It’s not every day you follow a cow to the market.
Held only once a week on early Saturday mornings, Otavalo’s Animal Market is not what you would describe as the easiest thing to see for yourself. If you are sensitive to the treatment of animals, this might be a post you’ll want to pass on.
I’ve been to the Majang Livestock Market in Seoul and the Moran meat market just outside of Seoul, but this market offers an all-live selection. No signs that we saw marked the path, and while it’s technically open to tourists, you’re definitely the outlier.
Once you’re in and past the parking area, you’ll see how cows, pigs, and other animals all have their own areas. Getting the animals to those areas — especially if you’re finagling more than a few of them around — takes a practiced hand.
The sun rising over the mountains makes for a pretty scene. I never heard how much the cows sold for, but there are dozens to choose from if you’re a serious buyer.
This little piggy to market… OK, actually, all of them did. Plenty of pink piglets and brown hogs (at least one of which was available for $170 US) for your future bacon pleasure.
Places in each lot didn’t seem assigned, so it was mainly a matter of finding a spot that would allow you to be comfortable while trying to sell what you brought. I didn’t hear any prices on sheep, but I ran into a Swiss guy living in Ecuador who bought a goat for $40. He’ll presumably have the freshest goat’s milk for cheese in the style he likes!
Leashes and saddles anyone?
Getting on to the bird section would be the most disconcerting to animal lovers and anyone with a sensitive nose. I’m really sure who’s buying these guys based on which random person you run into first, but you definitely had your choice.
Ducks and chicks aplenty — most in far more crowded cages than this. Rabbits were also around for about $4 each.
This animal market is a straightforward, all-business marketplace. There’s no English to be found or spoken here — if you’re serious about buying some animals, know Spanish or bring a translator.
And now, the rest of the story — Otavalo’s crafts market
Otavalo is arguably more famous for an arts and crafts market that’s one of the biggest in South America. Encompassing a number of streets and the Plaza de Ponchos in what’s considered ‘downtown’ Otavalo, hundreds of vendors set up in the wee hours of a Saturday morning to prepare for the crowds seeking the local crafts.
The good news: lots of stuff is genuinely made here in Ecuador. The bad news: your selection may put you in line for one of those ‘enhanced screenings’ the US is keen to offer. Choose wisely.
While you’ll want to be on the lookout for poor quality goods as you would anywhere else in the world, the general vibe I got was that stuff is generally well made. Bigger items may require some special cleaning methods… but you probably already planned for that.
Plenty of alpaca wool products in some of the most vividly colorful patterns I’ve ever seen. Blankets, rugs, table cloths, scarves, and a whole lot more.
Just a few of the patterns available — all detailed and intricate. Prices are not displayed, and it was pretty clear whatever the first price stated was a place from which to start negotiations. I paid a dollar each for some hacky sacks and a few bucks each for some small organizational bags.
Leather bracelets, anyone? The nearby village of Cotacachi is fairly famous for its leather offerings, and you’ll see quite a few booths full of leather stuff.
What was I saying about colorful? To be sure, there’s some tacky stuff and a few areas that seem to cater to tourists more.
As we were leaving the market, we thought we had seen it all… and then we saw the guy with all his ducks in a row. Well played.
These two markets aren’t the only reasons to come to Otavalo — a park of condors is here as well, and you’ll pass by another monument near Cayambe (along the way) that commemorates the equator’s invisible line around the planet.
Name: Otavalo Animal Market and Otavalo Crafts Market
Address: For the Otavalo Animal Market: Along the Panamericana Highway northwest of town (GPS: 0.232839, -78.268794). For the Otavalo Crafts Market, the Plaza de Ponchos (GPS: 0.230058, -78.262139)
Directions: From Quito’s northern bus terminal (Ofelia), take a four-hour bus ride to Otavalo. While I didn’t see a schedule, buses seem to come pretty frequently. For the crafts market: You’ll likely see the market going on as you walk the streets in central Otavalo. For the animal market: Start from Otavalo’s Plaza de Ponchos in the center of town. Walk northwest for about a kilometer until you reach Troncal de la Sierra, perhaps better perceived as the expressway. Cross and take a left to walk along the side of the road — there isn’t always a sidewalk, so be aware of traffic.
Hours: For the Otavalo Animal Market: 7am-10am, roughly, on Saturday mornings ONLY. For the Otavalo Crafts Market, people start setting up around 8am, and the market goes through most of the afternoon on Saturdays.