High up in the mountains, in a place where you would think no one could live, we find the shoppers’ paradise.
The small town of Otavalo is a few hours drive north of Quito. The facts tell us that it is 2550 meters above sea level and the citizens count 31ooo souls. Most of these have ancestors thousands of years back on the American continent. Exactly what tribes or people they represent, is not so clear. When the Incas conquered the country in the 15th century they moved people from the south of Peru and Bolivia up here.
But no matter who they may be, they are very proud of it. They wear their traditional clothes and so does the mayor. He is one of them. When the Government wanted to rise a monument to South America’s liberator Simon Bolivar on the Principal place, the otavaleños refused. “No Bolivar please, we want Ruminhui”. So instead of the Liberator it is the muscular body and the stoneface of the inca commander who is looking down on the city’s pigeons and the retired citizens on their benches in the park. Ruminhui was the man who resisted against the Spaniards and burned Quito down to the ground.
And the proud residents of Otavalo have also managed to combine unique craftsmanship with impeccable business acumen and made a little economic miracle. After Galapagos, Otavalo is the place most tourists visit during their trip to Ecuador.
On the market at Plaza de los Ponchos, you can 7 days in the week find excellent products made of llama wool. You can buy blankets, sweaters, blouses, gloves and socks, often with appropriate ethnic pattern. Also you will find embroidered blouses, hammocks, jewelry, carvings, paintings and reproductions, dolls, panpipes, bags, shrunken heads (fake) and more. A little haggling is included. Saturdays have the greatest elections.
Tourist buses depart daily from Quito. A bit strange is that prices in general are significantly lower than in Quito. In restaurants, it costs a little over half of what they pay on the finer places in the capital. One of the best steaks I ever tasted, was at the restaurant Buena Vista, located at Plaza de los Ponchos. But you should probably try the grilled guinea pig (cuy). Hotel prices are also reasonable because there are so many of them. For around $ 35 bucks you get a very good double.
There are also many natural sights on the road from Quito. You can do hiking, mountain climbing and visit the picturesque lake “Laguna de San Pablo.” Other trips can be planned from Otavalo, for example to the condor park or the sacred tree El Lechero.