Ecuador is a small country with lots to brag about. In the east, the jungle burgeons with animal-filled canopy. Down its spine, the Andes Mountains scrape the sky while the shoreline runs through some of the prettiest beaches in South America. Then, out in the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos Islands speckle the equator with wildlife and diverse land and seascapes. But of all these locales, travelers from Quito seem to flock north to Otavalo’s famous Saturday Market. Whether they are shopping for handmade sweaters, attend a show at the nearby soccer stadium, or just want to check out the hype, visitors will not be disappointed.
Animal Market in Otavalo on Saturday
Every day, Otavalenos set up shops and stalls along the streets in this northern town. Women dressed in traditional garb sell gold necklaces. Men dust off fruit. Local musicians tune their instruments. Handwoven textiles pile high next to stalls with other textiles piled high. Six days out of the week, the fruit and handicrafts markets sit side by side. On Saturday, they overflow into each other, taking up multiple blocks and edging toward town limits where the animal market hosts local farmers, selling everything from piglets to ducklings
Neil and I loved watching the people move about their business. One man gave a live info-mercial about his coffee mugs. Grandmas carved roasted pigs. And cowboys wrangled with their livestock. The juxtaposition of people and animals is amazing. Tourists flock here from around the world with their cameras. Otavelenos plod along in their traditional garb and farmers’ sons wear high rubber boots through the muck. White puppies nuzzle up against shaggy sheep and llamas are looking around, thinking: who are these people. The best animal I saw was the giant hog, hanging out beside a truck.
Tips for Visiting the Saturday Animal Market
-Go early. By 7 am, vendors are up and hawking their wares. The crowd thins out closer to mid day. So an early start is best.
-Keep wallets tucked away. Unfortunately, the animal market’s fame attracts tourists and pickpockets, alike. Keep valuables at the hotel, locked away. Wallets should be in a money belt, under your clothes. Try not to get stuck in the middle of a crowd where everyone is so close you might not realize someone is checking your pockets.
-Wear boots or tuck pant legs into socks. It’s not always mud you’re going to be walking through. Neil had to clean our shoes for a half an hour before we went to our favorite restaurant in Otavalo. Use carabiners and other travel safe necessities. Long pants dragging through squishy dirt don’t make good memories.
-Browse now, buy later. If you’re in Otavalo for more than one day, enjoy the sights and excitement on Saturday but come back any day of the week to purchase your souvenirs. On Sunday through Friday, when crowds are a fraction of the Saturday attendance, prices drop drastically. Swoop in with your haggling skills and bring home those tapestries. The creatures in the animal market often wind up on tourist’s plates in Otavalo’s restaurants. So enjoy the sights and sounds of Otavalo’s animal market on Saturday, then enjoy the tastes of this Andean city all week.