Home to the famous Otavalo Market, the small town of Otavalo in northern Ecuador is a highlight for travelers. Despite being just a tiny town, its status as home to the largest market of its kind in all of South America, makes it one of the most popular day trips from Quito, or long weekend destinations for those looking to explore more of one of Ecuador’s most gorgeous regions.
Our ultimate guide to Otavalo, Ecuador and the Otavalo market will help you get there. After living in Ecuador for two years and spending nearly a dozen long weekends in Otavalo, we’ve got the inside tips you need to plan your Otavalo market visit and how to enjoy the best things to do in Otavalo (and what NOT to do)!
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Located in the northern highlands of Ecuador, high in the Andes Mountains, Otavalo is a charming small town that has quickly become one of the most visited cities in Ecuador for tourists for one prime reason: it boasts an incredible market that claims the title of the largest outdoor market of its kind in South America.
Largely an indigenous town, you’ll overhear plenty of conversations in Kichwa (an Ecuadorian variety of the Andean indigenous language Quechua) and see residents dressed in traditional clothing and jewelry. It’s a unique encounter you won’t find anywhere else.
While the Otavalo Market may be the biggest draw to visit for most travelers, don’t be mistaken – there is much more to do here than just shop! Stunning mountain and volcano viewpoints, nearby volcanic crater lakes, local workshops, and waterfall hikes through lush forests combine to make this a must-visit spot you’ll remember.
Otavalo Ecuador Map
Otavalo is a relatively compact, small city and it’s easy to find your way, especially if you’re planning on staying in town and visiting the market. There are just a few main streets to navigate, though you’ll also want to venture out of town for some of the best things to do in Otavalo, like visiting Peguche Waterfall and Laguna de Cuicocha Crater Lake.
I’ve added some places I’ve mentioned in this article (and a few bonus recommendations!) on the Otavalo Ecuador map below. Click around and feel free to save or download this map to use on your trip to Otavalo!
What To Pack for Ecuador
Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.
The Otavalo Market is the largest market in Ecuador and the largest market of its kind in South America. The Otavalo Market dates back to pre-Incan times when locals bought, sold, and traded woven products, food, and other products in the market. The market tradition has grown and expanded ever since.
Just as you did centuries ago, you’ll still find a mix of products for sale at the Otavalo Market. Highlights include an array of textiles and woven products, including an incredible selection of alpaca blankets, sweaters, and scarves with lovely patterns – these are the Otavalo textiles that have helped make the market so far.
However, you’ll also find produce, street food, jewelry, souvenirs, and more. While the popularity of Otavalo with travelers has somewhat given it over to touristy wares, you’ll still find beautiful handcrafted items and traditional products made of wood, textiles, leather, and more.
Plaza de Ponchos
The Otavalo Market takes place in the center of Otavalo, with its center in Plaza de Ponchos in the center of town. Even when it isn’t a main market day, you’ll still find vendors filling the Plaza de Ponchos.
Since the town is so walkable, you should be easily able to find Plaza de Ponchos – there are also signs throughout town directing visitors. It is easily walkable to restaurants, cafes, the bus station, and plenty of accommodation options nearby.
Otavalo Market Days
The biggest and most popular Otavalo market days are Saturdays and to a lesser extent, Wednesdays. Saturday is the most popular market day by far, as vendors set up within the Plaza de Ponchos and many of the surrounding streets, and the market fills much of this small city. You can wander the market for hours and still not see everything.
If you can, try to make a visit on a Saturday to see the Otavalo Market and the town in its glory! If you aren’t able to visit on a Saturday, shoot for a visit on Wednesday. However, if your Ecuador itinerary just won’t allow for a visit on either of these days, don’t worry – the market is open every day of the week within the Plaza de Ponchos with many vendors!
Regardless of the day you visit, try to go early! While the Otavalo market hours are not officially kept, there is much more hustle and bustle in the morning, with vendors starting packing up in the mid-afternoon around 4 pm.
Earlier in the day, you’ll find much more to see and better bargains to be had.
Best Time to Visit Otavalo Ecuador
While day trips to Otavalo are popular, I’ve always had my best experiences in Otavalo arriving on Friday afternoon or evening, spending the night, and waking up early to get to the market on Saturday.
