The oldest, best-known, and most important Indian market in South America takes place every Saturday high in the Andes. Otavalo’s market has always served as the social and economic heartbeat of the northern highlands; today it is one of Ecuador’s most popular destinations, after the Galapagos Island. The otherwise sleepy town awakens at dawn to a cacophony of chickens, cows, and sheep and the trading of hemp, saddles, vegetables, grain, and textiles. There are also tourist trinkets galore – pottery, weavings, jewellery, carved wooden animals – but what most visitors are seeking is the authentic local atmosphere as the brightly dressed otavalenos converge to barter. Early birds should ideally arrive before the animal market bedlam ends at around 8 A.M. or at the very least before day-trippers arrive on buses rolling in from Quito at around 10 A.M.
Spend Friday night at the nearby Hacienda Cusin, a 17th-century colonial plantation reincarnated as a first-class rural inn. Rooms have a rustic, old-world charm – some with romantic fireplaces and wrought-iron balconies opening onto lovely vistas of the surrounding mountain scenery. Fifteen minutes away is the more sophisticated La Mirage, a lush flower- and vine-draped oasis perched high on an Andean hillside that combines the best of local culture and artistry and luxury. The staff at the impeccably run inn’s working farm can send you off with a guide on horseback through ancient Indian towns and unspoiled high country to the shores of a volcanic lake. Dining at La Mirage is as memorable for the view of the snow capped Cotacachi and Imbabura mountains as it is for the excellent menu, enhanced by local Ecuadoran wines and served by young Otavalo Indian girls in traditional embroidered dress.
Midway on the 2-hour drive from Quito to Otavalo is Mitad del Mundo, the “Middle of the World” monument celebrating Ecuador’s equatorial position. (Ecuador is Spanish for “equator.”) The equator actually lies 984 feet to the north of the monuments made during the 1736 French Geodesic Mission. Still, straddling the line here for a photo op is hard to resist.
WHERE: 80 miles/120 km north of Quito.
BEST TIME: Sat for best market, though markets take place almost daily; Jun 24 – Jul 6 for celebration of the patron saints of Cotacachi.
EXPERIENCE: this through Experiential Travel Journeys. Please Call us or Email us.