Markets are a traveler's delight, especially in the Third World since almost all the activity occurs outside right under the nose of the curious visitor and in focus of the avid photographer. In such places one can truly experience the essence of the culture- the dress, the interactions, customs, foods and cooking, and often many activities we are more accustomed to hiding behind walls in our cities. For me, there is no better destination when I am traveling.
I cannot recount all of those places which have fascinated me but I want to suggest a few should the reader be venturing into the neighborhood. At least two of them, and arguably more, are available in South America. My favorite is the colorful Andean market of Tarabuco in Bolivia. It is populated by traditionally dressed women with bowler hats and wonderfully woven and decorated traditional dress, but the market features the greatest assortment of hats one can imagine, some of them imitating miners' head ware, others replicating the headgear of the conquistadors. As with all markets, there are very special local items for sale. In this case, the detailed weaving of the area are the real gems. But you can also buy one of the piles of coca leaves if you wish, or the many ceramic items in the stalls.
The rival market in South America is in Otovalo, Ecuador, a few hours drive north of Quito. Again the distinctive dress of the Otovaleno Indians captivate the viewer immediately. The women wear brightly embroidered blouses and skirts as well as gold colored beaded necklaces which are quite distinct. Men often have long hair arranged in braids and equally unique dress. There is a grand animal market here and every which kind of local crafts including very varied wooden carvings. On market days there are thousands of people selling and buying at stalls spread over an enormous area.
A third favorite of mine in the Western Hemisphere is the town of Chichicastenango in Guatemala. It is by far the most accessible to Americans and could not be more bustling or colorful. The local residents are descendants of the Mayans and one would think the ancients still ruled the area judging from the worship customs, the parades, the dress and even village dialects. Here wooden masks abound as well as wonderful, colorful embroidered blouses and all sorts of woven goods. As with all great markets of the Third World, there are special days when everything is open and available so the visitor must be aware which days feature which markets.
While Asia features countless great markets, I will save a description of those for another entry. Wherever the tourist travels to visit these special places, it is important to arrive early before tourist buses descend and it is recommended to spend at least the preceding night in the town to avoid the crowd and to see the vendors preparing for the market day. Before touring an area, find out about the most interesting market and the day it is held. You will enrich your trip measurably by such research.