I am known for preferring a sporting event and a game of Texas Holdem over shopping any day of the week and long ago I learned that shopping is not all that conducive to long term traveling due to the weight I’m already carrying in my luggage or the cost of shipping after shopping but an exception was made for Otavalo and Cotacachi a/k/a Leather Town and a big exception at that.
I have traveled to 81 countries at this point and been to more markets than you can count but none compare to the market in Otavalo, Ecuador on a Saturday. It is so well organized and none of the Ecuadorians are pushy nor do they take advantage and, in fact, I encourage you to negotiate with them. Plus, the rainbow of colors you will see from the handmade goods, to the spices, the clothing and most especially the fruits and vegetables is a crowd pleaser if nothing else. The designs of the jewelry are really unique. The quality of the products for sale ranges along with the price but even the cheapest items are well crafted. I purchased a belt that took 2 days to weave and cost $15 USD but only because I didn’t want to negotiate. There were alpaca sweaters, handbags, blankets, scarves, ukuleles, food and perhaps anything else you could think of or want.
Also, if you arrive in Otavalo prior to 11:00 a.m. you can first stop at the animal market and buy live chickens, sheep, cows, lambs and even a prized rooster for the cultural phenomenon known as cock fighting which I witnessed for the first time in Otavalo.
In route from Quito, you should stop at the rose gardens where the roses climb up to six feet high and because of the volcanic and, therefore, very fertile soil as well as the high altitude and cool nights, Ecuador is the third largest exporter of flowers. I learned today that 1.5mm roses are exported daily from here. In fact, around 400 varieties of roses grow in the highlands. Learn more at Latin Roots. And today I received one of those beautiful roses as a gift from a kind soul I met.
Also, in route stop at the Mira Lago on the Avenida del Vulcan or Avenue of the Volcanoes and photograph Papa Volcano – Imbabura and Mama Volcano – Cotacachi, take a photo with a lama and Pedro, taste the biccochci (both plain and chocolate covered) which is a special recipe and listen to some authentic Ecuadorian music.
Some say after you leave the Otavalo market that you should head about 15 minutes more to La Marquenza in Cotacachi to have an Ecuadorian delicacy of sorts – guinea pig! If you are brave, give it a shot. Truth is it tastes like chicken.
Then you absolutely must head to Luis Saavedra Echeverria’s Boots & Boots on the Main Street in Cotacachi. Imagine purchasing the most innovative designs of leather goods (bags, boots, shoes, jackets) direct from your favorite Italian designer for a fraction of the cost and you still won’t come close to understanding how wonderful perusing through and inevitably purchasing something or some things specially designed by Luis. I broke down and purchased a pair of handmade boots for $119 USD and a leather jacket for $150 USD which would have cost me well over $2,000 at Neiman Marcus in the states.
Finally, if you can stand it, stop by the Otavalo’s Gallera Arena and witness first hand a real cockfighting match. I’m always torn between experiencing everything that another culture has to offer and balancing that against my own personal views about animal cruelty and the like but often land on learning and not judging and I did so again today given the history of raising fowl for fighting goes back 6,000 years. I spent $2 and watched one fight where the losing cock was killed within 5 minutes in a horrible way and I had enough but, if you can stomach it, then experience it or stand up against it and don’t. It’s entirely up to you and to each their own.
I wouldn’t recommend parking your vehicle (even the fender of your vehicle) in the bus lane in front of the Gallera Arena or you will get towed and it will cost you $90 USD so we found out today!! Ugh.
I would, however, highly recommend that you take this tour and your Quito tour with Juan Carlos of Tour Guide Ecuador. Juan Carlos is the most knowledgeable guide I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and you will learn so much if you book all of your tours in Ecuador with him. He speaks perfect English as does Andres. He is fun, interesting, kind, knowledgeable and will tell you all the legends and stories there are to tell. He will ensure you have everything you need including transportation throughout the country and you won’t miss a thing if you book with them.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me and then go Unlock the Travelirvana in You.