A visit to one of the traditional indigenous markets in Ecuador is the highlight of many a traveler’s time in the country. Numerous weekly markets take place in towns and villages throughout the country’s central highlands, many located within a few hours travel time of the capital city of Quito.
The Saturday market in Otavalo is one of the largest indigenous crafts markets in all of South America. Located 100km north of Quito, it’s the place to shop for all kinds of beautiful handicrafts that are hand-made by local indigenous artisans including clothing, musical instruments and crafts. Popular market day fare in Otavalo is chancho, or roast pork served right off the pig. It’s available at street side food stalls throughout the market.
The local indigenous people of Otavalo are easily identified by their traditional dress. Men wear calf-length white pants, gray or blue ponchos and dark felt hats. Women wear embroidered blouses, long black skirts, dark shawls, folded head cloths and multiple strand of gold beads around their necks. Both the men and women wear rope sandals. All of these items are available for sale at the weekly market. The craft market at Otavalo is one of the country’s top tourist attractions.
Some of the most traditional indigenous markets in all of Ecuador are located along the Quilotoa Loop, a mountain road that loops off the Panamericana and connects remote Andean villages in the central highlands of Ecuador. The villages along the loop are home to small indigenous groups, the country’s most traditional weekly markets, spectacular natural wonders and beautiful countryside panoramas.
Latacunga is one of the largest towns along the loop and serves as the jumping off point for travelers headed to Laguna Quilotoa. The town also makes a good base for exploring the local area. Market day in Latacunga is Tuesday when the streets and plazas fill up with stalls selling all types of crafts and agricultural products. The town’s traditional dish is chugchucara, a combination of fritada or fried pieces of pork, mote, chicarrón or fried pork skin, potatoes, fried bananas and tostadas served with cheese empanadas available street side at the market.
On Wednesdays and Sundays a traditional indigenous market is held on the village square in nearby Pujilí. The market in Pujilí is best visited on Sunday when the market action is most exciting. The town of Pujilí is located 10km from the town of Latacunga.
On Thursdays Saquisilí holds its weekly market. The indigenous people of Saquisili wear felt pork pie hats and red ponchos. On market day entire blocks and plazas are filled with traditionally dressed women sitting alongside sacks of potatoes and blankets covered in vegetables. Saquisilí is known for its fascinating animal market which begins very early in the morning and is arguably the most exciting attraction of the whole market action. Arriving in town early or staying overnight the day before the market is recommended.
Another local traditional indigenous market is held every Saturday in the village of Zumbahua. Located about two hours west of Latacunga and the Panamericana, Zumbahua is known for beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding mountain peaks and impressive landscapes. Beginning before 6a.m. Saturday morning people from the village, many dressed in felt hats, the men wearing ponchos and the women wearing felt knee length skirts, colored stockings and layered ponchos crowd into the central plaza as the market activities get underway.
Cuy, or roasted guinea pig, is a popular dish in Ecuador. It’s especially popular among the indigenous communities and is typical market fare at the Zumbahua. It’s available at numerous outdoor food stalls in the market.The market in Zumbahua is one of the most fascinating markets in all of South America. It’s important to note that despite Ecuador’s location along the equator the temperature in the central highlands, especially in Zumbahua, can drop very low, so come prepared.
Saraguro, Salaron & Peguche
Other traditional Ecuadorian market towns include Saraguro, Salaron and Peguche. Located about one hour north of Loja is the lovely traditional Sunday market in the town of Saraguro, an autonomous indigenous mountain community. South of Guamote and high in the Andean mountains is a very traditional Friday market in the small village of Salaron. North of Quito, the town of Peguche is home to yet another interesting Sunday market.
When visiting the indigenous markets of Ecuador it’s important to be considerate of the local people and refrain from taking photographs without first asking permission, as many indigenous people do not like to be photographed. The indigenous people of the central highlands practice many interesting traditions and customs, many of which you’ll likely witness during a visit to the local markets. Bargaining is common practice and expected. Even if your bargaining skills leave much to be desired you’ll still manage to find numerous excellent deals on quality, hand-made items. Many travelers agree that a visit to the indigenous markets of Ecuador is one of the most memorable experiences of traveling in South America.