The famous indigenous market in Otavalo, a two-hour drive north of Quito, is the best place to buy Andean art, crafts, textiles, jewelry, and more. But if you’re visiting Ecuador and your trip is limited to Cuenca and environs, you’ll find plenty of places to partake in retail therapy and souvenir hunting.
A great place to start is Folklor Latino Artesenias, just west of Padre Aguirre on Simon Bolivar. According to a posted newspaper clipping, this shop has been in business for 20 years. It’s a bi-level space built around the typical colonial courtyard with huge ferns hanging almost to the floor from the upper level; a 40-foot-tall palm grows out of the middle of the floor, reaching for the conical skylight. Folklor stocks an amazing variety of items: secular and religious art, hats, chess sets, weavings, tapestries, dolls, plates and platters, shawls, clocks, jewelry, wood and stone animals and angels, ceramic fruit — all very colorful and at affordable prices.
Galapagos Artesenias is a smaller gift shop in the convent building on Cordova between Hermano Miguel and Borrero, but it, too, has an interesting selection of postcards, T-shirts, artwork of all kinds, figurines and dolls, wooden boxes, masks, ponchos, wall hangings, and the like. Laura, the proprietor, has an efficient shipping operation and can send packages all over the world. In addition, she’s great to practice Spanish on; she’s extremely patient and speaks slowly and distinctly.
The gift shop at the Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes on Calle Larga between Hermano Miguel and Mariano Cueva sells the same sort of stuff, with a specialty in silver jewelry. If it’s closed when you’re visiting the museum, ask that it be opened; it’s definitely worth a long look.
The open-air market around Plaza San Francisco, on Cordova between Torres and Aguirre, sells mostly dry goods and daily necessities, though some of the storefronts around the square house small specialty gift shops.
Finally if you’re up Mirador de Turi, by far the largest gift shop in Cuenca is right next door to the Iglesia de Turi, with a fabulous view of the valley to go with the large showroom teeming with collectibles.
Captions, top: A packed gift shop off Plaza San Francisco; bottom: Can you make out the meaning of Galapagos Artesenas's top sign?