Otavalo provided the warmest welcome as our first city in Ecuador (literally, because we have finally found a Latin American country that serves soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner – it was love at first slurp!). We should take a moment now to remind you about one our favourite travelling pastimes: MARKETS! Asia was loaded with them, but we hadn’t yet found an incredible one on this trip. Otavalo finally came through! We arrived Friday on purpose so that we could spend Saturday wandering the streets of one of the oldest markets on the continent which dates back to pre-Columbian times – which also happens to be the largest market in South America. It felt pretty special to be a part of the markets weekly takeover of the city.
We had read that there is a market in the Plaza de Ponchos every day, but on Saturday it expands into surrounding streets. Were we ever surprised at just how huge the market gets! We walked blocks and blocks in one direction just to turn and see vendors stretching equally as far in another direction. The countries best sculptors, painters, carvers, weavers, musicians, artists and street performers take over the city and put on quite a show. It would be nice to tell you that we saw the whole thing, but we’re not good at lying. Taking our time sauntering through the narrow and crowded aisles, eating lunch with a bunch of locals who gasped at the amount of hot sauce Tyler used, bartering for goods, buying fresh coconut water on the fly and admiring all the little trinkets for sale are just a few of the ways we passed our time. The Saturday Otavalo market gets just as much local business as tourist business. If you go and have a hard time finding something you need (e.g. tin cup to add to your pack) we will be shocked. At the very least, an adorable alpaca bottle opener for $2 has GOT to come in handy at some point….
Needless to say Otavalo quickly stole our hearts and any melancholy we felt for leaving Colombia behind had all but subsided.
Otavalo’s surrounding area is just as much of a draw as it’s market which makes it the ideal city to stay on your way in or out of the country. We spent a full day walking a big loop that took us to an impressive waterfall, some quaint villages, a nearby lake and back into town. The weather cooperated immensely so we had clear views of the volcanoes around the city and the cultivated land that sprawls halfway up to the peaks.
We’ve entered a new country and it feels like everything has changed. During our final days in Colombia we found ourselves thinking “how can we possibly find a better place?” and within hours that mindset changed. One month in Ecuador does not seem nearly enough to explore it’s deeply rooted cultures and extreme landscapes, but we are going to do our very best.
Our love of local markets may have spawned from experiences overseas but it’s something we now carry with us wherever we go. Supporting local businesses has become a passion of ours! Go find out all about your local markets, vendors and family-run businesses and support support support!
Otavalo Traveller Information
Getting To and From: If coming from Colombia, the border town of Tulcan has regular buses (about 3 or 4 hours) that go through Ibarra and Otavalo and usually end in Quito. Quito is 2 hours away along the Pan-american highway. Quito tour agencies offers day trips to Otavalo if you only want to come for the Saturday market.
Accommodation: There is plenty of accommodation, especially around the Plaza de Ponchos and nearby streets. Booking in advance for Friday night is advised but not necessary (unless you are very particular about your accommodation).
Eating and Drinking: There is a pie shop on Plaza de Ponchos that serves the freshest and most delicious pie we have had in Latin America – Add a scoop of ice cream and dig in! The food market a couple of blocks south-west of Plaza de Ponchos has a ton of vendors serving typical, fresh, quick, yummy and cheap meals. Many other restaurants around town offer typical cuisine; you can also find Italian, Asian, etc. Ecuadorians don’t drink much so alcohol can be hard to come by. Grabbing a drink at a restaurant is your best bet but you can also find liquor in the TIA’s (grocery chain).