Everyone travelling around South America ends up with alpaca wool jumpers with crazy llama patterns all over. You can spot a tourist a mile off with these kind of souvenirs but I don’t think that is all bad – I mean, they’re pretty cool.
For a start, South America is way colder than I thought it would be. Way colder. One night out in Cusco deprived me of the only jumper I’d brought with me from home and so it was imperative that I buy some replacement woolies soon.
You can buy the same sort of stuff across Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina but Otavalo Market in Ecuador is especially good. It is well worth a trip for a couple of days!
The town of Otavalo isn’t much to write home about but you can entertain yourself for a day or two just pottering about the market, visiting the bird sanctuary just outside of town (take a dictionary – all of the signs are in Spanish) and just relaxing a little.
The main plaza is a riot of colour and prints every day. Indigenous people selling beautiful silver jewellery, alpaca jumpers, hand-stitched blankets and ponchos are everywhere. Sometimes the merchandise is piled so high and is so colourful that you fail to see the tiny lady proprietor tucked in behind all the piles of wool!
If you like hustle and bustle and the colour and smell of markets, this is the place to come. On Saturdays the market stretches out of the main plaza and spreads through the surrounding streets. Otavalo also has an animal market on Saturdays where livestock is sold – from cows and horses to chickens and guinea pigs. A slightly surreal experience but well worth wandering down to to see the locals carrying a live chicken home with them just tucked under their arm.
After seeing that you can potter back to the streets around the plaza where you can spend hours deliberating over the best Atrapa de Sueños (dream catchers) or trying on hats.
It’s a great place to practice your haggling too. Once you get the hang of it it’s great fun!
Top Haggling Tips:
- Bargain with humour and a smile – never be too serious and never ever be rude.
- Learn how to haggle in the language – numbers are particularly useful.
- Don’t linger too long if you really like something but want it for cheaper – walking away is a powerful move.
- Towards the end of the day you’ll get better deals.
- The main market day (Saturday in this case) will be more expensive than other days.
I hope you get the chance to visit Otavalo and buy yourself a few souvenirs!