In the northern highlands, about three hours by bus from Quito is Otavalo. Here on Saturdays, is one of the largest markets of the Andes. It is a colourful entity, in which many beautiful fabrics of alpaca wool are sold. The central square of Otavalo, “Plaza de Ponchos” is already the centre of market trade during the week. But on Saturdays, about every street is used for market stalls. If you’re looking for a brightly coloured poncho, then you’re sure to succeed here! The traditional inhabitants of Otavalo are famous for their weaving techniques. Long before the Inca period, people had discovered how to make beautiful things out of alpaca wool.
The weekly market of Otavalo
Besides the large weekly market in the middle of the centre of Otavalo, you can also visit the animal market, just outside the centre. Follow the crowds or the animal droppings on the street and after 10 minutes you will be in an area where all kinds of animals are being sold. Of course, there is a large sector with guinea pigs but you can also see chickens, ducks, geese, cows, pigs and horses. Our host at the homestay where we were staying those days, came back from the market with a newly-bought cow. It is a very chaotic situation on the animal market but we had a great time looking around for a few hours and of course taking the most beautiful photos.
If you want to go to the Saturday market, it is handy to be in Otavalo the day before. You can be at the market as early as possible, even before the tourists and day trippers arrive from Quito. On Fridays, you can already see plenty because there is always a market on the central square.
To spend the night, it is nice to go to a homestay of the “Runa Tupari” organisation. You get to know the locals and their lives. You sleep in a simple room but there is always a private bathroom.
Laguna de Cuicocha
Besides a visit to the weekly market of Otavalo, it is also worthwhile to visit Laguna de Cuicocha. This lake at 3,100 metres’ altitude is located in the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. It is a volcanic crater lake. Two islands were created during a later eruption and have the shape of the back of a guinea pig. The name of the lake is also a corruption in the local language of “guava lake”. We walked around the lake with a guide. In total, this is an easy trip of about 14 kilometres, which took us almost 4 hours. In clear weather, you can see the snowy slopes of the Cotacachi volcano.