Otavalo is the best street market that I visited in Ecuador! It is HUGE, has tons of variety, has kind workers, and it gave me a bit more insight to the local culture. I am so happy that I saved all of my shopping for the last full day I was in Ecuador, because I bought quite a bit of stuff!
I joined an official tour group from the travel agency at the Secret Garden called Carpedm (this is how it is spelled on their sign at least). I was afraid that I wouldn’t get a seat because I didn’t book it ahead of time, but there was the perfect number of seats after myself and three others joined at the last minute. For $20 per/person the agency took us to the animal market, a trip to an artisan/weaver, a waterfall, a leather town called Cotocachi, and then the large Otavalo market itself. I think it was a fantastic deal and I would highly recommend using this agency.
The animal market was full of people and the sound of animals wailing. Not the best place for vegetarians or vegans out there, but it was interesting seeing how comfortable people are with their animals that would soon become dinner.
TIP: Be very careful while at the market. A girl in my group was petting and holding a puppy and while she was distracted someone got into her bag and stole her entire wallet!
I was really looking forward to stopping at Cotocachi for lunch because I love leather purses and wallets, but everything there seemed to be sold from a brick and mortar store with high tourist prices. Perhaps the other tourists thought there were great deals, but I only found one store with artisanal leather products and those were all sold at a high mark up. I found a much better selection and quality at the markets in Mexico. None of the other people on my tour bought anything here either.
My favorite part of the day by far was the large market in Otavalo. At this market there was already prepared food, fruits & veggies, t-shirts, blankets, jewelry, clothing, slippers, – just about everything you could want to take home! I bought 7 shirts for $7.50 which made me SOOOO glad that I didn’t shell out the $28 they were charging for the Galapagos t-shirts IN the Galapagos! I also bought some slippers, friendship bracelets, a woven belt (or possibly future camera strap), and three pairs of handmade earrings.
Negotiating the market: My spanish skills absolutely helped me negotiate at this market, but if you aren’t comfortable with you abilities many of the vendors knew at least some English and had calculators to work with instead. I think the best bargaining move is to offer a cheaper price if you buy a larger quantitiy, and to let them offer the first price before you counter offer. Also starting with a “buenos dias” and a smile also seem to work wonders.
I absolutely loved this day trip from Quito and I highly encourage you to save all of your shopping for Otavalo if you can make it there on a Friday or Saturday.
Have you been to Otavalo? What did you think? What are your favorite negotiation tips?