Just two hours shy of Quito, Otavalo Market is the largest outdoor market in South America and one of the best in the world. A kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and smells that can be simultaneously jarring and riveting, it began with indigenous groups selling their handmade wares to weary European settlers way back in the 1500s.
Today, new generations of Otavalenos craftsmen gather around Poncho Plaza. Their fares may include the occasional flatscreen TV, but leather goods and woven crafts are more the norm. If it's your first time visiting Ecuador, Otavalo Market is the closest you can get to experiencing everyday life — and embracing the complex heritage that goes along with it.
Here are three simple tips to making the most of your time there.
Go With a Game Plan
Otavalo Market is easily a full day activity. Stay the night to get acquainted with the area and gain a proper introduction to Ecuadorian society. Use the time to look at a map so you know the areas that interest you and get a jumpstart on the crowds the next day. An extra night’s stay means you can also commit to exploring the local Andean lakes and volcanoes the area is famous for.
It’s Ok to Say No
If you see something you like, don’t point at it unless you really like it. The minute you hone in on an item, the vendors will swoop in to start bartering. And, they are very, very persistent. It’s ok to look, but don’t touch unless you're ready to start the negotiation process.
Don’t Be an Observer
On market day, it’s easy to turn into a tourist, snapping photos and shopping for knick-knacks. Push autopilot aside, and embrace the cultural experience for exploration’s sake. At the end of the day, a souvenir is much more valuable if you met the shopkeeper and learned her story.