Roaming the Otavalo market streets / by Robert Moltmaker

– The two markets of Otavalo | Around Otavalo
BY ROBERT MOLTMAKER IN ECUADOR

 Beautiful graffiti on a wall in Otavalo.

Beautiful graffiti on a wall in Otavalo.

Travelling through Ecuador is a colourful experience. And I’m not merely talking about the colours of nature. They are with the people too. It’s in their clothing, bags, art – everywhere! I guess, when you’re visiting Ecuador, there’s a fair chance you’d like to bring something home? Then the Otavalo artisans market is the place to indulge yourself. However, there’s more to this town than market stalls.

The town Otavalo

Otavalo is a town in the North of Ecuador, surrounded by the Andes mountains. The town is famous for its textiles and its artisans market. It’s inhabitants are mostly indigenous people and known as Otavaleños (men) and Otavaleñas (woman).

 An Otavaleña in traditional style with her child on the Otavalo market.

An Otavaleña in traditional style with her child on the Otavalo market.

 Otavaleños in traditional style on the Otavalo market.

Otavaleños in traditional style on the Otavalo market.

Getting to Otavalo

Travelling from Ecuador’s capital Quito to Otavalo by bus is a relatively short journey: just over two hours. Buses leave (frequently) from Quito’s Terminal Terrestre (Carcelén / North).

 

For those who want to visit but have less time: it is possible to visit Otavalo from Quito as a day trip. If you do, make sure you leave early in the morning. It’s a big market and you don’t want to be in a hurry in order to get back to Quito in time (and before it’s getting dark and less safe). We stayed in Otavalo for three full days (four nights), as we wanted to take our time to discover the town and the area.

Condor Park

As the largest market is on Saturdays, we decided to spend the Friday visiting Parque Cóndor, just outside town. It is a foundation dedicated to protect, rescue and rehabilitate raptors, vultures – including the Andean Condor (!) – and owls. If possible, birds are re-introduced into the wild.

 A bald eagle at Condor Park.

A bald eagle at Condor Park.

 Stygian Owls.

Stygian Owls.

 The Spectacled Owl.

The Spectacled Owl.

 Rufous-banded Owls.

Rufous-banded Owls.

The park is open from 9:30 – 17:00 hours (only from Wednesday to Sunday and on holidays: check their website for up-to-date schedules). Nevertheless, make sure you time your visit well: twice a day (at 11:30 and 15:30 hours) you’re able to view exhibition flights. They clearly state on their website that these displays are not for entertainment purposes. They want to counteract existing negative images of the birds by promoting rapprochement between them and humans.

The exhibition flights are a great opportunity for making awesome photo’s though! Don’t forget your camera.

 A Harris’s hawk in flight at the Condor Park.

A Harris’s hawk in flight at the Condor Park.

 Me holding an American kestrel (a small falcon) at the Condor Park. See how the bird flirts with me?

Me holding an American kestrel (a small falcon) at the Condor Park. See how the bird flirts with me?

The entrance fee ($ 4,75) benefits the park’s conservation efforts.

When visiting Condor Park, a bonus is the great view across the area.

 Looking out on the Imbabura Volcano from the Condor Park.

Looking out on the Imbabura Volcano from the Condor Park.

Early birding

On Saturdays, before the ‘regular’ Artisan market is installed, an animal market takes place very early in the morning. It wasn’t as if I expected to visit a joyful scenery with high standards of animal friendliness, but I wanted to see what the market was like with my own eyes. So we woke up at 4:00 A.M and walked through the waking town.

Although I found it interesting to see this local custom, what I saw surpassed my worst expectations. Not the market place itself but especially the way animals were transported, was shocking. Chickens were put together in bags and carried over the shoulder. Cows stressfully – and without doubt painfully – walked over one another while getting out of trucks. It wasn’t pretty.

 Overview on the animal market.

Overview on the animal market.

 A horse that is sold on the animal market.

A horse that is sold on the animal market.

If you want to visit the animal market, make sure you wear shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting (very) dirty.

The artisans market

The largest market is on Saturdays, but you’ll be able to find many products during the rest of the week at market stalls in the Plaza de Ponchos or in shops.

