When our our plan to sell it all and travel was first hatched our starting point was going to be Ecuador. So many things about Ecuador appealed to us: Eternal spring weather, the Andes, the ocean, rain forests, and islands. Ecuador has so much natural and cultural diversity it seemed the perfect country to start our expat experiment.
Our plan changed course as the wait to sell our house dragged on. We continued to research other countries in South America and Colombia won first place. As our 3 month visa was coming to close in Colombia we decided to move on to Ecuador.
One of the aspects of Latin American culture we love is the outdoor markets. In Ecuador street markets are world renowned. One of those markets ended up being a major factor in us choosing Otavalo as our first stop in Ecuador.
Markets happen every day in Otavalo but biggest market day is Saturday. Vendors set up at Plaza De Los Ponchos every day but on Saturday the market explodes outward from the Plaza like the tentacles of a giant octopus. The heart of the market is in the plaza itself: 90 mushroom-shaped concrete umbrellas with benches. Vendors set up shop under the umbrellas creating huge displays to showcase their wares. Tables, crates, racking and re-bar get set up and loaded with goods to sell.
From the Plaza, the market winds down side streets going for blocks like long tentacles stretching for miles.
It is the largest market in South America. It is truly mind blowing to walk the market and see how huge it is. The AirBnB apartment we rented was 2 blocks off Plaza de los Ponchos so on Saturday the market was right outside our door.
It was amazing to watch the setup and tear down of this massive market. Rob and I were in awe because of our business back home in Canada. We would travel to different farmers markets selling Robs art and imported merchandise from our travels. We could set up in 30 minutes and tear down in 15.
Our setup was nowhere near as complicated as the ones in Plaza de Poncho. Some vendors at this market begin setting up Friday night others arrive before sunrise Saturday to be ready to sell as early as possible. They carry all of their wares on their backs or in giant bins from their trucks and cars and back again as the sun starts to set. These people work hard.
We have visited markets all over the world and the Saturday market in Otavalo is the biggest and the friendliest. You can find everything there, granted a lot of merchandise is repeated. This doesn’t change huge variety of stuff for sale it just means there could be 20 vendors selling the same commodity.
The competition helps with the bargaining. On average we paid 30% less than the original price quoted. Negotiating price was the most comfortable bartering I have ever done. These vendors expect it and are willing to do it with a smile.
Every vendor seemed relaxed and so welcoming. Walking through the crowds of customers was anything but relaxed in contrast. I found myself wanting to stop and engage vendors more than usual to feel the calm vibe they all exuded before moving on through the chaos. It truly is a feast for the eyes, we enjoy a minimalist lifestyle so we haven’t felt a strong pull to buy things so far in our travels. That is until the Saturday market in Otavalo. There is so much to take in as you wander the market; lively music, rich colors, delicious smells, jewelry, jade, luxurious leather and textiles. Some vendors create right in front of you; knitting ,weaving, painting a lot of beautiful merchandise that was hard to resist buying.
The market on Saturday in Otavalo is great way to experience Ecuadorian culture. Vendors travel from all over bringing their regional specialties to sell. We spent all day sampling traditional food and talking with indigenous Otavalenos learning about textiles and crafts. It was the best market experience yet in our travels. If you plan to travel from Quito to visit the market stay overnight in Otavalo Friday to get an early start. There are a lot of hostels, hotels and AirBnB rentals close to Plaza de los Ponchos.