Besides being the best place to buy leather in Ecuador, Cotacachi is also a nice town to unwind.
This always happens to me when I am travelling. I go to a place determined to buy some local goods that the town is famous for, but I am terrible at determining what’s good and what’s bad or what should be a respectful price. I knew I wanted to buy some leather goods from this village called Cotacachi, and so I spent two days hanging out here with the hope of uncovering the secret. At the end of my second day, after having scouted around, I bought some jackets, some organic coffee and other stuff for what I think was a fair price, not cheap for sure.
↑ Cotacachi under the watchful gaze of Volcano Cotacachi.
Located about 20 minutes (15km) from Otavalo and a gateway to Laguna Cuicocha and the Cotacachi Cayapas natural reserve, Cotacachi is worth a stop for its famous leather goods. There are some interesting places to see around the town. Museums, churches and plazas aside, walk to the outskirts of the town to get some nice views of the countryside with farms, forests and a couple of volcanoes too – Cayambe and Cotacachi (maybe Imbabura too!).
↑ Main cathedral, located at the heart of the town.
Cotacachi’s central street Avenida 10 de Aogosto or 10th of August is lined with rows after rows of little stores that sell leather goods. There are some specialty stores that focus on women’s garments, or footwear or smaller items like wallets and belts, but most stores carry a variety of everything. Quality varies widely but if you search patiently without succumbing to the sales tactics, you might find something. I am bad at this, so after checking prices in three stores, I just entered the fourth and bought everything I wanted. Pay by cash, that will knock 10% of the price right away, then offer a 20% lower price.
↑ Several streets and walls are covered with murals and graffiti. Some of these are quite funky.
Here’s what I typically do on such shopping trips:
- Enter store #1 and announce that you are there merely to check things out and that you may not buy anything. That’s takes the pressure off and the sales staff are not as pushy.
- Linger around an item and casually ask the price. Don’t react, just nod and move on. Mentally register the price and quality of the material, you’ll be comparing it in the next store
- Enter store #2, 3, 4 and repeat the sequence above till you have a solid understanding of price and the quality of goods you can expect. Most of the time these shopping lanes or markets will have more-or-less the same items and prices that are at equilibrium.
- Decide what you are willing to pay (without being cheap) and then offer 20% below that. Bargaining happens from both sides, so as long as the final price is in your range, buy it, otherwise express your sadness and leave. I always had shopkeepers call me back and give a better deal. It usually works out better with some humour involved since bargaining is not a competition, but part of the conversation.
What tactics do you deploy?
There are frequent buses that shuttle between Cotacachi and Otavalo, sometimes in a circular loop that passes through a nearby village called Quiroga. There are few hotels around the main plaza and a small strip of restaurants. Most people I met travelled here either on a day trip from Otavalo or on their way to the Guinea Pig (Cuicocha) lake trek.
Overall, a great place to visit because it’s on the way!