Otavalo: The bigger the better?

Days: 234

Total distance travelled: 44,646.1 kilometres (27,730.5 miles)

A reputation as the largest market in South America, well with us, that’s really like waving a red rag at a bull.

Now as the first of our side excursions from Quito, you can in fact visit it on any day of the week, it’s always open.

Our preference however was to make the journey on the Saturday, as the market is generally larger and it is also the only day of the week on which there is an animal market as well.

This particular Saturday also happened to be the 14th of February, the significance of which was not immediately apparent to us.

Our day began with a short Trolebus bus north from our hostel, where from the last bus station we took a transfer to the main northern bus station.

It was on arrival there that we were left shocked.

Each destination had its own dedicated ticket vendor, and the queue for Otavalo was not only several hundred metres long, but also several hours long as well!

It turns out that February 14th (Valentines Day) is quite revered here, and in addition to people headed to the market, there were also several fiestas being held in relation to this.

Thankfully, only a few places ahead of us in the queue stood 2 Argentine girls from our hostel, so we quickly pooled our collective powers and arranged to share a taxi there (figuring 4 people would be a reasonable shared fare) so that our day wouldn’t be a complete write off.

It also promised to get us there about half an hour quicker as well which was another small consolation.

Eventually, after the odd traffic jam and our taxi driver taking an even more odd ‘shortcut’ (which saw us cut back into traffic essentially where we’d left it), we were dropped off on the main highway with but a short walk to the market ahead of us.

Once there, we dove right into the heart of the local area, and by that I mean where the everyday goods you’d find the locals purchasing could be found.

This meant vendors selling batteries, flowers, rubber gloves, chicken soup by the bowl (or indeed a whole raw chicken if you’d prefer), and it was also where we made our first purchase of the day, in the form of freshly deep fried, sugared donuts.

February 14th in Otavalo means long bus queues, expensive taxis and lonely hearts…

February 14th in Otavalo means long bus queues, expensive taxis and lonely hearts…

These little pockets of artery clogging bliss also came with a pleasant surprise of their own, as stuffed within each was a small, sweet pocket of banana.

Not a horrible start at all.

Of course we couldn’t have too many. After all, who knew what delectable treats were still to come?

Absorbing the atmosphere of the Otavalo Market

Absorbing the atmosphere of the Otavalo Market

Wandering a little further, we quickly began to leave the local areas in our wake and hit those more popular with the gringo population. I don’t for one second presume to think that we are any different, in fact this would be the area in which we’d be most likely to make any purchases (we were on the hunt for warm scarves, having sent ours back home to Australia).

Here could be found vendors selling shawls, others sporting brightly coloured cloths, spruikers offering mittens, socks & beanies, and a plethora with our desired scarves.

It was a sensory delight, colourful in both a literal and figurative sense.

To tackle this, we figured we’d need some additional sustenance, and after eyeing off some freshly cooked grubs, we instead opted for a bag of snails.

With a squeeze of lemon & a sprinkle of salt of course!

Indulging in a second local treat. I think for our own health, we’d have preferred them chilled a little more!

Indulging in a second local treat. I think for our own health, we’d have preferred them chilled a little more!

Appetites now slightly sated, and our curiosity certainly content, we got down to the business of some serious market trawling.

One thing we were surprised by, was how little these folk would move on the prices (at times it almost felt like a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian… “Whaddaya mean e’ won’t haggle!?”)

Still, as hard or shrewd as they may have appeared (never be conned by the gorgeous visage of those little old ladies), we eventually began to broker a few deals, and feel like we were making at least some progress through our shopping list… whilst at the same time adding a few items to our baskets we’d previously not even considered!

Bombarded by colour & an army of hard bargainers

Bombarded by colour & an army of hard bargainers

Don’t fall to the charms of lovely old ladies… You’ve been warned!

Don’t fall to the charms of lovely old ladies… You’ve been warned!

At one point whilst navigating our way through a sea of dried herbs and fresh vegetables we caught the waft of a particular aroma, and from that point there was never any doubt as to where we’d be returning for lunch.

So return we did, seating ourselves at one of 3 near identical looking stalls, although this one appeared to have the most space for us, where we were able to order up a delicious plate of roasted pork with potatoes and salad, for the princely sum of $2.50!

Delicious was the expectation, and delicious it was.

What did come as a surprise, was when a bag my foot happened to be resting on decided to move of its own accord.

Turns out there was a live chicken within!

Although we were now toting a bag full of goodies and comfortably full of belly, we never did manage to find our way to the animal market, making the whole intention of coming specifically on the Saturday a little moot.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable day, and upon returning to the highway we were quickly able to flag down a passing bus headed back to Quito, where as an amusing aside, the same pair of Argentines we’d shared our cab fare with, happened to be on board!



* When faced with a 2 hour queue for the buses to Otavalo, we instead shared a taxi with 2 Argentineans from our hostel for $12.50 US per person ($50.00 US total) which took about 2 hours.

* For the return to Quito, we were able to wave down a passing bus which only cost us $2.00 US for the trip (we’d also needed a $0.25 US Trolebus ticket to get to and from the bus terminal).

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9 Responses to Otavalo: The bigger the better?

  1. Karla says:

    Great Post, it feels like I was part of your journey or your walk. Keep it up

  2. Marta Grilo says:

    Those colors! It’s really something you can only find in this kind of markets. Your blog always makes me want to travel more and more! Love your stories

  3. twoscotsabroad says:

    Lots of people raved about Ecuador during our months in South Am unfortunately we never made it. Great tips for what could be an overwhelming experience. I do like a trip to The Witches Markets of Peru!

  4. Great photos… I´m a big fan of markets, street food and local goods!!
    Hard to keep on a budget with so many offer of food and beautiful stuff!
    Happy and delicious travels.

  5. Loved this post! I love finding local markets when I travel… you can walk around for hours lost in the food, colours, culture and folks attempting to haggle.. amazing. The doughnuts you found sound absolutely delicious – not so keen on the idea of the snails though ;). And the chicken bag made me laugh. Great post :). Happy travels!


  6. They say if you really want to dig deeper into the culture of a place, visit a local market! You surely nailed it this time. Looks like one eventful day. Keep up the good travels!

  7. Quito’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? We didn’t get to the massive market, but we did get to a neighbourhood market and really enjoyed that. I love Ecuador!

  8. What a great place to go for photographs. So colourful, so bright! I’m not sure I would be chowing down on the snails though.

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