A grandiose, flag-lined boulevard, signalling that you're arriving in an upmarket place, welcomes you to COTACACHI, a small town off the Panamericana, 11km north of Otavalo. As well as being a self-proclaimed "eco-city" which has successfully cut down on waste and pollution, Cotacachi is a prosperous community thanks in no small part to the enlightened management of its celebrated indigenous mayor, Auki Tituaña (who sits in his office beneath a large portrait of Che Guevara), as well as its flourishing leatherindustry. Dozens of smart boutiques selling every conceivable form of leatherware line 10 de Agosto, the main street running north– south up to the simple Parque San Francisco, the focus of the Sunday leather market, and the best place to pick up a bargain on a bag, belt or jacket.
To escape the smell of tanned hides, head to Casa de las Culturas, at the corner of Bolívar and 9 de Octubre (Mon– Fri 9am–1pm & 3–7pm, Sat & Sun 9am–4pm; free), in a handsome old building that was gutted by fire, and modernized inside in an innovative and original way, by doing away with the upper floors and using ramps. It houses a small collection of paintings by Guayasamín and some pre-Columbian ceramics, as well as temporary exhibitions, Internet access, library and tourist information (Tel:06/2915140, Web: www.cotacachi.gov.ec ). You could also try the nearby Museo de las Culturas, García Moreno 13-41 and Bolívar (Mon– Fri 9am– noon & 2–5pm, Sat 2–5pm, Sun 10am–1pm; $1, including guided tour in Spanish), set in a cloistered colonial building and showcasing Cotacachi traditions through costumed mannequins and exhibits on craftwork and fiestas. The building lies in the shadow of the white-domed La Matriz church, which stands on the grand and leafy Parque Abdón Calderón.