Otavalo people have become very prosperous and possibly the most famous indigenous group in Latin America.
You may have seen them in your own hometown selling their woolen sweaters or playing Andean tunes.
In the past 15 years, Otavalo Indians have begun to travel around the world in a successful campaign to export Andean culture.
In part because of their economic success, Otavalo people have managed to hold on to centuries-old traditions. They are proud people and it shows.
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While other indigenous peoples, under pressure to assimilate are donning Levis and T-shirts, Otavalo Indians are still easily identified by their distinctive dress:
OTAVALO WOMEN: Wear white blouses with black sashes and skirts and lots of gold-colored necklaces.
OTAVALO MEN: of the area dress in traditional white pants, blue or gray ponchos and felt hats and have their hair braided in long pigtails.
You're likely to see other distinctive outfits, as well, as people from surrounding regions also come to Otavalo to buy and sell goods.
History has it that Otavalo people (Indians) have been talented textile makers and business people since ancient times, prior even to the Inca invasion.
Under Inca rules in the 15th century, Otavalo became an important administrative center, as new crops and animals were introduced to the area.
A year after the Spanish conquest, Ecuadorian land was parceled-out to the Spanish.
In Otavalo, Rodrigo de Salazar set up a large weaving workshop (obraje) on his land, by the mid-1500's it employed hundreds of workers and produced a large share of the textiles used in colonial South America.
The Spanish introduced new tools and fibers to the weaving industry, and by the early 1600's, the Salazar workshop had become the most important in the country.
Otavalo is a small city of about 50,000 inhabitants, located about 2 hours from Quito City (Capital city of Ecuador).
Otavalo lies at 2,530 meters in a spring-like valley, situated between the Imbabura volcano (4,609 meters) and the Cotacachi volcano (4,939 meters).
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This is Ecuador's most famous "Indian Market". The Otavalo Indian market days are mainly Saturdays, Although you can visit it any day (Wednesday is also a market day).
You will find an impressive variety of all kinds of Ecuadorian Indian handicrafts.
In this exotic small town at dawn you may see Otavalo people arriving to the market place from many mountain trails surrounding the city.
They come from nearby villages and towns such as Peguche, Agato and Iluman, to sell their products.
Try to arrive to the handicraft market early (try to overnight in the area and arrive before 10 am, when the tour groups descend on the place and the market gets very crowded). Be sure to bargain.
Start at about 15%-20% below the initial asking price and go from there. Haggling is possible even if you have trouble with Spanish numbers.
Bring a paper and pen to write the figures down. (Many of the vendors carry calculators to make the process easier.)
A large number of permanent craft shops and galleries are also located on the downtown streets near the Poncho Plaza.
You can visit the workshops of these hard working weavers working on backstrap and Spanish treadle looms, as well as other artisans at work making felt hats, knitting sweaters or weaving straw mats.
On your next trip to this beautiful country of Ecuador don't miss the great opportunity to visit the city of Otavalo.
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