Otavalo, Ecuador – The Artisanal Town

Skipping Cotopaxi and Galapagos updates for now and going straight to Otavalo.

I’m headed up north. I have to make it to Mexico by the mid of Sept. to meet a friend, so only a month until I cover Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica then a flight to Mexico City! In such a hurry!!

After Quito, I wanted to drop by an artisan town called Otavalo.
My interest for Otavalo grew due to meeting an awesome American girl in Cotopaxi. She is living in Quito and working for a fair trade company, working with local artists and crafts people to bring Ecuadorian products to the US. The cause is great but also, the necklaces, the hair pieces and the shoes she had from these crafts people were so intricately made and made me drool. So I added to my must dos.


Getting to Otavalo from Quito.

It was an Eco-via (Red) bus ride ($0.25)  to Rio Coco bus terminal, then a transfer to then a transfer to Terminal Carcelin, then another 2 hour bus ride to Otavalo ($2.70).

On the bus, I sat next to an old man “Cristobal”, working in Otavalo coming back from another job in Guayaquil and chatted in Spanish the whole 2 hour way!

He was a curious man,  peering over my shoulders while I was on the Spanish vocabulary App and gestured to help me every time a new word in Spanish came on the screen. Though the English translation was just a click away, he wanted to show me the meaning through his hands, words and face. It was like a gesture game that was really difficult to figure out because he only really have like 3 patterns of hand gestures. We worked (or I worked really hard) to understand words like “weight” “leaf” “notebook” “thief” “picturesque” and “elevator”. Those, I will forever remember this due to his far from understandable but effortful gestures. It was really sweet.

Being on a bus is great to meet local people and also to practice Spanish! He asked that we exchange numbers and communicate over phone in the future but I don’t think without the gestures, it would be as smooth and funny so I politely declined.

2 hours of conversation later, I got to Otavalo.

It’s a small town that resides in the valley between the high mountains. There is high population of indigenous people here, so people look and dress differently.

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Women and markets

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The real attraction here is on Saturday where the market explodes with arts and crafts and fabrics and jewellery and ponchos and sweaters and hammocks that flood in from the local craftsmen. Unfortunately, I only had Thursday to explore, but I was still able to explore beautiful crafts and textiles enough.

Colourful good displayed at the market.

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Blankets and Ponchos made from Alpaca.

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Crafty souvenirs

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The item that I most wanted upon seeing Joy’s were these patterned shoes. Flats, sneakers, boots. They go for around $20~25.

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But after a night of thinking, I decided I couldn’t leave without buying these cute babies. 20$ Yay! No food for a while… Does anyone think there is a huge market to import these? I definitely think so for Japan!


The wardrobe of the locals was traditional and beautiful. Women dress in traditional outfits of dark blue long wrap skirts (with decorative linings), a colourful belt in the middle and a beautifully stitched white puffy blouse.

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The beautifully stitched blouses and the designed belts. The belt reminded me of the Japanese Obi we use when dressing in Kimono.

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Some of the more traditionally dressed men wore white pants and a hat and most of the adults had long hair and in braids. Love the look!


It was definitely a cute little town worth the stop for souvenirs and add a little culture to your wardrobe.

In the morning, I went for an early morning walk and saw an interesting drink.

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A line of brown bottles, un unknown line of potions, something in the hot pots and a slimy yellow liquid. He mixed the together, froths it up and moves the liquid from one jar to the other, for about a minute making the mix slimmier and slimmier. I asked for the ingredients and he mentioned a bunch but as with most questions, I couldn’t comprehend most of the reply…. Though, what I was able to comprehend was “hoja”, which the old man on the bus had explained to me. So the yellow liquid was Aloe Leaf! Aha! These are happy moments in traveling when your world opens up just a bit. I will forever remember “hoja” and the old man’s hand gestures that looked nothing like a tree or a leaf.

The drink was warm and subtly sweet, sort of like the sweetness of a banana and a little bit of honey. Very slimy to the point a line extended from the cup to my mouth and I had to cut it with my hands. Thankfully, I’m really into slimy, similar to seaweeds like tororo and mekabu in Japan, but maybe not for everyone. This seems to be a morning drink people take in vitamins and minerals from in the morning. $0.50 a cup.

From here, is should be 2-3 hours to the Tulcan for the border crossing to Columbia.
A bit nervous because I have lost my immigration card from my arrival (don’t you think they should staple the damn thing?!) so hopefully I will cross the border safely with no problems.

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