Otavalo market: what you should know and what you should buy

mercado de otavalo

Otavalo market: what you should know and what you should buy

One of the most wonderful activities to do when in the land of Ecuador is to pay a visit to the Otavalo market, a prime tourist destination. There, you can familiarize yourself with the Kichwa Otavalo people and their world renown crafts. Walk around the market and all its corners, purchase brightly colored fabrics and crafts and enjoy the local food. On this note, we’re going to share with you the best products to buy in Otavalo market.

Cover photo by: Instagram @thisisecuador.magazine

How to get to Otavalo Market

Otavalo Market, locally known as Plaza de los Ponchos and Centenario Market is one of the largest indigenous market in Latin America. It is located in the Imbabura province in the Otavalo district. This town is only two hours from Quito, approximately 90km (56 miles) away, so if you are looking to go from Quito, you can go there on a day trip.

If you would like to know how to get to Otavalo by bus (from the Carcelén and Quitumbe bus terminals), by car or on a private one day tour, you can find out here. It’s worth noting that once you are in Otavalo, you can get around by taxi.

Don’t forget that an easy, safe and fun way to get there and get to know this part of Ecuador is on the Otavalo Tour, which leaves every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with no minimum number of passengers, at 9am from Bulevar Naciones Unidas, in the north of Quito.

On the Otavalo Tour, you will see the main attraction of the Imbabura province, and it will last around 10 hours. You will see the Quitsato sundial (through which the Equator passes), the San Pablo lake viewpoint, Otavalo market, the Peguche market (a beautiful spiritual and ritual location where on the eve of Inti Raymi, the inhabitants go to the waterfall for a sacred bath). You will also get the chance to ride a boat on Cuicocha Lagoon in the Cotacachi nature reserve – Cayapas or San Pablo Lake (subject to availability).

You can learn more about this tour here

Location: San Pablo Lake viewpoint

Tips and advice when visiting Otavalo market

  • Saturday is the peak day with the most artisans in Otavalo, and is the recommended day to visit this cultural and commercial Ecuadorian tourist destination. Nonetheless, it is also open the rest of the week, but there will be less items on offer.
  • You can visit Otavalo market all day, from 7.00am to 6.00pm. However, we don’t advise that you go too late as the craftsmen start packing up before then. 
  • Before purchasing anything at the Otavalo market, we recommend that you walk around and do a little tour of the market and its surrounding stalls. This way you can see which items you are most drawn to, enquire about prices and following that, make your purchases. Don’t be afraid to go in and out of the market, it deserves to be explored.
  • We don’t advise you to negotiate the price down, because a lot of time and hard work has gone in to each one of the crafts, so it should be valued and fairly paid for. If you are not happy with the price, you can go to other stalls and compare, this way you will know where to buy your preferred craft.
  • Don’t forget that since 2000, the official currency of Ecuador is the US Dollar. If you are going to purchase anything at Otavalo market, we recommend that you bring lots of change, ideally small dollar bills, so that you won’t have any issues receiving change.
  • You can find ATMs nearby to Otavalo market, and there are also certain shops that take credit or debit cards. 
Otavalo market dream catchers
Dream catchers – Photo by: Instagram @luz_amerik

Eating at Otavalo market

In and around Otavalo market, you can find many restaurants that offer typical Ecuadorian food. We recommend you try the delicious typical foods such as: yahuarlocro (soup prepared with potatoes and entrails), locro de papas (potato soup), fritada (the main ingredient is fried pork), hornado (roast pork), ecuadorian churrasco (a dish made up of fried beef, rice, french fries, fried egg and more), carne colorada (beef marinated in annote seasoning, accompanied by fried plantain, corn, llapingachos or boiled potatoes), corn with beans, fried corn, chochos and more. You can also find some informal places to eat and some huecas (places that sell traditional food) that you can visit.

On the other hand, you can also find lots of international cuisine on offer in Otavalo. There is a great amount of cafes and bars, so you can enjoy a coffee, a tasty pizza or crepe and a good craft beer.

This is an experience you cannot miss! We are certain that Ecuadorian food will surprise you. 

Otavalo market carne colorada
Carne colorada – Photo by: @laylita_com

What to buy at Otavalo market

You can purchase an infinity of products from Otavalo market. In fact, there are so many crafts, clothes and other items on offer that you won’t know where to start. 

In Otavalo market, amidst a labyrinth of fabrics and objects you will find: alpaca wool jumpers, ponchos, scarves, mittens, paintings, imitation jewelry, silver and tagua jewelry, artisan crafts, leather items, straw hats, dream catchers, hand-painted kitchen items, backpacks, bags, musical instruments, namely anything you can imagine.

In the area, you can also find the typical clothing that the Otavalo peope wear. For women, there are the white blouses with tassels and lace sleeves (with beautiful patterns embroidered by hand), anacos (a piece of fabric used as a skirt), fajas (a piece of material that holds the anaco up), gualcas (golden mullos that form necklaces, however original gualcas are necklaces made of glass and coated in gold), ribbons (to wrap around your head), shawls (scarves that women wear over their shoulders), alpargatas (espadrille-like shoes), red bracelets (with beads made out of coral), among others. And for men, you can find: hats, white alpargatas, woolen ponchos, white ankle trousers, white shirts, among more.

Otavalo market clothes
Photo by: Albert Dezetter

If you’re wondering what to do in Otavalo and in other tourist destinations in the Imbabura province, take a read of our blog.  

Get to know Otavalo, the capital of Ecuadorian crafts and its indigenous market, one of the biggest in Latin America. This corner of the Ecuadorian Andes rich in culture and history, with a great social wealth, will surprise you.