its handmade ornaments. Shops sell edible varieties for the country’s Day of the Dead celebration, baked into a variety of shapes, including dolls and llamas. The villagers also make inedible dough shapes mixed with glue for durability, marzipan figurines and wooden ornaments that make colorful Christmas tree ornaments, all popular souvenirs from travel to Ecuador.
Arriving in the highland valley where Otavalo is located, visitors on Ecuador tours will find some seventy-five villages dotting the countryside. Some are known for particular crafts. Here one can oftentimes watch items being made, adding a fascinating dimension to a visitor’s travel to Ecuador.
Peguche is a twenty-minute drive north of Otavalo. This is a village known around the world for its quality weavings and its musical ensembles that tour internationally. Visitors on Ecuador tours to Peguche will also find wooden musical instruments such as panpipes being carved here by villagers. Like Otavalo, Peguche’s market is held on Saturday.
Ten miles northwest of Otavalo is the indigenous village of Cotacachi where leather goods are the specialty, from belts to briefcases. During your travel to Ecuador, there is no better place to buy quality leather items, including clothing, at very affordable prices. Market day is Sunday, but any day your Ecuador tours take you here, you’ll find much to buy in the open-air market and the town’s many shops.
If a fedora is on your list of must-have souvenirs during your travel to Ecuador, chances are it will have been made in the tiny village of Iluman. Located between Otavalo and Cotacachi, four miles north of Otavalo, Iluman’s craftsmen make various styles of the felt wool hats seen all over Ecuador. Here it is possible to watch hats being made on wooden molds and have a custom hat made for you. Iluman is also home to a multitude of shamans.
Twenty to thirty minutes north of Otavalo by car is San Antonio de Ibarra, known for its wood and stone carving. Here visitors on Ecuador tours will observe a wide range of items on religious and secular themes being carved, from boxes and wooden toys that fit into a suitcase to furniture and large heavy abstract sculpture pieces that won’t. Here visitors on Ecuador tours may watch the artisans at work in their shops.
Five miles east of Otavalo, the village of Agato is known for its woven textiles made on backstrap and Spanish looms. A few miles east of Agato is Zuleta where the village women embroider blouses and tablecloths among other articles.
Passengers wishing to visit the Otavalo crafts market on one of our Ecuador tours have a choice of the nine-day Ecuador Highlights trip or the eleven-day Galapagos Islands and Haciendas trip as well as four tour extensions: a one or two-day Otavalo Market trip, a day-trip that spends time at the market and also kayaks on nearby crater Lake Cuicocha and a four-day Haciendas, Hot Springs and Volcanoes trip.