Open Air Markets
The produce market and open air markets is an integral part of Cuenca. While you might not find much to buy at the market other than exotic-looking vegetables, you'll be right in the center of a special weekly social occasion that holds the community together with a fiesta-like atmosphere of buying, selling, and visiting.
If you're seeking high-quality souvenirs, you'll want to inspect the Panama hats, leather jackets, embroideries, gold jewelry, and ceramics. In fact, you'll find a hat factory and shops that sell only Panama hats, which are not made in Panama at all. These hats were first made in Ecuador by poverty-stricken Cuenca residents of the 1830s, trying to make a living. Get yourself a Panama hat and save a dying art!
Are local craft and product markets high on your travel expectations? Otavalo, a small city and a bus ride of just over two hours from Quito, is the place for you. Otavalo is by far the most famous indigenous market in Ecuador. Villagers from surrounding areas have been bringing their wares down from the hills to the Otavalo market for hundreds of years, spending a day filled with bartering, exchanging, selling, and socializing. Today, the market draws huge crowds of locals and visitors every Saturday. Musical instruments, dolls, jewelry, produce, crafts of all sorts -- you'll find it at the market.
Otavalo is especially known for weavings and the people have been accomplished weavers for centuries. You'll discover an array of tapestries and clothes at the market and an almost unbelievable array of colors. A large portion of the market is devoted to tourists, and people flood the streets, making for a circus atmosphere. At a quieter time, you can visit the workshops of the hard-working weavers, working on backstrap and Spanish treadle looms, along with other artisans at work making hats, weaving straw mats, and knitting sweaters.