Exploring Colorful Otavalo Market

Heading north from Lake Quilotoa, we overshot our final destination (Quito) by two hours to catch one of the largest and most famous markets in all of South America — Otavalo Market.

By Dave

Filed in: Ecuador

We knew that we’d be in the area just before the weekend, which was perfect timing for Otavalo’s famed Saturday Market. Otavalo is a historically indigenous agricultural community nestled among towering volcanoes. Otavaleños (people of Otavalo) are particularly known for their fine wool textiles. Given all of the above and its close proximity to Ecuador’s capital, Quito (about 90km), Otavalo had all the ingredients to catapult it into a thriving market center. As tourism to Otavalo has increased in recent decades, Otavaleño products have become increasingly sought after on the world market as well.

Apart from the market for which it is known, Otavalo is a very agreeable town of 90,000 residents, cobblestone streets, fine architecture and a mild Andean climate.

Our Ecuador Backpacking Route

We encountered one of the coolest and most offbeat things about Otavalo the night we arrived: The Musical Garbage Truck.

We heard something strange around the corner. We went to go check it out and were astonished at what we stumbled upon: a garbage truck slowly making its way around the neighborhood playing an enchanting tune. It appeared to be a signal to residents that the garbage truck had arrived and it was time to bring out the trash. We had fun being trash truck groupies, chasing the truck all over the neighborhood, though the trash collectors must have thought we were clinically insane.

One thing worth noting in Ecuador is that the guesthouses all fed us incredibly well. Complimentary breakfast was the norm at most of our guesthouses in Ecuador, and were some of the most amazing breakfast buffet spreads we’d seen before or since.

In addition to the textile and produce market, we had heard that the cattle/livestock market was also not to be missed. The market begins around sunrise on Saturday morning and finishes up by noon. Since the textile market didn’t start until almost noon, we knew we’d have some time on our hands. We didn’t wake up at sunrise, but had a nice, leisurely breakfast before heading out to look for the pig party. We must have covered most of the city, following all the major roads until the concrete turned to countryside, and asking half the town for directions, but no luck.

A bit disappointed, but still looking forward to the main event, we found a coffee shop with a second-story perch on the main drag to people watch until the producers got set up. And before long, it was market time!




One of the things we like to do anywhere is snap a shot of the local seller or craftsman with a product we buy. If we don’t, we generally forget the story behind items. If we’re giving the item as a gift, sometimes we like to include the pic with the gift to give a bit of history/context to the object. Sometimes sellers are hesitant, but the vast majority of the time the idea of taking a photo enlivens them in a way that we generally don’t get to see otherwise.


Couldn’t quite figure out exactly what these were (above), but definitely conjured up memories of quite a few handcrafted products I’ve seen over the years in Oregon…








Finger puppets. Lots and lots of finger puppets.




Despite its name, Ecuador is actually the original home of the Panama hat. Cuenca is the city most famous for Panama hats, but you can get the same hats (from Cuenca) in Otavalo, often without the markup and hard sell. Perhaps the coolest thing about the Panama hat is the way it packs for travel.



Such majestic animals. They didn’t have to die for this!


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