Otavalo Ecuador: Otavalo Market Guide + Best Things To Do

The Otavalo Market in the town of Otavalo – a beautiful small town in the highlands of Ecuador is a favorite for travelers. It is not to be missed – this is the largest market of its kind in all of South America, and well worth a visit!

Packed with famous Otavalo textiles woven with love, sweaters, jewelry, souvenirs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and yummy street food, the Otavalo Market Ecuador has it all. While living in Ecuador for two years I visited at least 8 different times – and am still planning to go back!

Not only are Otavalo market days incredible, but Otavalo Ecuador itself and the surrounding countryside are truly picturesque.

Think soaring volcanoes and mountains, expansive lakes, and much more. There are plenty of things to do in Otavalo for visitors beyond just visiting the market.

Keep reading for all of my top tips on how to have an unforgettable Otavalo Ecuador market experience – after visiting so many times, I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what NOT to do! And I’m sharing it all for you here.

backpacking ecuador

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Otavalo Ecuador Market

Otavalo Market Facts

The Otavalo market is the largest market in Ecuador and the largest market of its kind in South America. Otavalo and the surrounding countryside has a largely indigenous population. Many of the Otavaleño people use traditional clothes.

Men wear ponchos and felt hats, and women wear embroidered blouses, black skirts, gold beaded necklaces and red beaded bracelets. Many indigenous people in Otavalo speak Kichwa, a variant of Quechua spoken in Peru and Bolivia. Spanish is also widely spoken.

The Otavalo Market Ecuador 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.

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.

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.

I’ve added some places I’ve mentioned in this article (and a few bonus recommendations!) on the Otavalo Ecuador map below.

Otavalo Market Location

Located in the northern highlands of Ecuador, Otavalo is at the center of a largely indigenous area of the country. The surrounding countryside is stunning, with lots of natural beauty like volcanos, lakes, and rivers.

As you’ll see from the Otavalo Ecuador map above, it’s nearby the volcanic crater lake Laguna Cuicocha, San Pablo Lake, several impressive volcanoes, and much more.

Plaza de Ponchos

The market at Otavalo takes place in the center of Otavalo, within the Plaza de Ponchos in the center of town. It is easily walkable to restaurants, cafes, the bus station, and plenty of accommodation options nearby.

Since the town is so walkable, you should be easily able to find Plaza de Ponchos – there are also signs throughout town directing visitors.

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, as vendors set up within the Plaza de Ponchos and many of the surrounding streets, and the market fills much of the city.

If you can, try to make a visit on a Saturday to see the Otavalo Ecuador market and town in its glory! If you aren’t able to visit on a Saturday, 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.

otavalo ecuador

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.

This way, you’ll be able to beat a lot of the visitors coming to Quito for a day trip, and have a relaxed morning.

By spending at least one night in Otavalo, 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.

Best Hotels & Hostels in Otavalo

Otavalo Market Tour

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 attractions in the area in addition to the Otavalo market, including things like:

  • Laguna Cuicocha volcanic crater lake
  • Cascadas de Peguche waterfalls
  • Visits with local artisans

Small group tours like this one are popular and relatively inexpensive and can be a great option for travelers with full itineraries or those looking for the convenience of privately organized transportation.

Small Group Tour from Quito

This day tour of Otavalo and the surrounding areas is an extremely popular and inexpensive (less than $50!) 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.

This is an excellent company we’ve used before for tours of Otavalo, and had an excellent experience!

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 Tour from Quito

Private, personalized tours are also available and can be personalized – a popular day tour to Otavalo from Quito is offered by Rebecca Adventure Travel, and includes a visit to the market as well as visiting other local attractions as well.

Otavalo Textiles

Otavalo is best known for its textiles and weaving, and it seems like the market is covered with blankets, tablecloths, and wall hanging on display come Saturday market days.

The Otavaleño indigenous people have been known for their weaving since pre-Inca times, and this is part of how the market got its start.

While you’ll find every style of textile under the sun, a favorite souvenir is an alpaca blanket – the alpaca fur is so soft and cozy, and you’ll find them in every color and pattern under the sun.

otavalo textiles

What To Get at the Otavalo Market

Clothes

Another favorite transformation of the famous Otavalo textiles, clothing makes up a lot of the products for sale as well. 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.

Bags

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. You may need to purchase an inexpensive bag to carry your purchases from the market… I speak from experience here as an over-purchaser at the Otavalo Market Ecuador on several occasions.

Jewelry

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.

Tagua

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.

otavalo market

Souvenirs

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

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 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!

Bargaining In Otavalo

It is expected that you will bargain at the market – in fact, you should. Its absolutely expected that you will and vendors factor this in to the initial price they’ll offer you.

You can usually expect to get an item for a 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 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 a notebook and pen, and writing out the number you’re offering and showing it to the vendor is an easy solution as well.

otavalo market

How to Get to Otavalo From Quito

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, travel 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.

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.

Buses to Otavalo

Wondering what are buses like? Buses are coach-style, and they’re generally comfortable.

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.

Terminal Carcelén in Quito is easily accessible by several public bus lines for $0.25 or by taxi. Taxis from within Quito shouldn’t cost more than $10, but I always recommend asking the cab driver to put on the “taximetro” taxi meter reader – sometimes they won’t unless asked to.

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.

Otavalo Hotels and Hostels

Flying Donkey Hostel ($)

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 market in Otavalo. 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.

otavalo ecuador

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. Rooms are very comfortable and inviting and the ground 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 lovely staff. This is an unforgettable place to stay!

Best Hotels & Hostels in Otavalo

Otavalo Restaurants

La Cosecha Cafe & Bakery

La Cosecha is a beautiful cafe, located right on the Plaza de Ponchos, is the perfect place to start your day or take a break from shopping in the market. The cafe is delicious and they serve a lot of options, and the pastries and sandwiches are great.

Parceros

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 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!