By arriving in Otavalo on Friday night, you’ll be able to beat a lot of the visitors coming to Otavalo for a day trip from Quito, and have a relaxed morning. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit some incredible sights and experience some of the other best things to do in Otavalo:
- Laguna Cuicocha Volcanic Crater Lake
- Cascadas de Peguche Waterfall
These are beautiful and impressive natural sites in the area and are both very close to Otavalo, Ecuador, so spending just a little more time here if your itinerary affords the time is well worth it.
Otavalo Market Tours
Because of Otavalo’s proximity to Quito, many tour companies offer half-day or full-day Otavalo Ecuador market tours with private transportation from Quito to Otavalo and back.
While these trips are most popular on Saturdays because the market is the largest, they can be arranged throughout the week as well. Tours from Quito to Otavalo are great options if you’re looking for the convenience of avoiding public transport and the ease of not having to plan ahead.
Most trips also include stop-offs at popular things to do in Otavalo and the surrounding area in addition to the market, including visits with local artisans, boat rides on Laguna de Cuicocha, and visits to the waterfall in Peguche.
Best Otavalo Market Tour from Quito
This day tour of Otavalo from the excellent tour company Quito Tour Bus is our top Otavalo tour recommendation from Quito. It visits the market and the surrounding areas and is an extremely popular and inexpensive option for visiting Otavalo. You’ll have all transport and food included, plus get to see some of the best parts of the surrounding countryside.
With this day tour of Otavalo, you’ll have the option of transportation back to Quito, or sticking around in Otavalo and traveling on from there.
Private Otavalo Market Tour from Quito
Private, personalized tours are also available and can be personalized – a popular day tour to Otavalo from Quito is offered by Llamingo Travel (a company we used for another day trip from Quito – they were fantastic!) and includes a visit to the market as well as visiting other local attractions including Peguche and artisan workshops.
Read More: 10 Best Day Trips from Quito, Ecuador
What To Buy at the Otavalo Market
There is so much to see at the Otavalo Market and so many things to catch your eye that you’ll be lucky if you don’t have to purchase an extra duffel bag to carry home all your next purchase – believe me, this actually happened to me! These are some of the best things you can buy at the Otavalo Market.
Otavalo is best known for its textiles, today has it has been for ages. Otavalo textiles are known for their intricacy and detail as well their their bright colors. You’ll find significant use of alpaca and wool in traditional Otavalo textiles, though you’ll also find items with fine embroidery. Looking at the clothing of indigenous women in Otavalo, you’ll see embroidery in collars and details frequently.
Another favorite transformation of the famous Otavalo textiles, clothing makes up a lot of the products for sale at the Otavalo Market. Alpaca sweaters and scarves are favorites and come in plenty of patterns, as do hats, ponchos, and more. You’ll find everything from stylish and modern sweaters to indigenous embroidered tops here.
Due to Otavalo’s popularity with visitors, you’ll also find a fair amount of clothing for travelers, with Ecuador t-shirts and soccer (fútbol) jerseys and the like.
Purses and duffel bags are popular choices from the Otavalo market as well, and come in everything from carefully crafted wool and leather purses and backpacks to inexpensive satchels and duffels made from patterned cotton weaves. This is a favorite way to take some of the famous Otavalo textiles home with you.
Another popular item on sale in Otavalo is jewelry, and here you’ll find it at every price point and in every style. There is plenty of silver, semi-precious stones like turquoise, as well as colorful, woven bracelets.
You’ll also see a lot of gold-beaded necklaces of all sizes and stacks of red beaded bracelets – these are the bracelets traditionally worn by Otavaleño indigenous women. These are very popular and are now sold in every color under the sun.
One material you’ll see a lot of is tagua – this smooth nut native to Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil is also known as “vegetable ivory” for being identical to ivory but with cruelty-free origins. From colorful necklaces to natural tagua bracelets and more, this interesting and beautiful material is everywhere in Otavalo.
There are plenty of different souvenirs for sale at the market – everything you can imagine you’ll find here, from t-shirts and keychains to mugs, glassware, and so much more.
If you’re thinking about getting some souvenirs from Ecuador, this is the place to do it. I found souvenirs to be cheaper here than they are in handicraft markets in Quito or other major cities when you bargain.
Fresh Food and Street Food
One of the more fascinating aspects of the market is the fresh food section at the north end of the Plaza de Ponchos. Here you’ll find vendors selling fruit and vegetables as well as bread, grains, and spices.
Make sure you take a few minutes to wander through this section of the market as well – you’ll learn a lot about Ecuadorian cuisine very quickly and see fruits and vegetables you won’t find anywhere else.