Although many market stalls sell similar products, the market has a lot to offer. You’ll find all kinds of colourful fabrics (clothing, bags, rugs, spools of wool), leather products, dolls, dream catchers, etc. In addition, there are ceramics, ornaments, masks, wooden sculptures: basically many different kinds of handmade and painted commodities.

 Rugs on the Otavalo market

Rugs on the Otavalo market

We saw a rug and a blanket that we liked. But with four months of backpacking ahead of us, carrying it along was not an option: it would be way to big and heavy. But we weren’t the only one interested. Joanne’s mother, who we had told about the rugs and blankets, really wanted to have one of each too!

There was only one way: send the goods home by mail. We had read online that it would not be very expensive to send a package by boat. But the post office did not offer this option. Airmail was the only – and rather expensive – option available. But as we were sharing the costs with Joanne’s mother, it was still an option. So we send the two rugs and two blankets home. Together, we paid 135 US dollar for sending a big box. Yes, you pay with US Dollars in Ecuador! The package arrived after only one week.

The Otavalo market also offers spices and food. If you’re in a hostel and plan to cook yourself, the food market is where you want to be.

 Otavaleñas on the market selling vegetables.

Otavaleñas on the market selling vegetables.

And maybe you want to bring some spices home?

 Spices on the Otavalo market.

Spices on the Otavalo market.

Or why not eat on the market? Have you fresh made meal right on the street.

 On the market, I got some nice food from this lady for two bucks!

On the market, I got some nice food from this lady for two bucks!

Laguna Cuicocha

With another last day to spend, we were looking for an activity outside town. We decided to go on an organised hike with Runa Tupari Native Travel around a crater lake called Laguna Cuicocha. At first, we wondered if we could do the walk by ourselves. The Runa Tupari staff advised us not to do it independently because it was easy to get lost.

So how was it? It is a nice area for a hike. But to be honest: you might think it gets a bit monotonous after a while. Right from the start you’re able to oversee the crater lake and its two islands. The hike goes around the lake, so the view hardly changes. But don’t worry, it is a nice view.

 Laguna Cuicocha.

Laguna Cuicocha.

Normally, a guide can uplift your understanding and experience of a place. Our problem was that our guide did only speak Spanish and with our basic Spanish it was difficult to understand everything he said.

We concluded that it is definitely possible to do the walk without a tour guide. I would be very surprised if anyone would be able to get lost. By doing the hike by yourself, you’ll safe the tour costs of 30 US dollar per person.

However, if you want the comfort of a transfer, information about the area, it’s flora and fauna (mind that you have a more than basic understanding of Spanish) and a lunch included, you may want to book the organised tour with Runa Tupari. By doing so – which I appreciate very much – you support the local communities. They offer a range of activities such as other sightseeing activities, volunteering, homestay, etc.

Passing the equator

With our stay in Otavalo coming to an end, we had something very special to look forward to: the Amazon. Unfortunately we didn’t very well plan our trip back to Quito to catch our plane to Lago Agrio. We needed to leave Otavalo early in the morning and wouldn’t be in time by taking the bus. So we had to take a taxi, which the hostel arranged for us.

However, the taxi drive came with a surprise. One moment, the driver unexpectedly pulled over the car. He aimed at a concrete globe. “El ecuador”, he said. We hadn’t realised it, but travelling through Quitsato between Quito and Otavalo on the Pan American Highway, you pass the equator.

We got out of the car to get a picture of us taken at the Equator.

 At the Equator: one leg in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere.

At the Equator: one leg in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere.

It turns out there are different monuments in Quitsato. The one next to the road that we saw is not as accurate as the Quitsato Mitad del Mundo Monument. We didn’t do any preliminary research and it wasn’t until much later we found out about this bigger Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument.

So there are different Ecuator monuments? Yes, it gets confusing. Claudia Looi wrote a clarifying story about the equator and the different monuments.

 

Location of the Mitad del Mundo Monument in Quitsato.

What interesting market towns in the world did you visit?

I’m curious what other interesting markets in the world exist. Did you visit any? Or did you visit Otavalo and have other tips for great or fun activities around the town? Please leave a comment below and let me know!

Tags: Ecuador | Otavalo | South America | Market | Wildlife |


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