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Otavalo crafts market
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2015-01-28 17:37:36 | Otavalo, Imbabura, Ecuador
Keywords: market, Traditions
I like to visit small town markets because they really showcase the reality of the local people and on certain days or events, they are also filled with indigenous people coming to sell their produces are wares. In some cases, however, the market has been transformed into a touristic circus. It's unfortunately my impression of the famous handicrafts market of the little town of Otavalo, in Northern Ecuador.

Yes, the colours are great, the people is amazing and the food is usually good too. But it's obvious that this is a show for the tourists these days. Since the prices are still much lower here than in Quito or Guayaquil for the same articles, it cannot be considered a tourist trap. But it was turned into a Disneyland of handicrafts. It's not bad in itself, and it helps the whole city to live better with the weekend tourists flocking from Quito. But overall, if you're looking for the authenticity, that is way gone, with the original and traditional designs which were replaced with others mainly aimed at pleasing tourists rather than showcasing the culture elements.

During the week, the Plaza del poncho in centre Otavalo is still filled with crafts shops offering you everything you envision as 'typical' Andean crafts. I suspect many of them are mass-produced (although they don't show the “Made in China” label), but most of it is really handy work... and some artisans are actually working within their little stalls in between the rare customers of the weekdays.

When a 'gringo' actually strolls in the market on weekdays, he's constantly called up by every vendor who can see him. They actually learned a few words in English to at least give you the name of their products (scarfs, bags, etc).

On Saturdays however, the market takes a whole new dimension. First, the crafts are exposed in many streets around the Plaza, which include of course tons of vendors who are not there during the week. On many occasions, those new vendors offer you items that are not sold during the week by the 'resident' vendors of the Plaza. You will see for example music instruments, art pieces beyond the 'traditional' paintings, etc.

Then, on the South side of the Plaza, you will find a small food market. First, with spices, then with the regular market stuff like chicken and veggies. Then, there are the food stalls offering you all the local specialities (and a few carts offering Colombian items like papas rellenas). It's the good occasion for you to try the local food, because it's hot (which is rarely the case with street vendors in Ecuador) and you can smell it.

All kinds of crafts can be found.

If you like to walk, the open-air market expands for at least 10 streets North/South and 4 streets East/West, with all streets being blocked by vendors and their stalls. Beyond the crafts, the market converts into a regular market in the streets. It's basically a giant flea market where you can find virtually anything you want. It's nice, but it's not different than the regular markets or 'centro commerciales' you can go to every day of the week, in every city of Ecuador.

If you walk more, you can get to the animals market on the other side of the Panamericana highway. There you will mostly see sections reserved for bovines, pigs and horses. Then, you will encounter any and every kind of farm animals at various stages of development. You will of course encounter also something you wouldn't expect... guinea pigs. There are vendors there, offering these to become 'cuy' (cooked BBQ-style), because it's popular in Ecuador. There are also a few food stalls plus more generic flea market stuff.

Tourist guides will tell you go as early as 6 AM for the beginning of the market time... but since the mass of tourists arrive from Quito only around 9 or 10 AM, many vendors aren't set up before 9.

Overall, it's a nice experience, but diluted by the overly commercial aspect of it. I personally much preferred seeing the crafts market on weekdays and being able to actually take my time to admire the work without being pushed by the sea of tourists. Then, visit a normal city market later. The only real bonus of the Saturday is the animals market. But if you're on the hunt for souvenirs and crafts, the selection is better on Saturdays.

Part of the animals market.

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