Otavalo, Ecuador: Travel Notebook and Stock Image Gallery

Young girl selling corn at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador

The best part about market day in Otavalo, Ecuador, home to the largest indigenous market in South America, isn’t so much the bottomless piles of colorful merchandise on offer. Chances are good that you’ve seen much of it elsewhere, quite likely in your hometown, maybe even being sold by Otavaleños themselves, albeit at a much steeper price.

Holding most appeal is the never-ending dialogue between past and present that can be seen and felt, if not necessarily heard, around every corner and down every aisle of the sprawling collection of stalls on Plaza de los Ponchos –ground zero for the shopping masses that visit on Saturdays– and those that spill over onto several blocks of a number of adjacent streets to consume nearly a third of the town’s center.

The incessant chatter of commerce has been the cornerstone of Otavalo, a town of some 90,000 about a two-hour bus ride from Quito, and Otavaleño life for hundreds of years, pre-dating the Spanish conquest, pre-dating even the Incan invasion, when the value and quality of the locally-produced textiles was already firmly established.

Those are roots that the Otavaleños have clung onto so fervently that they’re said to be the most commercially successful indigenous group in Ecuador. Many of the businesses in town are Otavaleño-owned, their children well-educated. They travel extensively to sell their goods –yes, quite possibly even to your hometown mall—and to play their music. The ‘Andean’ music you hear on the streets of most cities around the world is oftentimes Otavaleño in origin.

Woman walking past a mural of a flute player, Otavalo, Ecuador
Mural of a flute player, Otavalo, Ecuador

While the locals are most known for their textiles –and there’s plenty of rugs, tapestries, wool sweaters and jackets, pants, shirts and skirts on offer— there’s also a hefty sampling of leather products, jewelry, musical instruments and even shrunken heads available, too. (The latter are said to be fake.) But there’s also a steady influx of cheaper imitation imports that might require a somewhat more discerning eye to identify.

Prices have jumped markedly in recent years –according to complaints anyway, from some expats who have been arriving in Ecuador in increasing numbers in recent years—but that doesn’t mean that there’s not good shopping to be had and good bargains to be found or made. I’m not a very good shopper so I’m the wrong person to ask. Sorry.

Bargaining is expected but don’t be an ass; be happy with a twenty to thirty percent drop and spend your savings at the ‘food court’ set up on the square’s northern end.

Pig head at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
A pig’s head prepped and ready for a food stall at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador

That’s where I spent the bulk of my hour or so at the plaza, breathing in the colors –and the occasional broiled suckling pig scents—and seeking out photographic opportunities. There’s no shortage of either, even during the market’s waning hours when I snapped the majority of these images. Most locals still wear traditional clothing: the women elaborately embroidered white blouses, sometimes with lace frills, worn over dark wool skirts, wrapped in shawls and bedecked with gold-colored necklaces and headdresses called fachalinas; the men blue ponchos, light-colored calf-length pants and dark bowler-style hats.

Like the majority of Saturday visitors, I came on a day trip from Quito, but many suggest arriving on Friday night to witness the entire market experience, beginning with the early morning animal market located where the town’s fringes intersect with the Pan-American Highway. I missed that and am somewhat sorry that I did judging from the stories I’ve heard.

Cotacachi volcano looming over Otavalo, Ecuador
Cotacachi volcano looming over Otavalo, Ecuador

The city is pleasantly set in a valley flanked by volcanoes that stab the sky at nearly 5,000m, Cotacachi the highest at 4,495m (16,388ft). There are enough natural attractions to justify spending a night. Indeed, the traditional market notwithstanding, to me the highlight of my visit was the nearby Parque Condor, a bird rescue and release sanctuary, which I’ll write about soon.

Getting there: About two hours by bus from Quito. Departures every 20-30 minutes daily between 5am and 8pm from the Carcelen bus station in the city’s far northern fringes. $2.20 one-way (March 2015). Ask upon arrival when the last bus back departs; service sometimes ends earlier on weekends.

Twenty more images below.

Otavalo Market, Food and Spice Section

Woman selling corn, central market, Otavalo, Ecuador
Woman selling corn at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Young girl selling corn at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Young girl selling corn at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Spices, central market, Otavalo, Ecuador
Spices, central market, Otavalo, Ecuador
Spices for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Spices for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Woman selling corn at the Central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Woman selling corn at the Central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Women food shopping at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Women food shopping at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
chicken for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Poultry stall, central market, Otavalo, Ecuador
Corn, rice and grains for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Corn, rice and grains for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
Assortment of spices at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
The spice aisle at Otavalo’s central market.
Blinding. Spices at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador.
Blinding. Spices at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador.

 

Street Shots

A woman carries a baby on her back as she clears her street stall in Otavalo, Ecuador

Street vendor, Otavalo, Ecuador
Street vendor, Otavalo, Ecuador
Street mural, Otavalo, Ecuador
Street mural, Otavalo, Ecuador
Central bus station, Otavalo, Ecuador
Central bus station, Otavalo, Ecuador
Clown head trash bin, Otavalo, Ecuador
Clown head trash bin, Otavalo, Ecuador
Socks and underwear in a pick-up truck, Otavalo, Ecuador
Need socks and underwear? Look no further than this pick-up. Otavalo, Ecuador

 

And a Few More From the Market

A child laying in a pile of clothes plays with a mobile phone, Otavalo, Ecuador
Who’s got my phone?
Sport shirt vendor, Otavalo, Ecuador
Sport shirt vendor, Otavalo, Ecuador
T-shirts for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
T-shirts for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador

Animal hats at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador

T shirts for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador
T shirts for sale at the central market in Otavalo, Ecuador

All images © Bob Ramsak 2015. All rights reserved. High resolution images available.

For stock or editorial use please get in touch.
For print purchases please visit here; for greeting cards and post cards here.
If you’d like a print or card of an image not yet listed in those portfolios, let me know. I’ll be happy to make it available.

 

Otavalo Ecuador - Travel Notebook and Stock Image Gallery
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  1. Pal says

    Otavalo is a nice place, and you capture well the essence of the town. I wonder if they’ll manage to hold on to the traditions for another generation or two or things will slowly change in a decade or so. We shall see 🙂

    1. Bob R says

      They’ve managed for at least 600 years and in the meantime have built quite the temple to the Spirits of Commerce. 🙂

  2. Muza-chan says

    Beautiful pictures….

  3. Jackie Smith says

    As always, your photos and the narrative are so beautifully combined to both entertain and educate me!

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks, Jackie, glad you enjoyed. And thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  4. Flong The Chariot says

    I love your blog

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks, much appreciated and thanks for stopping by. Welcome anytime. 🙂

  5. mtltechwriter says

    Great ensemble of pictures depicting market life in this part of the world, and harmony is present all over in your works. Congratulations!

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