Otavalo has been an Andes Mountain pathway since pre-Inca times, when jungle traders would journey here on foot. Otavalo today is not much different in that sense than it was back then – travelers arrive from Quito to enjoy the Andean culture and bargain for rugs and sweaters, while the locals take their earnings to the market to fill up on rice and meat.
Visitors will find Otavalo a friendly and prosperous place that takes pride in its heritage. The population has an array of European descent, from mestizos to indígenas (indigenous people). The indígenas, who live in villages nearby, dress primarily in traditional attire – the men wear dark hats, short cotton pants, blue ponchos and have long ponytails. The women in Otavalo braid their hair and wear embroidered white blouses, long black skirts, fachalinas (headcloths) and bright necklaces.
Otavalo is a great place for local shopping. The people here are well recognized for their weaving and craftsmanship as the result of centuries of hardship. These indigenas were first exploited by colonialists and then the sweatshops of Ecuadorian landowners. It was during this time that the population found a possibility to prosper for itself through its craftmanship. Even today, a number of artisans live off of the work of their hands bringing their merchandise to market.
Despite all of the history, Otavaleños are the wealthiest and most commercially successful indígenas in Ecuador. A great tourist destination, Otavala promises to be a fulfilling encounter if you take the time to converse with vendors, participate in the community, and visit the outlying markets which are the creative source and soul of this quaint town.