- Encounters with locals
Otavalo is by no means tourist free! It's the perfect place to explore the local crafts and make a few purchases. There are weavers and leather workers, silver jewellery, rugs, embroidery, painting and ponchos - you can buy wholesale or retail at this market. The Quechuas love trading but it doesn't change their traditions or their identity.
You need to spend the day there, wandering around the stalls and choosing your things carefully from the enormous and varied choice. Both men and women wear traditional clothing, their is music in the restaurants and the dishes are typical of the area. A proper Andean atmosphere guaranteed!
Ordinary local life, in addition to development projects and ones aimed at preservation of the Quechua culture have helped keep the community united. You'll often come across sports (football) or educational projects which bring together members of local associations.
Due to its market, Otavalo has today become the main hub of tourism in Ecuador. Having had the pleasure of visiting it myself, I'll take you on a tour.
So off we head then to the most amazing market in Latin America … in fact in the whole world. So there it is. I've said it. It may be a subjective opinion, simply my own personal view, but it really is how I feel. A veritable kaleidoscope of everything that is Ecuador, in concentrated form, stands set out in front of the many visiting tourists. The indigenous Andean people look wonderful in their traditional dress. The women wear pretty navy-blue skirts with laced blouses. And the men, not wanting to be outdone, also look equally impressive. It's a veritable parade of wonderful faces … a photographer's dream. All these beautiful, wonderful people congregate in crowds at the livestock market. And here again, the spectacle continues unabated. A man leads a pig on a string, with the animal squealing like there's not tomorrow. Cattle, oxen, chickens and horses get bartered and sold: it's like an entire farm is up for sale. A bunch of charmingly cute puppies wait in a box, looking for someone to take a shine to them. A woman plunges her hand into a large jute sack and pulls out a guinea pig, holding it by the scruff of the neck. These are known as "cuy" here, and considered a delicacy. A man very proudly carries his champion in his arms. It's a fighting cock, which he fusses over like a newborn baby. Incredible! Then there's the pig so big it reaches to its owner's shoulders. I spent hours wandering around this market, enjoying and admiring the picturesque chaos of the place. It's a truly delightful experience.
Not far away, past the fruit and vegetable market, lies the very famous Plaza de los Ponchos. another essential place to visit. If you find yourself tempted by the Andean fashions you see around you, you simply have to spend some time shopping here. In short, a day spent at the market in Otavalo is an experience you'll never forget.
I spent almost three days in Otavalo. The first day I tried to get my bearings and adjust to the heat before getting lost. I finally found myself at the Peguche Waterfall, where I had the slightly surreal experience of filming three singers who paddled in the water whilst they sang...
On the second day, I hired the services of Marco, a brilliant guide, to go riding in the Cuicocha Lagoon about 15km from Otavalo. I had fantastic time, one of the best during my trip to Ecuador; it's an excellent way to explore the area.
On the third day, a Saturday, I decided to hit the markets... Animal market, poncho market, food market and finally one that sold traditional clothes. People hadn't exaggerated - these were not like the markets I was used to, these were huge!!!