Otavalo

Otavalo is a small town in northern Ecuador, surrounded by lofty Andes mountains and rolling green hills, a couple of hours’ drive from Quito. Its fame has grown over the last decades due to its production of beautiful textiles and the market where they’re sold: it smothers a whole square, the Plaza de los Ponchos. The textile industry grew in the early 20th century and the Otavalo Indians have proved adept salespeople, at first selling to visiting tourists and then exporting their goods globally.

It’s a fun market to visit, with reams and reams of colourful wool and cotton wares on sale and plenty of friendly haggling. You can’t really visit without buying at least a few items, whether a sweater, a poncho, a hammock or a wall-hanging. The market’s variety has grown over the years and today you’ll find a mind-boggling array of items on sale, from ceramics, wood-carvings, leather goods, woolly hats, pan pipes and yes, even fluffy llama dolls.

Beyond the market square, we can visit the fruit and vegetable market and, on Saturdays, make our way to the animal market early to join the fray of locals selling every type of livestock imaginable — including squeaking guinea pigs! 

The whole region around Otavalo, in Imbabura Province, is ripe for exploration. There’s something for everyone, from visiting artisan weaver families in their workshops, wandering the streets of the leather-producing town of Cotocachi, taking a ride on the restored railway, hiking amid Andean lakes and mountains to relaxing at a historic hacienda.