On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog: Follow at #FlashbackFri

“You wanna buy something lady???” – “You want a tuk tuk lady?” – “You want to go on a tour?” – I lost count how many times I have heard these questions now and over the years I learned that negotiating for all of those things is the way to go in Asia and South America. I grew up in Germany, where everything has fixed prices. You might be able to negotiate a price with service providers, such as carpenters, but when you go to the market or a shop this is not really possible.

So when someone like me gets exposed to places where haggling is the norm, I usually feel quite uncomfortable. I constantly feel I am being ripped off and at the same time when I stand my ground and I get the price I wanted I feel like I ripped the seller off. However, having lived and traveled in Asia for two years now I think I am getting much better at haggling now. With tuk tuk drivers I am that confident now that I just use the non-verbal bargaining technique. I don’t negotiate a tuk tuk price before I go in and just give the driver what I think is a decent amount of money when I leave the tuk tuk again. It works really well and I never have any problems with that. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at all, and as a foreigner I am still charged more than locals of course, but I think I am not bad at all at haggling actually. So why do I think I am quite good at haggling? To explain that I need to go back a few years to when I went to the Otavalo market in Ecuador with Chris.

stall vendors at otavalo market

The Otavalo market is one of the biggest markets in Ecuador and you can buy everything there. By Everything I mean literally everything! The indigenous OtavaeΓ±os are famous for their weaving textiles, but during the market’s peak, almost one third of the town becomes full of stalls selling textiles, animals, tagua nut jewelry, musical instruments, dream catchers, leather goods, fake shrunken heads, indigenous costumes, hand-painted platters and trays, purses, clothing, spices, raw foods and spools of wool.

animals at otavalo marketcorn sellers at otavalo market

I am a real sucker for buying handicrafts, jewelry or handbags, so I was in heaven at the Otavalo market. With my rusty Spanish I tried to buy a wooly hat and matching gloves. I asked how much they were individually. He said US$5 each. I looked a bit hesitant and made him an offer to buy both for $7. He nodded. Score! My first attempt at bargaining in South America and it worked.

I felt very confident and wanted to try my luck at some panama hats next (which confusingly are actually made in Ecuador and not Panama). Genuine Panama hats are very expensive. They costs hundreds of Dollars in Western countries, but should be much cheaper of course when you buy them locally, so I knew I had to up my game here a little bit. I asked how much for a hat. The stall owner that $US60. I said I’d buy it for $20. He started talking about his sick children and said he wanted at least US40. Really, the sick children method? I am sure I saw them running around behind his stall a minute ago. Plus, thanks to my Lonely Planet I knew that OtavaleΓ±os are the wealthiest and most commercially successful indigenous people in Ecuador – a status which translates to owning hotels and SUV cars. So this man was clearly a professional, but I wasn’t going to give up. I made a counter offer of US$30, but he rejected. Damn! I really wanted to buy a hat for my dad, so I did the ultimate in haggling – the walk away bargaining tactic. Miraculously he suddenly agreed to my $30 offer and because I kind of felt bad for negotiating that hard, we decided to buy two hats, one for my dad and one for Chris. His face lid up and everybody was happy.

rugs at otavalo market

So this whole negotiating thing at Otavalo market really wasn’t that hard if you stay consistent. Next Chris wanted to buy a Che Guevara T-Shirt and I led on the negotiations again. The stall owner wanted US$15 for the T-Shirt, so I made a counter offer of $5. He then said $10. I got distracted by a friend who was asking me a question for a split second and then the unimaginable happened. So remember the guy wanted $10 for the T-Shirt the last I heard and then all of the sudden Chris came in and said, ok I give you US$12. Wait, what? He just negotiated the price up by US$2, even though the seller was happy to go for $10 a minute ago. The seller had the biggest grin on his face and said it is a deal. Doh! And that ladies and gentlemen, is how not to haggle.

panama hats at otavalo market

What about you? Do you like haggling? What is your best method of getting a good deal?


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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

27 Thoughts on “Flashback Friday: How not to haggle at Otavalo Market

  1. I don’t like haggling at all! It’s definitely a skill I need to practice.
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted…Is Australia Just Too Darn Expensive?My Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 2, 2013 at 1:34 am said:

      Yeah, it is not for everyone. Living in Cambodia for 2 years definitely taught me a lot, but I still don’t like it. I still rather go to shops where the price is displayed. πŸ™‚

  2. I definitely got a taste of haggling while shopping for scarves at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. After some tough negotiations, I used the walking away method and I got 2 scarves for the single price that I originally wanted. The walking away method works because most vendors will quickly realize that some money is better than none! I’ve revived Wanderlust Wednesdays, and I’m inviting you to link up every Wednesday on my blog. Details are at my link below.
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted…Cappadocia: Selime MonasteryMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 2, 2013 at 1:39 am said:

      Oh I heard that the grand bazaar is a tough one for negotiating actually. The walk away method almost always works. I’ll check out your WW! πŸ™‚