Vendors throughout the market also sell street different street foods. Popular options include grilled bananas (sometimes sold split open with mild cheese inside), roasted corn on the cob, and stewed figs with cheese on bread.
At the north end of the Plaza de Ponchos and in some of the surrounding streets you’ll find food stalls set up with benches and tables lined up for diners. Plates of food are inexpensive, just a few dollars, and are filling and delicious.
Street Food Tips:
- Choose the stalls that have people already eating at them – if they’re locals, even better. They’ll know where and what to eat.
- Make sure the food you’re purchasing looks fresh, not like it hasn’t been sitting out for a long time after cooking
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Otavalo Animal Market
If you’re looking to see another side of the market in Otavalo, visit the Otavalo animal market in the morning – by 7:00AM it will be in full swing, but it only lasts for a few hours.
Here you’ll find locals buying and selling all kinds of animals, including pigs, sheep, horses, rabbits, and even llamas.
The guinea pigs, called “cuyes,” you’ll see for sale at the market aren’t for pets. Eating guinea pig is a local delicacy in Ecuador and Peru. If you want to try it – it’s good! – you can find it in many local restaurants.
Even if you’re not in the market for a live animal or pet, a quick trip to the animal market is a fascinating way to catch a glimpse into the more local side of the market and people-watch. It is worth a quick visit!
Read More: 38 Best Things To Do in Quito, Ecuador
Bargaining In Otavalo
It is expected that you will bargain at the market – in fact, you should. It’s absolutely expected that you will and vendors factor this into the initial price they’ll offer you. You can usually expect to get an item for half or two-thirds of the price that you’re initially offered.
I’ve heard vendors offering some truly outrageous prices in the past. Once I inquired about a few items and was told they would cost $90…only to have to vendor come running after me as I walked away and offer to sell them for as low as $20.
While this can be frustrating, it’s a reminder that bargaining is not a bad thing.
The best way to begin bargaining is by asking the prices of items you’re interested in but wandering through the market and looking for similar items beforehand to get a comparison. This will help you weed out highly overpriced offers.
Then, revisit the stalls with your favorite items at the most reasonable initial prices.
For non-Spanish-speakers, while some vendors will speak a few key English phrases, make sure you come prepared by downloading the Google Translate app on your phone. Pulling out the calculator app on your phone or using a notebook and pen to write out the number you’re offering is an easy solution as well.
Things To Do in Otavalo, Ecuador
While the Otavalo Market is the number one draw to the area for most visitors, there is much more to do around Otavalo, so much so that I recommend spending at least one to two nights in Otavalo to enjoy it all.
After you’ve explored the market, add these best things to do in Otavalo to your itinerary – you’ll have an incredible time.
1. Visit the Peguche Waterfall (Cascada de Peguche)
For a quick way to spend two hours or so, head to Peguche, just a 15-minute ride from central Otavalo. Here you’ll find the Peguche waterfall, an unexpectedly impressive and tall waterfall in the forest. Easily reachable by a defined path past campgrounds and cabins, it’s a relatively easy visit and is quite beautiful – one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Ecuador.
2. Take a Cruise on the Laguna de Cuicocha
One of the most impressive natural spots in northern Ecuador, the volcanic crater lake known as the Laguna de Cuicocha is just a 15-minute drive from Otavalo, making it one of the best things to do in Otavalo on a day trip from Quito or an overnight in the area.
There are a number of ways to experience the area, but the best is certainly taking the short 15-minute cruise on a boat through the crater lake. You’ll get a totally unique view of the crater and enjoy stunning vistas. Whether you opt for the cruise or not, be sure to make the 10 minute hike up one side of the crater (south behind the welcome center and museum) to the lookout platform. The views are next-level; I spotted multiple snow-capped volcanoes on a clear day!
If you’re looking to get truly up close and personal with Cuicocha (worth it! – this place is amazing!) then consider completing the entire rim hike. While this is a five-hour hike of moderate difficulty at a relatively high altitude, you will never for get the incredible views of the crater and the surrounding valleys and volcanoes.
Read More: 10 Impressive Volcanoes in Ecuador
Getting to Otavalo
Most visitors to Otavalo, Ecuador travel from Quito to Otavalo – it is extremely easy to travel here from Quito with either public or private transportation. While Otavalo is also directly accessible from other cities in north Ecuador or south Colombia, traveling to Otavalo from most other cities in Ecuador will most likely require a stop in Quito first.
