Posted by: Merrilee | March 19, 2013

Market Days in Otavalo

Market Days in Otavalo

IMG_2786As I alighted from a bus in the bus station of the colonial Andean town of Otavalo two hours north of Quito one weekday afternoon, I saw a group of indigenous teenage schoolgirls waiting in line to catch a bus home.

Each was dressed in their finest traditional dress of dark woolen skirt and white embroidered blouse with bouffant sleeves.  Colorful hand-woven belts cinched their waists.  Canvas sandals peaked out from under their skirts.  An air of femininity was enhanced by their jewelry.  Delicate golden earrings and coral-colored strands of beads cascaded from their necks and were wrapped around their wrists.  Their jet-black hair was pulled back softly with a multi-colored woven band wrapped tightly around a single braid.

IMG_3469“Otavalenos” are known for their exquisite weavings and handcrafts. Every day is market day in Plaza de Ponchos, the center of Otavalo’s crafts market.  Here a wide variety of artesian crafts are found including hand-woven woolen goods of rugs, tapestries, blankets, ponchos, sweaters , scarves, bags and hats.

Stretching back to pre-Inca times, Otavalo has hosted the most important markets in the Andes.  The town is a major transport hub for smaller towns and villages in the Northern Highlands.  Farmland stretches up the surrounding mountainside

IMG_3429I returned on Saturday, the day the colorful open-air market spills out of the main square into the surrounding streets.  In addition to their famous woven goods, there was a wide assortment of hammocks, wood carvings, beads, jewelry, and paintings. I resisted buying anything bulky since I would have to carry it in my backpack for the next few weeks until I returned home.  I settled for a hand-woven traditional belt made by the lady I bought it from.IMG_3419
The outdoor food market was particularly interesting for people-watching.  Here I found more indigenous shoppers than the main square of Plaza de Ponchos which tourists flock to.

IMG_3489Babies were contentedly strapped to the backs of young, and not so young, indigenous women.

Many of the handcrafted items found at this market are made in the nearby villages.  Upon leaving Otavalo I visited one to get a feeling for where these talented people live.  I perched myself in the quaint main square of San Pablo del Lago, with a colonial church in front of me, and watched the surrounding activity.  Cars clogged the narrow streets which fanned out from the square.  A few indigenous women scurried about.IMG_3506

Visiting Otavalo on the weekly market day is a must for anyone visiting Ecuador.  The people, the crafts, and the setting represent the Northern Highlands of Ecuador in all its present-day glory.IMG_2785


  1. Enjoy your fantastic tour. Love everything about the culture. Exquisite handcrafts and weaving. Traditional cloth… Merrilee, thank you for sharing.

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