We had some last minute gift shopping to do before heading back to the states so we hit up some markets.
Plaza San Francisco market is a great starting point because it is near Parque Calderon and close to other shops that have good souvenirs. But at the market you can always negotiate a good price. I usually avoid the main part of the market which is just Otavalos mostly selling “made in china” products. But on the sidewalk (round the corner from the flower market) there are vendors selling ponchos, blankets, table cloths, intricate sweaters, scarves, hats etc. But if you are looking for something smaller, things like jewelry or trinkets then head over to La Casa de La Mujer which is at the end of the block @General Torres 7-33 and Presidente Cordova.
La Casa de La Mujer is a building with a number of shops all selling different artisan crafts. There is a lot of variety here; from paintings, jewelry, leather, hats, baskets and other woven products, clothing and toys. One of my favorite jewelry shops can be found here on the upper level called Tagua. If silver is your thing, there are some shops here but I would recommend taking a day trip to Chordeleg, the silversmith village about 20/30 min. from Cuenca.
If you are on a tight budget but would like to bring home some cool jewelry for friends and family then stop by the hippie market; it is somewhere around Mariscal Lamar y Benigno Malo on a corner. Here there are a few tents set up with roughly the same merchandise. Most of the jewelry or pipes etc. are made out of Tagua or bone and they will offer to carve a name, word or sometimes a design on certain things for sale.
And if you head down to Mercado 9 de Octubre then visit Plaza Rotary which is down a little alley in the middle of the block; if you take a taxi then ask for Gáspar Sangurima y Vargas Machuca because most are baffled by the name Plaza Rotary. There they sell woven products like baskets and mats, the blacksmiths sell weather vanes and other stuff, and you’ll find a number of stands selling roughly the same types of trinkets like keychains, purses, toys, ceramics etc. While living in Cuenca, I frequented this spot to buy things for the home like flower pots, hampers, cutting boards, wooden mixing spoons and such; which was more affordable than buying the same types of products but in plastic at hipermercados. Most people tell you to avoid the area near Mercado 9 de Octubre but I say check it out. Yes, you will see a few prostitutes on the sidewalks here all day long and probably your share of drunks but it is fairly safe during the day just don’t whip out a wad of money or an expensive camera and you should be fine. At night it is a bit sketch so you can avoid it at night; but don’t avoid the area entirely. And on Fridays the indigenous shamans set up a spot in the market where they offer up “limpias” or cleansings for a small price. A word of warning to prepare you if you get one, they will spit alcohol in your face as part of the ritual and put ashes on your forehead and back. So don’t be surprised if they ask you to pull up your shirt. You should feel great after some good ol’ chuca chuca.