Quito to Otavalo
Buses leave frequently from Quito’s Terminal Carcelén bus terminal in the north part of the city – about every 20 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of options of buses. Tickets cost $2.50, one-way. Book a return ticket from the bus station in Otavalo.
There are several different bus companies that service Otavalo, including “Los Lagos” and “Otavalo” companies. Find and approach the ticket counter in the main hall of the bus terminal to book tickets and see bus departure times.
Book your ticket (departing from Otavalo) as soon as possible if you plan to return to Quito on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon – return buses can sell out fast on weekend afternoons.
If you’re not interested in taking a bus, it’s definitely worthwhile to book a small-group day tour to Otavalo, or a private tour. You’ll pay just about the same for this experience as you would for a driver or rental car and have an all-inclusive experience with a guide.
How Far is Otavalo Market from Quito?
It only takes around 2 hours to reach Otavalo from Quito, making it a popular day trip, especially during Otavalo market day on Saturdays. The route is direct, and while you’ll twist and turn through the mountains you’ll have some incredible views during the trip.
Transportation from Other Cities in Ecuador
Ecuador has a very extensive and inexpensive system of buses from city to city and province to province, making travel in this country so easy. While Otavalo Ecuador is a small town and you won’t find a direct bus here from every city, you will from many, especially in the northern half of the country.
Depending on where you’re traveling from, it may be best to take a bus to Quito first or alternatively to Ibarra, a large city north of Otavalo. From either of these cities, there are frequent buses to Otavalo.
Read More: 10 Best Cities in Ecuador for Travelers
Where To Stay in Otavalo, Ecuador
I stayed at Flying Donkey Hostel at least six or seven times while visiting Otavalo over the course of a few years – it was the only hostel I stayed at in Otavalo, and never found a reason to look elsewhere!
The location is perfect, right in the center of town and just a block or two away from everything you’d want to see and do, including the Otavalo Market. Dorm beds cost $9 and there are several private rooms starting at just $15. Breakfast is included.
La Posada del Quinde ($$)
Many of Otavalo’s mid-range hotels are located in the countryside, but La Posada del Quinde is the perfect combination of staying in town and feeling like you’re on a country retreat. I enjoyed my stay and couldn’t recommend this place more!
It is also located on the edge of town, within easy walking distance of restaurants, the Plaza de Ponchos, and more. The grounds of this hotel are huge and lush, with beautiful views of the mountains, and rooms are comfortable.
Plus, the restaurant downstairs has delicious and inventive options you won’t find anywhere else in town.
Atallaro Hospedaje ($$)
If you’re looking to enjoy Otavalo’s countryside – a fantastic choice! – check out the beautiful and peaceful Atallaro Hospedaje located on nearby the nearby San Pablo Lake.
You’ll have an amazing view of the lake and volcano and can reach Otavalo with a short taxi ride. The rooms are very comfortable and inviting and the grounds are beautiful. This is a lovely escape from Otavalo.
Hacienda Cusin ($$ – $$$)
If you’re looking to enjoy the beautiful countryside surrounding Otavalo, this is the best place for it! Hacienda Cusin is a luxurious historic house just outside of town, with comfortable rooms, incredible grounds to explore, and a lovely staff. This is an unforgettable place to stay!
You’ll find a good range of restaurants in Otavalo, from pizza joints and burger places to cafes and local places. Nothing in Otavalo is too overwhelmingly special, though the restaurant in La Posada del Quinde has some of the best food in town.
These are the places that we love to eat when we visit Otavalo, Ecuador, including one of my very favorite cafes in all of Ecuador.
La Cosecha Cafe & Bakery
La Cosecha is a beautiful cafe located right on the Plaza de Ponchos. It is the perfect place to start your day or take a break from shopping in the market, and it’s one of my favorite cafes in all of Ecuador. The coffee is delicious and they serve a lot of options including iced coffee, and the pastries and sandwiches are great.
Parceros is a simple restaurant with delicious and inexpensive options. Spanish speakers will recognize the name of the restaurant and know they’re in for some delicious Colombian food – you can’t go wrong with the arepas, and their larger plates are generous. This is a delicious spot for breakfast as well.
Muyu Beer Garden
This artisanal beer garden is a relaxed little spot perfect for unwinding after a day at the market. The Muyu Beer Garden is everything you’d want from a beer garden and more with delicious craft beer, good food, a lovely terrace and frequent live music. Don’t miss out on this place!
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.