For the shopaholic types, today is a day in heaven. I’m in a tour bus filled with people ready to do a little exploring in Ecuador. And by exploring, I mean shopping.
Before you knock our desire to shop, know that this is no idle pastime. Many of the people on our bus are business-minded individuals, interested in items they can flip back home. One couple even tells me they are setting up a website so they can sell imports online. Another woman has plans on a smaller scale: she’ll sell a few items to family and friends.
Our first stop is in the tiny town of Otavalo, known for its Saturday market. The market is renowned for its textiles. Watch my video tour of the market, complete with haggling tips.
A husband and wife shopping team shows me a giant alpaca wall hanging they negotiated down from $75 to $65.
A colleague shows me cute knit hats, complete with pompoms on top, that she got for $3. Two local girls sing for us and then sell us silky scarves with designs that emulate fancy brocade, just $5 apiece. My colleague Neha buys several and gets them for $2 each. She also buys two large alpaca scarves for a total of $10. At a nice department store like Macy’s, I’d have paid above $30 each, no problem.
Among the more distinctive items are adorable handmade hats, knit to look like animal faces. There are bears and mice and monkeys, complete with floppy little ears, starting price just $8 (I’m sure I can bargain them down to $5).
One of the people from our tour group, Misty, shows me two Boho-chic knit purses—the kind you sling over one shoulder—she got for $5 each. She was quoted starting prices of $8 and $10, but the sellers came down to $5 almost too easily, says Misty.
I am particularly drawn to a hand carved and hand painted chess set. Instead of traditional black and white, the pieces are carved to represent indigenous tribes versus the Spanish conquistadors…I doubt you’ll find anything like it back home. The board is actually a case, so you can put the pieces inside…but I would keep them on display.
The indigenous lady selling this particular model (there are many others) says the starting price is $13, but she’ll give me a “discount” of $3. I’d happily pay $40 for something like this at a chain like Ten Thousand Villages in the States.
There are bright kitschy wooden crosses from $5, magnets for $1 (they sell for about $5 at the Quito airport), dangling filigree earrings in the $20 range (very labor intensive stuff) and rows and rows of cool silver jewelry, studded with everything from black onyx to milky white moonstone (you pay by weight, as little as $10 for a pair of stud earrings).
Perhaps best of all are the “life size” masks of thick jade, which I’m told are $25—the seller quickly adds “but I’ll give you a discount.” Next to the masks are jade tablets with notepaper in-between, all tied together to form a prehistoric-looking notebook. At $16 each, I think they’ll make great gifts for my book club back home.
Done with my shopping, I prepare to wend my way through the market stalls again, zig-zagging back to where our tour bus awaits. I spot an ice-cream truck; everyone is standing around the bus, licking their ice-cream cones as if they haven’t a care in the world. “What did you pay for that?” I ask one of them. “Twenty-five cents,” he says. And smiles. I don’t have to ask what he’s thinking…it’s been a few decades since he paid that little for anything this good.
Editor’s note: If you’re interested in turning a profit in Ecuador, then there’s a free audio presentation called “Starting a Business in Ecuador Made Easy” that will help you connect all the dots. This is a free bonus with the 2011 edition of the Ecuador Owner’s Manual if you buy it this week. You also get these other bonuses:
* 3 special reports on Ecuador’s colonial, mountain, and coastal opportunities.
* The Ultimate Ecuador Forum – more than 3 hours of audio presentations from our top Ecuador experts, including “Retire at 44,” “Starting a Business in Ecuador Made Easy,” “Low Priced Beach Buys,” and more.
Combined, this Ultimate Ecuador Kit 2011 (including the Ecuador Owner’s Manual) has a $243 value. But when you order by today, you get everything listed here for just $89.