In search of an authentic rural market at Saquisili

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 33 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

Ecuador’s weekly rural markets

Having a large rural population, Ecuador’s smaller towns and villages have weekly markets where people have typically gathered to get their weekly supplies, meet with friends and mingle with the community. One such market, at Otavalo north of Quito, has become hugely popular throughout the world and hordes of tourists flock this market in particular, making it a top highlight in any Ecuador travel itinerary. Otavalo gets crowded every Saturday for its animal trading market and the weekly artisan market, the largest market of its kind in the world.

Saquisili is a little town near Latacunga, very close to the iconic Cotopaxi volcano. Thursday morning is a market day and the town gets busy before faint rays of the sun can hit the horizon. Many travellers had told me that this market was more “authentic”, whatever that term means. I decided to find out myself.

Hopping on a 6am bus from Latacunga, I was at the outskirts of Saquisili within thirty minutes. There were lots of people on the streets, some holding baskets, others herding cattle. I got out of the bus and there was no need to ask for directions really; I simply followed men and women carrying huge bundles of stuff on their back and ended up at the market grounds. There are two covered squares where the market is held and while there were not as many tourists as the market at Otavalo, it wasn’t a market devoid of camera-wielding gringos either.

Three clues suggesting that the Saquisili market is touristy:

  1. There was a small section devoted to knick knacks, souvenirs and other tourist-friendly stuff. These stalls started setting up just as the market was winding down, a clear sign that the outlets were not targeted at local shoppers.
  2. There were a number of tourists (I saw half a dozen gringos) with cameras dangling from their necks. Ofcourse, I was one of that kind as well. 😉
  3. I came across one panhandler sharing her sad story which led to being asked for money. As per the law of demand and supply, this is an indication of the presence of tourists

Three clues suggesting that the Saquisili market is not touristy:

  1. Only a tiny section was devoted to touristy fare while the overwhelming market was filled with fresh produce, animals, groceries, household items, hardware, tools, furniture and other supplies. There was a whole ‘food-court’ section with roasted guinea pigs ‘cuy’ exhibits.
  2. Very few stall owners spoke English or tried to communicate with you. In Otavalo, everyone will attempt to talk to you or sell you stuff, but not in Saquisili. People were shy and curious about tourists.
  3. There were no tour groups or excursion buses that stopped here. Unlike Otavalo, Saquisili is hard to get to and unless folks are used to taking the public transit, they wouldn’t find about this place.

Final verdict: Saquisili market is certainly not filled with as many tourists as the Otavalo market. That gives an authentic feel to it. Ofcourse I’d be kidding if I said that this was an off-the-beaten-trail experience. Certainly not so!

So if you are near Latacunga, and you will be if you are hiking the Quilotoa loop or visiting Laguna Quilota or scaling the Cotopaxi volcano, try taking some time off and visiting Saquisili on a Thursday morning.

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 33 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery