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A small town in Cotopaxi province, Saquisilí is gaining fame for its bustling local Thursday market. Only two hours south of Quito by bus and a few kilometers off the Quito-Ambato stretch of the Pan-American, the market’s accessibility and authenticity are making it an increasingly popular stop with tourists.
Each Thursday, the town is transformed by a lively sprawling display of goods brought in by locals from surrounding villages in all directions. Unlike the Otavalo market that is primarily a show for tourists, the Saquisilí market is truly a local event which has existed since pre-Columbian times. Men and women from surrounding small villages swarm in in herds at the crack of dawn, toting every item imaginable, from household necessities to baskets full of squawking chicks.
The market takes up eight main plazas and offers everything from reed mats to herbal remedies, meat products to the squealing livestock itself. To explore the latter, walk for about 10 minutes past the market’s main plaza along the dirt road that leads out of town. Come early, as the animal market excitement begins to subside by about 9 a.m. As if there weren’t enough to tickle the senses into overload in the main squares, every adjoining street connecting the courts see vendors selling more random items, from painted key rings to hot cell phones and electronics.
Like many local highland markets, the market at Saquisilí is not only for commerce, but also a very important social and cultural affair. Indigenous men and women can be seen donning traditional dress and felt fedora hats, bartering with their neighbors, and mingling over lunch.
For the traveler, much of the market is of little interest, though there is a growing artisan section with colorful local crafts and tourist items at cheaper prices than can be found in Quito and Otavalo. The essence of the market is in its fruits and vegetables plaza, the lively animal market, and the smells that come from the array of edibles sizzling on every corner. Though you’re not likely to be in the market searching for a dish rack or a new alpaca, Saquisilí provides a genuine look at native life and culture, and photographic opportunities abound.
There’s no shortage of traditional food to sample – some options are quite tasty, while others can be a bit nauseating to the unaccustomed stomach. Locals will tell you that you haven’t been to Saquisilí if you didn’t try tortillas de maiz – a sizzling hot corn pancake oozing with cheese and smothered in sauce. If you haven’t yet tried cuy (guinea pig), Saquisilí is a famed place to do so. Prices are cheap – about $4 for a half – and you can take your pick from the various skewered cuys on the grill.
Saquisilí is only a few miles off the highway, so it is easy to combine with a trip to the Cotopaxi area or on a travel day between Quito and Baños or Riobamba. It is also easily accessible by bus from Latacunga and other points in the south.
Other places nearby Saquisilí: Quilotoa, Tigua, Isinliví, Pujili, Zumbahua, Chugchilán and Sigchos.
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