Take a 25 minute drive north from Otavalo on the Panamerican highway and you will come to the town of Cotacachi, renowned as the leather capital of Ecuador. While you will find only a few leather items for sale in the Otavalo Plaza de Ponchos, in Cotacachi there are approximately 80 shops selling vast quantities of high quality leather jackets, hats, luggage, handbags, wallets, belts, boots, shoes and even saddles.
Most of the shops are located on one avenue, 10 de Agosto street. What you will find in this charming town are quality handmade leather items at bargain prices. Most leather items here are hand made. You can have items custom made if you come with a photo or can sketch out your design.
Internationally recognized, this small town, self-proclaimed as an “eco-city”, won the Participative Democracy, Dubai 2000 award for its for sound social, environmental and economic policies, and Unesco honored it with the City of Peace prize for its culture of dialogue and democracy. Indigenous mayor Auki Tituaña has held office for ten years (democratically re-elected), and has worked hard to bring many improvements to the town.
Clean streets, investments in education and social benefits combined with respect for the environment makes Cotacachi the best small town in Ecuador, and a favorite retirement center for foreigners. A writer from Quito remarked to me that there was “a bloody American invasion occurring in Cotacachi.” He was referring to the approximately 200 Americans living there, who love the small town ambiance.
A museum in Cotacachi states that the first leather working association was formed in 1864, the first activity being the tanning of hides. That has changed, for now with a high regard for protecting the environment, tanning is no longer performed within the town, and leather workers only use environmentally friendly products when dyeing and finishing. There is no toxic waste dump or chemicals from the leather industry being dumped into the river.
Coctacachi’s stylish leather boutiques offer something for everyone. If high quality leather items at a bargain price are high on your shopping list, then Cotacachi is a must see in Ecuador.