I can heartily give a big thumbs up for the local market in Otavalo, Ecuador. Some folks will try to tell you that you can find bargains just as good in the Mariscal district in Quito but they’re not telling you the entire truth. Bargains can be had in both places but Otavalo definitely has more variety of goods. Where you might find several vendors selling the exact same scarves or sweaters or hats in Quito, you’ll find those vendors and more selling unique versions that can’t be found anywhere else but Otavalo.
The trick with Otavolo is to show up on market day. There are vendors every single day in the Plaza de los Ponchos, but the Saturday market day is special and folks come from outside of town to sell their wares. The streets are chock full of people selling everything from woven goods to musical instruments to oil paintings. At the Saturday market, we found the best spice vendor around. Just the scent of her freshly ground peppers and spices attracted us to her stall. Her prices encouraged me to buy generously. We found beautiful artwork and made purchases from a watercolor artist of world class caliber. We bought woven blankets and throws. Basically, we found the bargains we were looking for and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
When coming to the Saturday market, come prepared. Most vendors will not have change for your purchases so bring bills in small denominations, like $5 and $10, and a good amount of small $1 coins. Although $1 bills can be used, they are not very popular in Ecuador and vendors much prefer the heavier coin. Most people are making small purchases but they can quickly add up if you are buying gifts to take home. If you are making multiple purchases from the same vendor, ask for a discount. Feel free to bargain and know that if you don’t speak some basic Spanish, the price goes up automatically. It is possible to spend large amounts of money on oil and watercolor paintings and on hand-crafted instruments. If you do not have cash with you, there are a few ATMs in town. None are well protected from street view so please use your very best situational awareness when flashing cash.
Although most vendors speak Spanish and a few have a spattering of English, there are one or two vendors who speak only Quichua. Our favorite poncho vendor is one. He has enough Spanish to tell you a price. If his neighbors think you are trying to cheat him, they will come over and help the process by playing translator.
Some of the items at this market are actually handcrafted and worthy of a high price while some is just mass-produced. Just remember that while getting a bargain is great, paying someone for the value of their work is important to creating a vibrant local economy that can sustain tourism. Make your purchases matter!
Plaza de los Ponchos
We have always found a parking place, even on Saturdays, at this protected parking lot next to the coffee shop, The Daily Grind.
Information For Your Trip
Come prepared to shop! That means bringing cash in small bills and coins. If you decide to make a more expensive purchase, there are several ATMs in town but all are street side. Please be situationally aware when using them and when flashing cash in the market itself.
- Direction by Car, use WAZE and look for Daily Grind, Otavalo, Ecuador. This will take you to the a parking lot just off the central plaza and on top of the Saturday market.
- Direction by Public Transportation You will want to go to the Terminal Carcelen in North Quito to find buses traveling to Otavalo. There are several everyday but you will want an early bus if you are making this a day trip.