GringosAbroad Ecuador

Otavalo Tour: 11 Things to Know When Visiting Otavalo Market, Ecuador

Posted in: Ecuador Travel

In this post, you’ll take an Otavalo tour that’ll show you the highlights and everything you need to know as you plan your actual trip to the Otavalo Market.

Otavalo tour

One of the top things to do in Ecuador’s Andes mountains is a tour of the Otavalo Market.

In this post, you’ll learn what you need to know to plan you own tour of the Otavalo Market.

  1. The Otavalo Market’s Other Names
  2. Otavalo Market Days
  3. Otavalo Market Hours
  4. Not Everything is Artisan in Otavalo
  5. How To Get to Otavalo from Quito
  6. Otavalo Ecuador Elevation
  7. Otavalo Map
  8. Otavalo Weather
  9. Los Otavalos or Otavaleños (People of Otavalo)
  10. Currency
  11. The Other Market: Otavalo’s Animal Market

Otavalo tours

Otavalo Tour: South America’s Largest Outdoor Market

Watch on YouTube

Otavalo market craft

11 Things to Know About Your Otavalo Tour

Otavalo is famous around the world for it’s artisan market. Let’s begin our tour here:

1) The Otavalo Market’s Other Names

Known as the “Otavalo Market” to tourists, it is known locally as Plaza de los Ponchos and also Centenario Market.

2) Otavalo Market Days

While Plaza de los Ponchos is open everyday, some days are better to visit than others. Saturday is the big day and Wednesday is the second largest day.

The expression “market day” refers to the day(s) that have the most activity – when there are both more vendors and more customers. If you want to see the market at its fullest, visit on a Saturday or Wednesday. Of course, with more commercial activity you’ll see more pickpockets. Some tourists and expats avoid big market days to reduce problems.

On a “non-market day” you’ll have less vendors and less options. But given the very high percentage of identical stalls and products, many travelers recommend this.

3) Otavalo Market Hours

Otavalo’s artisan market opens at 7am and continues until 6pm.

Otavalo market tours

4) Not Everything is Artisan in Otavalo

It probably isn’t surprising that commercially made goods are featured at an “artisan” market. While you’ll find lots of handmade textile, ceramic, wood, silver, leather, and metal products, there are lots of imported and imprinted souvenir items.

The bottom line: don’t assume that everything is made by an artist.

5) How To Get to Otavalo from Quito

Most tourists travel from Quito to Otavalo by public bus. The trip takes about 2 hours and costs $2.50. At Quito’s Carcelén bus terminal take the Cooperativa Otavalo or the Cooperativa Los Lagos. Otavalo is located 110 kilometers north of the city of Quito.

Within the city of Otavalo, you can take a taxi almost anywhere for $1.25.

Here’s a view of Otavalo with the Imbabura volcano in the background.

Otavalo Ecuador

By Bcasterline at English Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

6) Otavalo Ecuador Elevation

The city center is located at 8345 feet (2543 meters) above sea level.

Do you need to worry about this elevation? While acute mountain sickness (AMS) can occur above 8000 feet (2400 meters), most people can ascend to this elevation without difficulty. During the six years we lived in Ecuador, altitude sickness was almost unheard of at this elevation. Some people experience tiredness for a few days. If you have a specific health problem or are unsure if you can handle this, speak with your doctor before travel.

Nearby Imbabura Volcano rises 15,190 feet (4630 meters) above sea level.

Otavalo market area and mountains

7) Otavalo Map

Here’s an overview map of the Otavalo area – showing the major attractions. Image owned by Otavalo Tourism – download pdf version of this map and a detailed urban planning (street map) on their site. Click to enlarge.

Otavalo Ecuador map

8) Otavalo Weather

Otavalo market tour EcuadorGiven its elevation and location on the equator, the climate in Ecuador’s Andes is pretty stable. It doesn’t change much through the year.

You can expect an average temperatures of around 59 degrees F (15 degrees C). Monthly rainfall averages between 0.5 – 4 inches (10 – 100 cm).

The sun is strong in the Andes – especially at this elevation. Remember to bring a sun hat, sun block and maybe even an umbrella to block the sun.

9) Los Otavalos or Otavaleños (People of Otavalo)

People from New York are New Yorkers and people from Toronto are (awkwardly) Torontonians. The demonym for people from Otavalo is either Otavalos or Otavaleños.

In Ecuador, you’ll hear the term Otavaleño most commonly. As with most Spanish words, the gender of the word changes depending on who you are referring to.

  • Otavaleño = one man
  • Otavaleña = one woman
  • Los Otavaleños refers to a group of people from Otavalo

Along with the Otavaleños, you’ll also find work by other groups at the Otavalo market including: Kichwa Cayambis, Kichwa Caranquis, Afro Ecuatorianos, and Mestizos.

The Otavaleños are world famous and sell their goods in countries around the world. While on vacation a few years ago in Aruba, we met some Otavaleñas selling in the capital city.

