Last Updated on May 21, 2019 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.
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.
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.
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.
Food at Otavalo Market
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.