Backpackers travel to Otavalo to experience one of the largest markets in South America. The small town has an open air market every day, but on Saturdays the market pretty much takes over the whole town. You can easily visit the market as a day trip from Quito, or stay a night in one of the hostels in town. We didn’t have time to explore further, but we’ve also heard there’s some great hiking in the area. It’s definitely a great place to visit and to grab some unique souvenirs, and we’re hoping to help you with some tips on how to get the most out of the Otavalo Market experience.
How to get There
We travelled from Quito to Otavalo by bus. You’ll need to get to the Northern Bus Station (Terminal Carcelen) to grab a bus to Otavalo. You can get to the bus station from The Old City in about 45 minutes in a taxi for $10 USD. Find the booth advertising Otavalo as a destination, and pay for the $2.60 USD ticket. The bus ride takes just under 2 hours.
On the way back, head back to the Otavalo bus station (where you were dropped off). Hop on any bus heading to Quito, and pay the $2.50 USD when the bus employee comes around to collect fares.
Where to Stay
- Flying Donkey – We didn’t stay here, but we were with our friends when they checked in and got to check the place out. The staff were super nice, and the colourful hostel had a fun vibe. The rooms were spacious and comfortable. It was a pricier option, running at $39 USD for a double room with private bathroom. You can book a room at Flying Donkey online here, or check out other hostels in Otavalo here.
What to Do
- Plaza de Los Ponchos – This is the heart of the market, where all of the action happens. We went on a Saturday, which is the busiest day of the week for the market, and when the market is the largest. We also found out that this is the most expensive day to go to the market. You’d think with more vendors, that the competition would drive down prices, but it seems the vendors think the opposite. With more tourists, they have a better chance of finding a buyer that won’t haggle, or who’s willing to pay more. All items are open to negotiation, so make sure to barter! Our friends stayed the night and visited the market on Sunday before heading up to Colombia, and said everything was significantly cheaper. So unless you really need to see the market at its busiest, don’t go on Saturday! The market is open everyday for 7 am-6 pm. Here’s a list of everything our friends and us bought (after some lengthy bargaining):
- Queen sized knitted blanket – $18.50 USD
- Sweaters – $14 USD (bought three at once)
- Small Scarf – $6 USD
- Large Scarf – $11 USD
- Table runner – $7 USD
- Sunglasses – $4 USD
- Animal Market – There’s also an animal market to check out on Saturdays from 6a m-noon, if you’re in the market to purchase some goats or chickens!
- Hikes – There are lots of nice hikes in the area, including hiking by the Imbabura Volcano. We didn’t have time to do any, but some research shows some nice routes if you’re able to stretch your day trip into an overnight trip.
Where to Eat
- Los Choclitos – We found this place on one of the market offshoot roads, and it was an extremely good lunch after our bus ride. You can purchase a very filling $2 USD corn bowl, and customize whatever goodness you want in it.
Balcon de Imbabura – This was a fun spot in the main square. It’s located on the second floor, and offers nice views over the market. We got some great nachos here, and very tasty smoothies while we recharged before heading out into the market for round two.