10) Currency

You might be surprised to learn that Ecuador uses the US dollar as their official currency. This is the currency you’ll get from the bank and ATM’s. Don’t expect to have success spending any other currency in the country.

Also, don’t bring many bills larger than $20. Most stores won’t accept $50 or $100 bills. Even the banks are skeptical about accepting a $100 bill due to the frequency of counterfeit money.

11) The Other Market: Otavalo’s Animal Market

In addition to the artisan products, there is also a livestock market in the city. Otavalo’s animal market is also a significant tourist attraction. This market is just outside of the city center near the Yana Yacu pools. A taxi will cost $1.25 or you can walk in just a few minutes.

You can expect to see cows, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, guinea pigs, ducks and rabbits.

This market operates on Saturdays from 6am to noon.

Otavalo animal market

Other Things to Do on Your Otavalo Tour

There’s a lot more to Otavalo than it’s famous open market. I’ll let this video by Otavalo Tourism show some of the highlights.

Watch on YouTube. Otavalo Tourism is the copyright owner of this video. 

Otavalo market Ecuador

Your Turn

Have you been to the Otavalo Market? What’s your favorite part? Have a question about your upcoming Otavalo tour? Join us in the comments below!

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

13 comments… add one
  • sheila gelman Jul 26, 2018, 9:55 am

    Is it still worth visiting the animal market?
    Fifteen years ago it was amazing. What else do you recommend seeing in the area.? We have a full day.

  • Dave Bloch Jul 24, 2018, 7:24 pm

    Something I can’t seem to find anywhere (including here) is more info on going FROM Otavalo TO Quito. There appear to be some buses that go from Ibarra thru Otavalo and Quito, doing pickup/dropoff in those cities. I’m interested because the Rome2Rio site appears to show the Quito dropoff very close to the historic centro Pileta de los Dos Puentes, saving a long taxi ride. Do you know anything about this other option?

  • Sarina Jul 1, 2018, 6:54 pm

    I just came back, summer solstice, 2018, from Quito. Spent two weeks with my dear friend. visited Otavalo, and Papallacta hot springs, among other sites. What a beautiful country!! There is an ex-pat community in Quito, 28,000 former U.S. citizens who retired there. Your dollar goes at least 5 times further. All food is fresh, no flying insects, a truly lovely experience.

  • Jasreth Apr 30, 2018, 3:51 pm

    When I was in Morocco, our tour guide told us the marketplace merchants know foreign tourists think they should get items for about 50% of the initial price thrown out by the merchant. So what do they do? Their initial offer is 4x the final price. He made it clear we should offer 1/4 of the original asking price and go from there. I imagine the same is true in Ecuador / Otavalo? If not, is there a rule of thumb about where to start negotiations? I don’t want to insult anyone by making too low an offer but I’m also traveling on a limited budget so need to stretch my dollars if I can. Thanks!

  • Richard Jablinski Mar 31, 2018, 10:51 pm

    Spent an afternoon in June 2017 in Otavalo during the Inti Raymi festival (winter solstice) and enjoyed many parades and festivities! That whole area is filled with many excellent places to visit! I was in the area for 3 days, but a week to 10 days would have been better!

  • Gerry Sauve Mar 31, 2018, 2:36 pm

    Thanks for the info Bryan. Was at the market a couple years ago. We stayed for a few days on our two month trip to Ecuador, what I really liked was how colorful everything was. It’s a great way to finish off your Ecuadorian holiday and load up on gifts. Also makes a nice get away for a day trip to Cotacachi for all your leather goods ( but that’s another story for another day).

  • Ilona Feb 26, 2018, 7:37 am

    Thank you for the guide! I went to the market two days ago and this was very useful to read up on it in advance. I was a bit surprised by its size because while it was big, I would have expected it to be even larger (but I think that’s due to people constantly saying that it’s worth visiting because it is so huge). It was still cool to visit and incredibly photogenic. I think my favourite part were all the colourful textiles because they are so pretty for taking pictures.

  • Jill Oct 7, 2017, 7:25 pm

    I was just there about a month ago with my boyfriend. Another important thing to know is how to haggle. The vendors will mark up the prices for tourists especially if you look foreign but they are always willing to negotiate, they’d rather give you a deal than not make a sale!

  • John Sep 16, 2017, 10:08 am

    Hi Bryan,
    Can you recommend either taking a bus or hiring a driver to take us to Otavalo for a day?

    Thanks so much.
    the pazeras@gmail.com

    • Bryan Haines Sep 16, 2017, 8:48 pm

      It depends on your preference for travel. The bus is cheap and a driver will give you the freedom to explore on your schedule.

  • John and Susan Sep 14, 2017, 7:58 pm

    Great site you have here! We are headed to Ecuador next week!

  • Amy Sep 16, 2016, 11:01 pm

    Regarding the bus prices…they can be as much as $3.00-$3.10 from Quito to Otavalo on a weekend which is a typically busier time.

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