Buying souvenirs while traveling is always a tricky proposition. First, there’s logistics. Do you want to carry around your new purchase until you get home? Will it break/spill/shatter in your luggage? Second, there’s ethics. Is this product made locally by people who are paid fairly or is it made in China? Is the price fair or absurdly gouged because you’re an extranjera? Who knows?
Last week, I was able to do some shopping in a place I felt good about and that’s worth sharing and celebrating! (Don’t worry, I bought some presents). The town of Otavalo, two hours north of Quito is known for its huge daily market in Plaza de los Ponchos (yes that translates to Poncho Plaza). My friend Jenna, with whom I traveled to Mindo, goes there a few times a week since it’s close to the community where she works and we decided to meet there last wednesday with a few of her fellow volunteer friends. I met them around noon and we walked a few blocks to the Plaza, which you cannot miss. It’s full of colors, fabrics and vendors ready to bargain. First we grabbed some lunch at the Shanandoa Pie Shop which was tasty even though my stomach was in a total state of panic the entire day. It’s weird to eat flaky pie in the middle of ecuador, but that’s what happened. Then it was time to shop. Heading into the market with experienced shoppers was super helpful because the best way to bargain is to just calmly state, “Oh my friend paid X for it.” That lowered most prices and kept it from getting personal. The vendors weren’t super aggressive and let you look around while still answering questions and showing you all the things they had to sell. The market swells each saturday and prices apparently drop but I was happy to shop when it was less crowded and easier to check things out. They’re also well used to tourists and even can say some of the prices in english and always have change, a rarity here. There’s artwork, blankets, sweaters, scarves, and so much more and it’s so much fun to look around.
I took only two pictures because I was worried about my phone but they give you a sense of the range. It was definitely hard to choose but I tried to stop at places with colors that caught my eye and sellers that seemed sweet. You can also touch everything and try to guess quality. I haven’t done much shopping this summer so it was fun to take an afternoon and pick out some unique and beautiful stuff. If you have a few days in Quito, definitely take a trip to Otavalo. Buses leaves every ten minutes from El Carcelen, the northern terminal and it’s an easy day trip to a cute town with some special things for sale.
If you go: Otavalo
-Bring cash (duh), but there is an ATM in town.
-Don’t get there too late, vendors start to pack up around 3:30 or 4.
-Take a stroll around the town. The other plaza is really beautiful as well and there are some other nice shops.
-The strawberry pie and egg sandwich from the Shanandoa Pie Shop are tasty.
-Don’t be afraid to bargain and walk away if you have to while shopping. Try on all clothing and inspect it for tears.
-Make sure you ask before taking photos of people, especially those in indigenous dress (most of them). Some will ask you to buy something first or say no. That’s okay.