Otavalo, Ecuador is famous for its open-air indigenous textile market which is the largest of its kind in South America. It’s also home to one of Ecuador’s hidden gems and some incredible street art. The indigenous culture is very strong here as many residents still wear traditional clothes and speak Kichwa. Otavalo is a popular day trip from Quito, but that won’t leave you enough time to enjoy the beautiful scenery outside the town.
How to Get There
There are regular buses to Otavalo from Terminal de Carcelen in Quito and the journey takes about 2 hours. If you’re coming from anywhere south of Quito, there are also buses to Otavalo that leave from Terminal de Quitumbe. These are less frequent but will help you avoid the 90-minute bus ride between the Quitumbe and Carcelen terminals.
What to Do
Visit the Market at Plaza de Los Ponchos – The biggest day for the market is Saturday and Wednesday is the second biggest. On Saturdays the market stretches beyond the plaza for a few blocks in each direction. The market starts at 8 AM but doesn’t get busy until around 11 AM.
You will find ponchos, sweaters, socks, hats, and the odd guinea pig or chicken for sale if you’re ready to bargain. The vendors say most products are alpaca wool ($$$), but they are actually llama wool. Nonetheless, the clothing is high quality and I’m still wearing my llama sweater daily.
Laguna Cuicocha – This incredibly scenic 3.5-4.5 hour hike around the lagoon is a must. It’s one of the gems of Ecuador and most visitors to Otavalo don’t see anything beyond the market. The trail opens at 8 AM and there tends to be cloud cover early in the morning.
You need to take a taxi to get to the lagoon, but the cheapest way is to first take a bus to Quiroga. From there, take a taxi to Laguna Cuicocha for $10 round trip. Be sure to ask the driver to come back to the lagoon at a specific time, so you aren’t left stranded. The easier way to get here is by taking a taxi from Otavalo for $25-30 round trip.
Antigua Fábrica San Pedro – An interesting museum about the history, culture, and traditions of the Kichwa people, who comprise 60% of Otavalo. I really enjoyed the tour and you’ll want to contact the museum in advance to arrange a tour in English. The entrance is $5 and it’s closed on Sundays.
Parque Cóndor – A bird rescue center with condors, hawks, eagles, and owls. I had low expectations, but the size and colors of these birds are very impressive. The entrance is $5 and they have flying exhibitions at 11:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
Cascada de Peguche – A peaceful place with a waterfall and lush green surroundings. It makes for a nice loop to continue on to Parque Cóndor and Lago San Pablo by foot.
Where to Eat
The food scene in Otavalo is still developing, so don’t expect anything too sophisticated.
Empanadas Argentinas – A unique restaurant serving empanadas with fun fillings like pineapple and apple cinnamon.
La Cosecha – The perfect place to treat yourself to coffee and cake after a hike.
Auténtico Yamor de Doña – Filling plates of traditional mote, llapingachos, and empanadas.
Where to Stay
Flying Donkey – A hostel with friendly staff and a central location. I would book in advance if you plan to visit on a weekend.
The Traveler Hostel – This upscale hostel with English-speaking staff and hot water is another solid choice.
How Long to Stay
2 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Otavalo. If you visit on a day trip, you will have a very rushed day and will only get to experience the market and lagoon hike.
Where to Next
Quito (2 hours by bus) – Ecuador’s charming capital has stunning churches and the largest historic center in South America.
Quilotoa Loop (4.5 hours via Quito Quitumbe Terminal) – The 3-day hike through the highlands is certainly one of the best hikes in South America.
Galápagos Islands (2- hour flight from Quito) – You can visit the premier destination for seeing marine life independently for far cheaper than a cruise.