Otavalo is one of Ecuador’s main tourist destinations whose name is famous worldwide for its indigenous population, the Otavalos. They are of Kichwa nationality from the Ecuadorian Sierra, which is well known for the production and merchandizing of artisanal crafts and for its incomparable music. Otavalo is considered as “Ecuador’s Intercultural Capital” and is, therefore, a place that you cannot miss. For this reason, we would like to equip you with useful information on how to get to Otavalo.
Cover photo by: : Bcasterline at English Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Otavalo is merely a couple of hours from Quito, approximately 56 miles (90 km) away. It is located in the province of Imbabura, in the North of the country, also known as “Provincia de los Lagos” (Lake District). So called as it holds San Pablo Lake, Cuicocha Lagoon, and Mojanda Lagoons, among others. This area equally bears innumerable natural wonders like Cotacachi Volcano, Imbabura Volcano, and Fuya Fuya, among many others.
Otavalo’s main tourist attraction is the famous “Plaza de los Ponchos” (Poncho Square), also known as Mercado Centenario, one of the biggest indigenous markets in South America. For that reason, paying a visit to Otavalo’s market is one of the most highly recommended activities to do in the Ecuadorian Andes. You can find all sorts of artisanal crafts from various regions of the country, but those which stand out are made with fabric that uses wool from Otavalo and its surrounding villages and communities. This artisanal market takes place every day between 7.00am and 6.00pm. Its peak days, however, are Wednesday and Saturday, which is when we recommend you visit. We would like to highlight that Saturday is when there is the greatest influx of both people and artisanal crafts, meaning you can enjoy it in all its splendour.
The climate in Otavalo is warm and mild. Temperatures average 58 F (14.7° C) and Otavalo is at 8.307 feet (2.532 m) above sea level. We recommend you bring warm clothing, as the temperature tends to drop in the evening and at night. At the same time, we also encourage you to use sun cream during the day.
If you are planning a trip to Otavalo, we recommend you read what to do in Otavalo, where we disclose our favourite activities to do in Otavalo and the whole Imbabura province.
How to get to Otavalo from Quito using different means of transport
There are many ways to get to Otavalo from Quito, which we will explore below.
From Carcelén Bus Terminal
From Quito, head to Carcelén Bus Terminal, located North of the city. This is the best way to get to the northern part of the country, given that the buses go directly to that area. At the bus terminal, there are several bus companies that travel to Otavalo. They leave throughout the day, every 20 minutes.
This is a cheap option since a bus ticket only costs 2,50 USD, plus 0,20 USD for the bus terminal fee. The journey from Carcelén bus terminal to Otavalo bus terminal takes approximately 2 hours. Once in Otavalo, take a taxi to your accommodation or wherever you wish to go.
From Quitumbe Bus Terminal
If you find yourself at Quitumbe bus terminal, in the south of the city, you will have to get to Carcelén bus terminal since buses going north leave from there. You can get from Quitumbe to Carcelén on 6 de Diciembre buses or on Quito & Mariscal Sucre cooperative buses. They begin at Quitumbe terminal, go along Simón Bolívar Avenue and arrive at Carcelén bus terminal. This journey can take up to 50 minutes and costs 1,00 USD.
Another way of getting from Quitumbe Bus Terminal to Carcelén Bus Terminal is to take the Trolebús System which will take you from Quitumbe Terminal to Carcelén Terminal. Trolebús also operates at night and does not stop, going directly to the destination point. This service leaves every 30 to 40 minutes and joins the two bus terminals (Quitumbe and Carcelén). Once at Carcelén bus terminal you will have to purchase a ticket for the bus to Otavalo.
An easy way of getting to Otavalo is to drive your own car. If you choose to go by car, Otavalo is about 01h45 from Quito and approximately 56 miles (90,6 km) away. To get there you will have to take the Northern Pan-American highway (Vía Guayllabamba Tabacundo/E28B). The road is completely tarmacked and in great condition.
One day tour
A comfortable, safe and easy option to get to Otalavo is with the Otavalo Tour by Quito Tour Bus. This tour leaves every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with no minimum number of passengers required. It leaves at 09.00am from Naciones Unidas Boulevard, situated in the north of Quito.
Quito Tour Bus would like to show you the main tourist points and attractions of the Imbabura province, in a journey that will last about 10 hours. During the Otavalo tour, we will take you to the Imbabura province and its district, Otavalo, in comfortable tourist transport. You will also always be accompanied by a bilingual guide (Spanish – English).
The Otavalo tour includes entry and a tour of the Quitsato Sundial, where the equator crosses through. Here, familiarise yourself with information on how our indigenous people measured time and calculated the days of solstice and equinox. Head to the San Pablo Lake Lookout Point, one of the biggest lakes in the Imbabura province. Savour the delicious biscuits and sheet cheese (queso de hoja) that are sold there. Afterwards, delve into the Otavalo Market and cherish the fantastic hand-made artisan crafts by the Kichwa people, and by other ethnic groups that come here to sell their goods.
After this, discover the Peguche Waterfall, located 0.9 miles (1.5 km) from the village of Peguche, and 2 miles (3.3 km) from the city of Otavalo. This 99 feet tall, 20 feet wide waterfall (30 m tall, 6 m wide) is a sacred place where ancestral rituals and purifying baths take place during the Inti Raymi celebrations or the “Festival of the Sun”, the biggest of the four festivities in the Andean Ecuadorian world. And finally, enjoy a boat trip on the incomparable Cuicocha Lake (subject to availability). It is important to mention that on bank holidays, the boat trip does not operate on Cuicocha Lake but on San Pablo Lake.
Get to know Otavalo’s rich history and culture, as well as that of its people. Cherish their clothing, their ancestral language and the beautiful artisan crafts made by the Kichwa people. Never stop enjoying the natural beauty of the area’s landscapes. We are sure that you will want to return to Imbabura and Otavalo, so don’t miss the chance to explore with Quito Tour Bus.