Almost everyone who visits Ecuador will end up buying a souvenir of some sort from the vast array of arts and crafts (artesanías) on offer.
The most colourful places to shop for souvenirs, and pretty much anything else in Ecuador, are the many markets which can be found everywhere. The country also has more than its share of shiny, modern shopping centres, but remember that the high overheads are reflected in the prices.
Otavalo’s massive market is their best-known place for buying wall-hangings and sweaters. Another market, at Saquisilí, south of Quito, is renowned for shawls, blankets and embroidered garments. Fewer handicrafts can be found on the coast, but this is where you can buy an authentic Panama hat at a fraction of the international price. The best, called superfinos, are reputed to be made in the little town of Montecristi near Manta, but the villages around Cuenca claim to produce superior models. Cuenca is a good place to buy Panama hats, and other types of hats can be bought throughout the highlands.
Ecuador also produces fine silver jewellery, ceramics and brightly painted carvings. Particularly good buys are the many beautiful items fashioned from tagua, or vegetable ivory. By purchasing these you are promoting valuable conservation of the rainforests where the tagua palm grows. All manner of artesanías can be bought in Quito, either at the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal or in any of the many craft shops.
Craft cooperatives are also a good place to shop, since there is a better chance that a fair share of the price will go to the artisan. Stall holders in markets expect you to bargain, so don’t disappoint them. Many tourists enjoy the satisfaction of beating down the seller’s original price and finding a real ‘bargain’, but don’t take it too far. Always remain good natured, even if things are not going your way (remember that you’re on holiday and they’re working). And don’t make a fool of yourself by arguing for hours over a few cents!