To market, to market …

Otavalo Travel Blog

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In Otavalo Market

… To buy a fat pig?

Maybe not, but Otavalo market is still, despite being very “touristy”, a must for most visitors to Quito. To be honest, when planning our Ecuador trip, a visit here wasn’t one of my top priorities and with relatively little time in Quito I had considered giving it a miss as we’d seen many colourful markets elsewhere. But then I had second thoughts and when our tour company proposed including it I went along with the suggestion. On balance, I think it was good decision as we enjoyed our visit and it is one of the sights of northern Ecuador. But we opted for a half-day visit rather than the more usual full day and packed some other sights into our day out, as you will see.

Lago San Pablo
And although a guided excursion is not for everyone, we decided that while not cheap it would be the most efficient way to fit several of the major sights near Quito into just one day of our limited time there. We were very pleased with the arrangement as we had an excellent guide in Jose Luiz, working for local company Surtrek.

We left Quito after an early breakfast, driving north. We stopped in the town of Cayambe to take photos of the volcano of that name and to taste custard apples bought from one of the several fruit stalls along the roadside.

We also stopped at a roadside gift-shop and café near Lago San Pablo, El Miralago, which is clearly strategically positioned to catch the tourist trade, with super views from its garden and local children posing with alpacas and llamas in return for a coin or two.

Posing for the tourists!
But you can hardly blame them for cashing in like this, and since it gave us a chance to pause for refreshment as well as photos, and to help the local economy, I had no complaints!

Here we were able to try the local treat of biscochos (biscuits, served with dulce de leche) and queso de hoja (a haloumi-like white cheese, served in cubes on a banana leaf). The views were great and it was a restful spot, despite the steady stream of other visitors. We didn’t buy anything in the shop, other than a couple of postage stamps, but it looked to have a range of souvenirs towards the tackier end of the spectrum, although as I didn’t have a proper look round I may be doing them a disservice!

From here we continued to Otavalo, where Jose Luiz dropped us off not far from the Plaza de Ponchos where the market is held.

Traditional Otavalan dress
He showed us where to go, but after that left us to our own devices for a couple of hours, for which I was thankful, as we were happier wandering around on our own than following a guide everywhere.

For the most part we were happy to wander up and down, soaking up the atmosphere and taking lots of photos. A few people were OK about posing, especially stall-holders hoping we might make a purchase, but they tend to do so quite stiffly so you don’t get a natural look and a sense of the bustle and activity of the market. So mainly I used my zoom lens to grab candid shots as I find these more natural and wanted to capture the activity as much as the individuals.

As I wandered around the market stalls taking my photos I began to realise that all the women were dressed in a similar style, rather different from the indigenous people I had seen in Quito.

Traditional Otavalan dress
This is the traditional dress of the Otavaleña. It consists of white blouses, with coloured embroidery (usually of flowers) and flared lace sleeves, worn with black or dark skirts. They wear their hair long, but instead of plaiting it, as I had seen the women of Quito do, they tie it back with coloured braid in a loose ponytail. They usually have many strings of gold beads around their necks, and strings of coral beads around their wrists. Many of the older ones fold a cloth over their heads, known as a fachalina, like those in some of my photos.

The men traditionally wear white trousers, cut off just below the knee, with dark blue ponchos and felt hats. Their hair too is worn long. We saw relatively few men in this costume compared to the number of women wearing the traditional dress, but many had the long hair and felt hat, albeit often combined with modern jeans and t-shirts.

In Otavalo Market

I did do a little shopping here, buying a pretty necklace and a small picture executed on leather, but it was the general atmosphere and the photo opportunities that we enjoyed the most. We stopped at one point for a refreshing fruit juice in a café with an upper floor, from which we could look down on all the activity for a different perspective.

After another wander around and a few more photos it was time to head to the point Jose Luiz had designated to pick us up. Arriving there five minutes early we were easy prey for a couple of sellers operating on the streets outside the market! Although attracted by the colourful scarves I’d seen on many stalls I hadn’t planned on buying one, as I had a pile of scarves at home, but one older lady who approached us had a good selection, and they were so bright and cheerful, and she was quite interesting (showing us photos of her home near Lago San Pablo), so I cracked and bought one for just a couple of dollars.

Traditional Otavalan dress

And I have to say that I have worn it regularly every winter since, it has retained its bright colours and is often admired by friends and colleagues, so it has more than justified the impulse purchase!

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In Otavalo Market
In Otavalo Market
Lago San Pablo
Lago San Pablo
Posing for the tourists!
Posing for the tourists!
Traditional Otavalan dress
Traditional Otavalan dress
Traditional Otavalan dress
Traditional Otavalan dress
In Otavalo Market
In Otavalo Market
Traditional Otavalan dress
Traditional Otavalan dress
Mother and child
Mother and child
Otavalo Sights & Attractions review
Plaza de Ponchos
The tourist-focused market takes place in this large central square. There are markets in every Ecuadorean town, small or large, so what is so special… read entire review
Otavalo Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
A good view
In need of refreshment and a sit-down after an hour or so of wandering around the market, we looked for somewhere where we might also get a view of th… read entire review
Otavalo
photo by: Ils1976