The small leather craft village of Cotacachi, Ecuador, is 8,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, yet its location on the equator makes the weather there ideal all year-round. On a typical Sunday, Cotacachi is bustling with activity, and there is much to see and do.
We visit the main square—anchored, as in many Latin American communities—by the main church, Iglesia Matriz.
The bus station is always a hub of activity…it’s the way most of the farmers, shoppers, and traders from the outlying communities near Cotacachi get back and forth to market.
Speaking of markets, Sunday is market day in Cotacachi, and we take a look inside the mercado to see the fruits, vegetables, potatoes, beans, onions, and other produce on offer. This is a regular stop for locals and the expats who live in and around Cotacachi.
(The expat community in Cotacachi is strong and growing, with several hundred U.S., Canadian, and other expats calling Cotacachi home full- or part-time. They are an active community that volunteers in local schools, animal rescue organizations, food banks, soup kitchens, and many other community-service projects.)
Then we take a walk down Calle 10 de agosto, informally known as Leather Street, to see the craftwork that is the village’s claim to fame. Cotacachi specializes in transforming raw local leather into jackets, boots, shoes, bags, purses, and almost anything else you can think of—and the prices are pretty amazing. At almost any shop it’s also possible to get custom work, such as boots, shoes, and jackets made to order. Cotacachi is also home to a leather crafting school that passes on this artisan tradition to generation after generation.
With most towns in Ecuador and throughout Latin America, your chances of running into a parade, religious festival, harvest festival, or some other street celebration is strong almost any time of the year, and Cotacachi is no exception. On this particular day, a small parade in honor of retirees and tercer edad, or “third agers” as the elderly are called, was making its way up Calle 10 de agosto amid the Sunday shoppers and strollers.
Down at the foot of that main street is another church square called Parque San Francisco, where vendors set up under awnings and sell not only leather goods but other craft items from around the area, including colorful backpacks, sweaters, pants, and other woven and textile goods that are produced throughout Ecuador’s northern province of Imbabura, where Cotacachi is located.
Many Latin American craft towns and villages have a sculpture at some prominent intersection or park representing the local traditions and interests, and Cotacachi has its welcoming sculpture as well. With a reputation as a musical village along with its status for leather crafting, Cotacachi welcomes visitors with statues of a violin player, a flute player, and a leatherworker.
The flute player also holds a trompo…a large spinning top that is featured in a game played in the streets of Cotacachi at certain times of the year. Trompo is an Ecuadorian national sport, and when annual tournaments are played, the streets of the town become the trompo course. Teams take turns spinning their tops, scooping them up in hand while still spinning, and throwing them at a target set up in the street, knocking it farther along the route. The winning team is the one that completes the course in the fewest number of throws.
A town of interesting culture, wonderful weather, low cost of living, and friendly locals, Cotacachi and its surrounding communities can be a wonderful place to call home.
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