When the sun comes up on Saturday mornings, the Otavalo animal market is already well on its way. People come from all around the countryside to buy and sell animals, large and small. Everything is well organized, with sizable animals like cows separated from the more manageable animals like guinea pigs and chickens. There are rows of vendors selling farm equipment, others selling food, but the vast majority are there to sell animals.
This is not a typical tourist market though there were a few of us making the rounds. Some people were curious about us but the vast majority were there for business. The gringa with the camera around her neck was just another person among a crowd. It made taking pictures a little easier in many ways as folks just didn’t seem to care.
Otavalo Animal Market Starts Early
At about 6:30 in the morning, the Feria de Animales is in full swing. Parking is still manageable but people are arriving by all forms of transportation and the street outside is full of vendors arriving with their animals. Inside, business is already taking place.
The cows are kept separate from all other portions of the market. This area felt like the most serious, probably because these are some of the more expensive animals coming to market. We chose not to enter but took our pictures from above where we had an excellent view of all that was going on in this corner.
We didn’t see many horses at this market so this mare and foal were particularly striking. We later saw their owner walking them down to the parking lot. It was hard to tell if he was the new owner and had just made a purchase or the original salesman walking them away from the incoming crowds. The foal was getting very nervous and it could be they just needed a quieter corner to make a good sale.
People selling pigs seemed to do so from the main entrance. They all had something in common – huge sows on leads. Honestly, it seemed more likely that the sow could have just pulled on the human and made their escape if they could have understood what was going on. Some farmers were pulling squealing piglets around and we can only assume they were selling them to grow bigger or to be served as lechón (roasted suckling pig).
There were vendors selling everything from colorful ropes to kitchen supplies to lovely wool blankets. After we purchased two of these locally made blankets, the vendor next door jokingly talked about this family going home rich. Obviously we were sold blankets at the gringo price of $10 apiece, a bargain for us and a lot of money for this family. In the photo, notice the hat covered with a plastic shopping bag. The mist was heavy and several people were protecting their headgear in this unique way.
Chickens came in all shapes and sizes, from fully grown chickens to the tiniest fluffiest chicks you could possibly imagine. And everything in between. They came in boxes, in cages, and in bundles hanging from the hands of the vendor herself. You can imagine that some people were buying chicks to raise themselves and others were buying chickens to slaughter at home later that afternoon.
Though we have yet to see them offered on a menu in a restaurant, many locals raise rabbits for meat. Most were sitting in cages but one young man of about 12 years old was selling his rabbits in a cardboard box. He took the time to talk with me for a few minutes, telling me that his rabbits were only a few days old.
The Guinea Pigs
The guinea pigs of Ecuador are not pets. They are animals raised only for meat. At the market, some of the larger ones were selling for $15 apiece although some smaller ones were going for as low as $5. These animals were some of the loudest at the market; their squeals could be heard for miles. However, the people here weren’t bothered by the noise and would pick up the yowling animals by the neck, toss them into a bag with their equally loud family members, hand the bag to the customer who would then toss it over one shoulder and go on their merry way. This is a good time to warn you. If you have children and you want to visit this market, this is not a market to come and pet the animals.
A lot of people were selling dogs in the small animal portion of the fair. Most of these little guys were being sold for a pittance, about $5 a pup. A couple of families were there specifically looking for a pet, their little ones pointing here and there at different puppies wondering which one dad would finally approve.
One customer, however, was not a youngster but a young man looking for a more special purchase. He had obviously found the dog he wanted, a husky mix with beautiful soft fur and gorgeous blue eyes. But the vendor wanted a hefty $150, a huge price tag in Ecuador. We don’t know the final outcome of the sale but have a photo to remember it by.
Since originally publishing this article on November 20, 2014, the Otavalo Animal Market has moved. If you would like to visit, it is now located on the outskirts of Peguche.