Otalvo – Equador

Otavalo is a small town in Ecuador. It has about 50,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the canton of the same name. Otavalo is world-famous for its indigenous population, the Otavalos, many of which are travelling around the world to sell their famous handicrafts or play in Andean Folk music groups.

The Otavalos are considered the economically most successful indigenous group of Latin America, and many of the grandest houses and largest pick-up trucks in Otavalo are owned by Otavalos. However, a great percentage of the Otavalos, especially in the surrounding villages, live in poverty and are victims of racial discrimination. Otavalos are easily recognized by their traditional dress: white pants and a dark poncho for men; a dark skirt and a white blouse with colourful embroidery and colourful band for women. Both sexes wear their hair long (the men usually platted).

Otavalo is approximately 2 hours north of Quito on the Panamerican Highway. Buses to Otavalo leave from the Terminal Carcelén in the North of Quito and disembark at a small bus terminal in Otavalo along Calle Atahualpa & Jacinto Collahuazo. The bus ride costs $2.50

You may also catch a taxi from the Quito Airport at a price of between $50-60. If tight on time, it saves you the time to head to Quito and backtrack towards Otavalo.

Taxis will take you anywhere within town for $1. Negotiate with the driver if you want to go to places outside town. To Peguche waterfall, the rate is about $2,50, to Mojanda Lake, you will pay about $10. There are also plenty of buses going to nearby communities and towns, most of them leaving from the main terminal.

Town Markets. Every Saturday there is a Mercado Artesanal at the so-called Plaza de Ponchos between calle Sucre and Jaramillo, where indigenous and mestizo people from Otavalo and surrounding communities sell their handicrafts. You will find a wide range of weavings, jewelry, clothes, wood and stone carvings, paintings, hats, and all kind of kitsch from pretty much any corner of Ecuador and neighbouring Peru and Colombia.

Most vendors will claim that their goods are all hand-made at home, but you will soon get a feel what´s machine-made mass production and what´s a real quality handicraft. Although Saturday is the main market day, purchasing handicrafts on any other day is possible and a far less hectic experience. If you want something more authentic or just want to stock up on your groceries, try the town’s largest food market Mercado 24 de Mayo (open all week).

There is also an animal market Mercado de Animales northwest of town across the Panamarican Highway, where local farmers buy and sell their livestock. This market is quite an experience, but not recommendable for people who care about animal rights (unless you are planning to protest about the way those animals are treated there).


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