What is the Otavalo Market?
2 hours north of Quito lies the Otavalo Market, famous for being the largest in South America. Colors are everywhere as you stroll down the hundreds of booths full of tapastries, handicrafts, blankets, ponchos scarves, paintings and sweaters.
Bring your best negotiation skills because that is part of the experience. Locals and tourists both bargain for the best price, and in the end usually everyone leaves with the price they wanted to pay/receive between the two parties. The sellers are all very friendly and eager to negotiate, but be fair in your negotiations to avoid insulting the seller.
Saturday is when the market is at its biggest and busiest ,and is usually the best time to get the full experience. Don’t plan to get through the market in a day (unless that is all the time you have!). In addition to the craft market, you won’t want to miss the animal and vegetable market located nearby.
Tips for Negotiating in the Otavalo Market
1. Walk around the market first
You want to get an idea of what the market offers before you start purchasing everything. Many of the vendors will sell items that look very similar and by spending time walking around you can gain a better feel for which vendor and booth you want to purchase from.
2. Always negotiate
Negotiating is part of the culture at the market. If you take whatever price is thrown out first, you risk being seen as careless with your money and losing respect of the locals. Since it is part of the culture, some sellers are offended when the buyer doesn’t engage in the negotiating game for their goods.
3. Don’t hesitate to walk away
The vendors at the Otavalo market are all very friendly, but they are there to sell their merchandise and they know what they are doing. If you aren’t getting the price you want (within reason) don’t be afraid to say no thank you, and walk away. Sometimes this works as a negotiation tactic and the seller will quickly agree to your price, or if your ask was truly too low, they will let you walk away.
4. Be prepared with small bills
Most of the vendors work with smaller bills, so after you’ve negotiated and agreed on a price, don’t hand them a big bill that will make it difficult for them to give you change or leave them with no change for their next customers. Break your big bills before you go to the market and your buying experience will go much easier!
5. Understand the value of buying multiples
The more merchandise the seller can unload, the less they have to pack up later that day. So instead of asking for a discount on one item, offer to buy 2 or 3 and you have a better chance of getting a good deal.
6. Enjoy yourself and remember the goal is a win-win for everyone
It’s easy to get caught up in the negotiations and forget the end goal ,which is a win-win for everyone. You shouldn’t be trying to get the items down to the lowest price to the point that the seller is angry and losing money on the deal. It’s difficult to do the money conversions in your head quickly, but by the end you are usually negotiating for 20 – 30 cents – is it really worth walking away?
The sights, smells and negotiating are all part of experiencing the Otavalo Market to the fullest. If you aren’t a negotiator, don’t let it stress you out, try to embrace the culture and have fun getting to know the vendors and having conversations with them. While you are walking around the market watch as other locals and tourists negotiate for their goods so you can get a better idea of what to expect.
Are you traveling with Ecoventura? Check out our extensions and add on a tour from Quito to the Otavalo Market while you are in the city!