City with the Largest Traditional Market in South America

The town of Otavalo in Ecuador is best known for its traditional market. It is believed by many to be the largest indigenous market in all of South America. Walking around you will still see the traditional costumes from the surrounding villages. Locals come here to sell their fresh vegetables, fruits and other foodstuffs. Below you find the best sights of Otavalo, including some recommendations and interesting tours.

Handmade rugs, scarves and straw hats, and countless varieties of fruits are sold in Otavalo. The market is literally colourful. One stall is more beautiful than the other. In addition to colours, you also encounter scents everywhere: such as puffed corn, baked bread and many types of snacks. For centuries, this town has been the stage of the largest craft market in the Andes. Even before the Incas, Otavalo was the center for the many inhabitants. And, the market is still largely the same.

Traditional clothing is everywhere. ©Corno van den Berg

Otavalo is located between three volcanoes. You can see the volcanoes Imbabura (4,630 m), Cotacachi (4,939 m) and Mojanda (4,263 m) on all sides towering the market town. You hear music around you, while everyone is doing their shopping or wants to sell something. It doesn't get much more authentic. Even though there are now tourists, the atmosphere is good I noticed when I was there.

Traditional Costumes

Everywhere you go you will see many handwoven products, including clothing such as ponchos, scarves, sweaters, pants and much more. You can also still see how the clothes are made by hand. Or how jewellery is made of silver and gold, with many ancient motifs. Because of the many ponchos, the market is popularly known as Plaza de Ponchos Otavalo. You will notice it yourself.

The colourful market of Otavalo. ©Corno van den Berg

Accommodation in Otavalo

The city is located about ninety kilometers north of Quito. It is located on the edge of the Andes Mountains. Keep in mind that you have to travel about two hours. It is therefore advisable to spend the night in Otavalo, so that you are on time for the market the next day. The city has plenty of hotels, hostels and bed & breakfasts that you can easily book online.

Good Food & Drinks

A foodstall at Otavalo market. ©Corno van den Berg

On and around the market you find numerous small (and larger) restaurants. Where you can enjoy a delicious meal after all the shopping. But also on the market you have plenty of sellers with fresh products such as fruit juices, empanadas and other sandwiches. Many sweet snacks are also available. Try them. Be careful with fresh items that have been washed. This usually does not happen with clean drinking water, which can lead to an upset stomach. In the various restaurants you can eat just about anything. As soon as they have a menu in English, they also take tourists' stomachs into account.

Best Time

The market is at its best on Saturday as it is at its largest. You can also go on Wednesdays, but then the offer is smaller. Take your time for this market. Most people arrive early in the morning, after which it quickly gets busier. I myself like the morning best, although you can also walk around at lunchtime and have a bite to eat.

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