Otavalo has been an Andean crossroads since pre-Inca times, when jungle traders would journey here on foot. Today’s market is a hyperbolic version of the same tradition: buses arrive from Quito delivering droves of visitors from around the globe. While the tourists bargain for rugs and sweaters, the local artisans take their market earnings to fill up on staples such as rice and meat. Visitors will find Otavalo a friendly and prosperous place that takes pride in its heritage. The population consists of those of European descent, mestizos and indígenas (indigenous people).
The indígenas, who mostly live in nearby villages, dress primarily in traditional attire. Men wear dark felt hats, short cotton pants, blue ponchos and long ponytails. Women braid their hair and wear frilly, embroidered white blouses, long black skirts, fachalinas (headcloths) and bright layered necklaces. Otavaleños (people from Otavalo) receive international recognition for their weaving and craftsmanship but their achievement has been the result of centuries of hardship. Exploited first by colonialists and then the sweatshops of Ecuadorian landowners, this population found a possibility to prosper for itself only after the Agrarian Reform of 1964. That success is relative: even today a number of artisans live on a meager income and struggle to profit from their weavings and crafts in a system where only intermediaries can bring merchandise to market.