  3. Brian did that to me in Nepal! I’d negotiated a price for paintings and then Brian came in and offered $2 more each. I couldn’t believe it! That’s why I do all the haggling in our relationship πŸ™‚
    Kim recently posted…Dear life 8My Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 2, 2013 at 5:27 am said:

      Ha ha, I am glad I am not the only one with a hubby that negotiates prices up! Must be a man-thing! πŸ˜‰

  4. Hahaha. Nice work! A basic grasp of counting does help! I went to Otovalo for the day from Quito and it took me over 4 hours each way, leaving me just half an hour to look around. I think that counts as a bigger fail than losing $2 from bad haggling!
    Arianwen recently posted…Top 10 Things to do in WellingtonMy Profile

  5. I hate haggling – especially in developing countries. I always feel like such a cheapskate!
    Andrea recently posted…Big In Texas: Little Monster TrucksMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 5, 2013 at 1:01 am said:

      I know Andrea, me too! However, when I went to Morocco once and I didn’t want to haggle and the stall owner actually felt offended.

  6. It’s something we Europeans are definitely not used to and it’s indeed a skill to be learned. I feel often quite uncomfortable as well but now I just think by myself how much would I want to pay for this or this item and going by that amount usually helps me when to stop or when to agree.
    Freya recently posted…Travel with an Increased Green AwarenessMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 5, 2013 at 1:03 am said:

      That works well for me too Freya. I still feel uncomfortable haggling now too and sometimes I see foreigners haggle over pennies, which I personally find really embarrassing.

  7. Oh, this brought back memories. Mostly memories of sucking at bargaining, yes. I too discovered the walk-away technique; in fact in Morocco I discovered I wasn’t getting anywhere at all until they asked you to leave… and then dragged you back in.
    Don E recently posted…Eight Great Hours in Stockholm, SwedenMy Profile

  8. Love this post and your stories. I am sure every traveler has some “market stories” to tell πŸ™‚ When I travel, I keep in mind that all these people are producing/selling goods for living and try to support them as much as possible. This is one of my goals of travel. Here is my favorite part of bargaining- if a seller doesn’t accept my final price, I ask him/her to pose for a photo πŸ™‚ and then I accept their final price πŸ™‚ this makes both sides happy, and it is always fun!
    memographer recently posted…Old Bangkok Made of GoldMy Profile

  9. I usually counter offer by like 40 – 50% less then wait for theirs. Usually they go up to half the amount, then we work our way to a comfortable price for both. And if they don’t budge I just say thanks and walk away…this walking away is my final attempt in my negotiating tactics. It’s a hit or miss thing….but success rate is 70%…but I always feel cheated even after a negotiated price, because I think the negotiations felt way too easy or there is probably somebody out there who got a better price than me…I think I’m just a paranoid negotiator.
    On A Junket recently posted…All in a Day’s Work for a Holiday Rep: A Barricade in DesenzanoMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on August 5, 2013 at 1:06 am said:

      Yes, it is weird isn’t it? However the negotiation goes it just never feels right. That’s why I much rather go to places that display prices.

  10. Glad the haggling worked out for you!
    Ayngelina recently posted…Stenciled CuencaMy Profile

  11. I have gotten better at haggling in the past year, but I still don’t really like it, and I’m still not always sure of the best way to go about it. For instance, I’ve heard that here in Indonesia, even if there are listed prices for things like buses and boats, you can still haggle! I don’t even know where to begin with that!

    Tony & I definitely had a similar haggling experience to you when we were in Hanoi. We were trying to buy a Vietnamese phrasebook and we knew it was a fake, and were working to get the price down. Finally the lady asked how much we would pay, and I said $4 while Tony said $6. She started smiling and obviously went with Tony’s price….
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Chewing the Fat with Sarah Somewhere!My Profile

  12. I treat haggling like a sport. A sport that I love πŸ™‚ Usually before I even ask for a price, I already have in mind what the object is worth to me… then I go from there.
    jill recently posted…Carter Ridge – Our Favorite Day Hike in the Canadian RockiesMy Profile

  13. Haggling is either native or something we need to practice. A good seller will always appreciate to have a negociator in front of him (it is much more fun for him). In France it is like Germany except in the outdoor market, you need to negociate price or volume πŸ™‚

  14. Leisa on July 15, 2014 at 12:59 am said:

    I love a good haggle! Bargaining in markets is one of my absolute favourite parts of travelling.
    For me, it is the best opportunity to get involved in a conversation with locals. If you haggle with a cheeky smile you can easily win them over. If you show you enjoy the game of haggling you can earn a lot of respect (and a good price). I’ve even been invited to come back for tea!
    In more touristy places like Marrakech and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul they know that many tourists will buy without haggling (or will put up very little fight) so they are less likely to give you a good price. If you go a little deeper into the market (where less tourists go) you will get a far better price.
    The thing I find the funniest is when the stall holders tell each other what you are looking for. If you just offered one guy 200 dirhams for a blue leather pouffe and he didn’t except, I guarantee you another man a few metres up will offer you the exact same blue leather pouffe and will often match your price (or similar). They’ll even follow you to get down to a price you both agree on.

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