Ecuador, Otavalo Market, South America

Discover Otavalo Market, Ecuador

Last Updated on by Bryony Clapperton

Otavalo Market is said to be the best market in Ecuador. It is also the largest outdoor market in South America.

It will take you a worthy 2 hour bus ride from Quito to Otavalo. An old, overcrowded bus takes you on a scenic route to this bustling market town.

You’ll find yourself lost in Otavalo Market, which is usually packed with tourists and tourists alike.

Surrounded by chatter and colour, it is easy to spend several hours exploring the town.

Are you a fan of food markets? Animals? Or handicrafts? The choice is yours. This is how you can discover Otavalo Market from Quito by bus.

Otavalo Market

Quito to Otavalo bus

If the 4 hour round trip to Otavalo Market puts you off visiting, please make an exception for this excursion from Quito.

With so much culture, colour and fragrance packed into a small Ecuadorian market town you won’t be disappointed.

The bus from Quito to Otavalo is budget friendly, as with most busses in Ecuador. For the cost of around $4 you can purchase a return ticket from Quito’s Carcelén bus terminal where the bus departs from.

Several busses leave from the Carcelén bus terminal but Ii’d suggest to get there early as this is a popular trip to do between Quito and Otavalo.

The journey will take two hours each way and the route will take you along some winding South American roads before you reach the market.

When leaving Otavalo note your bus stations. There are many buses coming from many directions as this is a big attraction for tourists and locals in the area.

It’s common for tourists to hop on the wrong bus. Remember when returning to Quito you need to get to terminal Carcelén in the Northern part of Quito.  

If you are staying in one of the central hostels in Quito you will need to get a taxi to Carcelén bus terminal.

Latin American textiles
Clothing at Otavalo

Otavalo Market days

The main Otavalo Market days are unsurprisingly the weekend. From as early as 7:00am on a Saturday stalls are set up and ready to trade to the bus loads of tourists and locals arriving.

Saying this, the market is open everyday so if you are not around on a weekend you won’t miss out.

Some markets in South America tend to be weekend only, but Plaza del Ponchos is open everyday of the week.

Jewelry at Otavalo Market

Types of Markets

There are more than one type of market at Otavalo Market, which is also known as Plaza de Ponchos to most locals. Within the town you’ll find;

  • Handicrafts market
  • Food market (fruit and veg)
  • Animal market
  • Smaller artisan handicraft markets
  • Food market (cooked food and menu del dias)

My main priority was artisan markets and handicraft markets. During my time in Latin America I’d become obsessed with the distinctive textiles you see everywhere.

We travelled with a larger group who also wanted to stop off at the food markets to purchase some fruit and also grab a meal.

Lavender
Otavalo Market, Ecuador

Food at Otavalo Market

Like most markets from Mexico to Peru there are always tasty and cheap eats to be found.

If you are travelling Ecuador on a budget then the food market option would be great for you. Often two courses can be purchased at Otavalo food market for a couple of dollars.

Courses will likely include a soup to start and a meat and veg main course sometimes with egg and potatoes or plantain.

Vegetarian options as always at food markets are limited, however if you don’t mind this is a great option for any budget backpacker.

It’s $2 for a healthy sized meal at the food market in Otavalo, expect people fighting for your custom as often tourists prefer to sample the restaurants and bakeries in Otavalo rather than the food market.

We arrived to the food market as everything was closing up so our options were limited, but we had caught a glimpse the mad rush for food earlier in the day.

Street food

Along with the set menus at the indoor food market there are a lot of fruit and veg stalls to grab fruit from. There are also a lot of street food type stalls selling drinks and snacks.

Otavalo Market food
Fruit
Fruit in the sun

Currency

Ecuador uses the US dollar as it’s main currency. Therefore, all the currency used at Otavalo market is the US dollar.

As with any market you’ll experience what I like to call the ’round up’ theory. Something I quickly spotted at Otavalo Market.

With the ’round up’ theory, you’ll notice everything you purchase costs a rounded figure. Everything will cost you $1 or $2 or $3. You’ll notice this even if the price is often clearly labelled.

Taxi drivers love to round up too, but that’s another story for another day!

Otavalo Market stall
Typical stall at the market

Why you should visit Otavalo Market from Quito?

During our time in Quito we made two excursions. One was to the top of the 4,500 volcanic summit of Volcano Pichincha and the other was to Otavalo Market.

Both were very different, but very worthwhile experiences.

Otavalo lives up to all expectations. As far as markets go Otavalo is clean, safe and has an extremely organised feel.

Compared to other markets in South America Otavalo runs like clockwork. I suspect this is because the Otavalo Market days are everyday.

Handicrafts are well made and good value, prices are justifiable as there is a lot less rubbish than we have experienced at other markets in Central and South America.

This type of value for money market shopping unsurprisingly attracts a large crowd. Depending on what you’re looking for we found the price tags around Otavalo Market to be very reasonable.

For souvenir shopping most small items such as bags, bracelets and clothing will usually only cost between $1-10 USD, most items are under the $5 mark and haggling within reason is acceptable.

Although reasonably priced, if you are addicted to buying souvenirs you’ll likely spend a small fortune like I did.

Hats in a market
Hat anyone?
Textiles in South America

Ethical purchasing

Lastly, it’s important for me to mention that the indigenous people selling crafts, fruit, spices at Otavalo Market are usually those who are the closest to poverty.

Often indigenous people who work in agriculture travel to sell their goods at Otavalo Market. Even though Otavalo Market is great fun and there’s a lot to see and do, try to remember the reason each person is sat there.

For us this was as simple as buying 1/2 kilo of molding strawberries from a lady with a baby when no one else would.

Remember your compassion when market shopping in South America and interacting with the locals.

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0 thoughts on “Discover Otavalo Market, Ecuador

  1. I love markets! That is the one thing I always seek out when I travel. I'm planning a trip to Ecuador at the end of next year, and will definitely add this spot to my list. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love your comments about rounding up – this is so true hey! The markets look like a must see – all of those beautiful hand made items and lovely colours. Stunning.

  3. I never thought about the practice of rounding up in South and Central American markets, but I bet it does have a lot to do with the use of the US dollar. In most countries in the are, currencies have denominations that are less than the value of a dollar, so I suppose I wouldn't have run into the same problem. I definitely agree that you won't likely run across people rounding down and giving you back coins though.

    The colors in the market look so vibrant! They remind me of Chichicastenango in Guatemala!

  4. I'm in South Africa and this looks alot like our African craft markets although the print designs are a bit different. I like your tip about "try to remember the reason each person is sat there". It puts things into perspective.

  5. Love love love markets. They are such a great way to experience and explore a country. Love your pictures and all the lovely crafts. One thing that I have learned is to negotiate at the markets…you are right rounding "up" is extremely common. Great post!

  6. I loved seeing all those colourful photos. It reminded me of my time in Ecuador. I never made it to the market, but Ecuador easily became one of my favourite cities! It's definitely strange going from the cooler temperatures of Quito to lower, humid altitudes!

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