Otavalo has become one of Ecuador’s tourist hotspots, not least thanks to its market. One of the most famous in Latin America, it attracts more and more tourists and Indians every Saturday, who make their way from the mountains well before dawn to the famous “poncho square”.

Tips for visiting the Otavalo market

To get the most out of the Otavalo market, it’s best to get up very early in the morning, so you don’t miss the livestock market, which starts at five o’clock, but above all you can see the Indians arriving, some on donkeys, others dragging their little black pigs on leashes.

The Otavalo market is made up of three distinct markets:

  • The livestock fair, held a little way out of town, is a colorful spectacle.
  • The fruit and vegetable market, where you can sample specialities such as guinea pig and vegetable soups. Wares and other victuals, pottery of all kinds are also present here, as this is a market mainly for the locals.

Photo: ©Philippe Montagnier

  • The poncho square is home to the ancient Indian market, now invaded by tourists. Here you can buy rugs, blankets, ponchos, sweaters, bags, Panama hats, jewelry, pottery and other knick-knacks.

This part of the market is dominated by around twenty families who buy the various items at very low prices from Indians in the surrounding countryside. A little further away, you can meet these Indians who sell their products directly.

Origins of the Otavaleños

The origins of the delicate, meticulous weaving skills of the Otavaleños, descendants of the Cara people, go back well before the Spanish domination of the Incas.

Before they were colonized by the Incas, the Caras had settled in Otavalo and the surrounding villages, where they made clothes which they traded with the peoples of the Oriente and Costa regions.

The Incas were later colonized and exploited by the Spanish. Over the centuries, numerous weaving workshops sprang up, and the Amerindians were forced to work for almost 100 hours a week in inhumane conditions under the direction of the Spaniards, in order to provide for the needs of the conquistadors. However, this unfortunate apprenticeship enabled the Otavaleños to develop an extraordinary weaving technique. Indeed, in the early 20th century, a weaver decided to use a fashionable Scottish tweed as his pattern. This was so successful that, ever since, Otavalo’s products have been renowned the world over.

It’s impossible to visit Otavalo on market day, because of all the hustle and bustle. If you arrive the day before the market, you’ll be able to calmly discover its churches, squares, streets and houses with red-tiled roofs.

Come and discover the Otavalo market with Terra Ecuador, our tailor-made travel agency.