Realistically Otavalo is famous for only one thing: its Saturday street market. Where as there’s a street market every day of the week and there are others in nearby towns, the Saturday market brings more indigenous sellers from remote villages and Otavalo boasts for a few hours a folklore difficult to beat.
Otavalo village has all sorts of budget accommodation within reach, is relatively small, well planned, is clean and will entertain any traveller for at least a day. It only took 4 hotels (15 minutes) before I found a room (with bathroom) for 5 USD.
Food is very easy to find and cheap too at the market itself, with two dish almuerzos and a fresh juice for 1.5 USD. And if you still want more food you can find fruit at the market at ridiculous prices: 40 mangos for 1 USD, 1/2 kilogram of raspberries for 1 USD, 1 kg of strawberries for 4 USD…the list goes on.
If it’s souvenirs, home decor or simple clothing that you’re after the market will have everything you need. I’m a big fan of “tapices” (tapestries) and the variety here is similar to that in Bolivia and Peru. Paintings, carvings, cushion covers, bed sheets, necklaces, pants, shirts…everything is here. As usual make sure you bargain hard, but rest assured that you will walk away with good deals because even the starting price is quite low as well.
If you like to take photographs this will be a great opportunity, although make sure you either ask for permission when photographing somebody ( no is a common answer) or better yet hide when taking a shot.
Don’t expect to be the only traveler here: the market is very well known and is a rather touristy palce, but there’s a great atmosphere anyhow. Other attractions in the area include villages like Cotacachi and San Antonio nearby. I chose to visit Cotacachi- it’s quite easy to get to and on a good day (and if you’re willing to walk) you can take some great pictures too of the laguna de Cuicocha (Cuicocha lake). Save your money and don’t join the boat tour around it- it’s nothing special.
Otavalo is a must see destination of any trip to Ecuador. Make sure you’re there on a Saturday and give yourself one or two more days to explore the area and absorb its’ slow paced lifestyle. I know I had a blast and certainly recommend the place to everyone.
Have you visited Otavalo? How did you like the market? Did you buy anything? Tell us what you did, any recommendations you might have and please share the post if you liked it!
This is beautiful place to visit. The photos tell that Otavalo is a magnificent place and it can offer many things.
The street market in Otavalo is really alive and I enjoy my time here on the place. I love your photos and seeing these makes me able to remember my visit there.
I first visited Otavalo in Sept. of 2009 and liked it so much that i now live here permanently. There are a few of us “gringos” here, more in Cotacachi. Here are a few tips from my experience here:
Food in restaurants is quite good, but i would avoid eating inside the main food market, the 24 de Mayo. I used to do so regularly when i first got here, but then had a bad experience when my stomach swelled up and got really hard for a couple of days. I think i paid $1.25 for that meal. My girlfriend kept asking me why i couldn’t spend a dollar more for a better meal. Hot food is safe. Wash fruits before consuming. Avoid salads.
When bargaining, offer 50 percent of the asking price, and you can always walk away and return later. The vendors here are very polite and will not hassle you, they often will ask you to name your price. Offer less than you’re willing to pay so that you and the seller both feel good about the transaction.
If you are staying here overnight, there are some good clubs with live folkloric music, and there is no cover charge.
Besides the artisan market, on Saturday mornings the animal market on the other side of the Pan American highway is good entertainment. The action starts at around 5:30 a.m. People from villages all around bring their pigs, cows, sheep, ducks, guinea pigs, chickens, rabbits and cute pups and kittens to sell. The sound of the squealing pigs being pulled along the streets is one you will not forget.
If you have more than just a few hours, a couple of other attractions are the nearby waterfall, Cascade de Peguche, a 15 minute walk north of the city, and Condor Park, where you can see live Condors (symbol of the Andes) and watch demonstrations of birds from an ampitheatre with a fantastic view of a large valley.
If you want to see more markets, head to Cotacachi for leather work and north to San Antonio de Ibarra for fabulous woodcarving.
Thanks Henry for this comprehensive comment and suggestions. I was in Otavalo for just over a 2 days, and hence missed the animal market which I am sure is very entertaining! I also agree with you when you say that the vendors will not hassle you- perhaps it is one of the things I liked most.
Many thanks for this post, there is a lot to think about with this.
I’m pleased you liked it!
Otavalo looks amazing I have never been to south American before it is the next place on my wish list I want to go and now I want to go even more now after reading this another great post on this blog
The market in Otavalo is very entertaining, a good place to spend a morning if you like to see local crafts and perhaps even purchase great deals. It is not as big as others I have seen in the world though 🙂
Thanks for incorporating tips into your post. And pork…yum. In the Philippines, where I’m originally from, lechon (roast suckling pig) is KING at any feast!
You are welcome!
Just FYI, lechon is also a typical dish in central Spain..there goes another similarity between Spain and the Philippines! I’ve had my fair share I must admite…it is delicious!