Otavalo town is located to the north of Quito in the Imbabura Province of the country. It is set in a particularly beautiful part of the Ecuadorian Andes, as it is surrounded by various large mountains, including Cotacachi, Imbabura and Fuya Fuya. A visit to Otavalo Ecuador is not to be missed during a tour of Ecuador, not least due to its delightful market. The indigenous population of Otavalo is well known for its textiles, but there are a wide range of other products available at the market, or available to be purchased in the surrounding villages. Here is your Otavalo travel guide ready for your visit to Otavalo. We recommend you spend at least two days in and around this area to get the most of what is on offer here.
The main highlight of a visit to Otavalo is a trip to the town’s colorful market, the largest in South America. The day of the week when the market is its biggest is Saturday, when stalls spread out from the main square and spill over into all of the nearby streets. Here you can purchase a wide range of colorful souvenirs to take home from your Ecuador trip or presents for friends and family. From ponchos to hammocks to crayons, paintings and much more besides, there is something for everyone here.
The main thing to do in Otavalo is to visit the market. There are lots of other activities that you can do around Otavalo, and these are explained below.
Otavalo makes a great base for exploring nearby attractions that are not far from the town. One of these spots is the Peguche waterfall. Just a short drive from Otavalo, the waterfall has spiritual significance for the indigenous people, and is reached via a walk in a pretty wood. Another outdoorsy nearby thing to do is to visit the Cuichocha crater lake. This is a lovely spot either to simply take photographs or to hike around it. If you plan to hike, be aware that the walk will take you 4-5 hours. The crater lake is in the shadow of the grand Cotacachi volcano – which you can also climb, if yo are so-inclined and have suitable equipment. Yet another pretty visit is to the Mojanda lakes, which sit at the base of the Fuya Fuya mountain. You can hike up the mountain – again, allow about four hours for this activity, and be sure to be properly prepared, as the weather can change quickly in the mountains. Otavalo Condor Park is also well worth a visit. It is just a few kilometers from town and the park houses a variety of different birds of prey to see. Twice a day at the Condor Park, the birds (with their handlers of course) put on a fabulous display. If cultural or shopping visits are more your thing, you could visit the town of Cotacachi, near Cuicocha, which is famous for its leather shops. To the north, you might also visit Ibarra.
Otavalo enjoys a pleasant spring-like climate all year around. This is because while it is located in a tropical country, close to the Equator, it is also relatively high up in the mountains. The winter months of June to September experience the best weather – drier but cooler days (but still warm). In the warmer months of October through April it is likely to rain at least part of the day. April is the rainiest month. While weather is a factor to consider, it is still possible to enjoy Otavalo during any month of the year, so this should likely not be a deciding factor.
High season in Ecuador is during the months of June to September – matching the drier weather. During the high season, the town will be busier with tourists, and prices are likely to be somewhat higher, though not prohibitively so. The period over Christmas and New Year is also considered high season.
There are many indigenous communities in and around Otavalo, and most of these celebrate the summer solstice in unique and interesting ways. If you are able to time your visit to coincide with June 21 st , you may get to see some of these fascinating celebrations.
Perhaps the best way to get to Otavalo is via private car – or in particular via a tour. This is the best way to do it, because when you get there you are then able to see a lot more of the surrounding area – which is where many of the main attractions are. You can walk, or take public transport or a taxi (or a combination of all three) to the different nearby attractions, but this is more time consuming – and what most people are short of on vacation is time. Nonetheless, if you opt for this option you can get a public bus from the bus terminal to the north of Quito. The journey takes about two hours by bus, and about 1.5 by car/private transport.
Otavalo offers some excellent accommodation options. Perhaps one of the best hotel experiences you can have in Otavalo is to stay at one of the several haciendas that are nearby the town. Some superb, luxurious options include Hacienda Cusin and Hacienda Pinsaqui, each both a short drive out of the town. It is well worth splurging on one of these lovely hotels, to spend your time in Otavalo in style.
From street stalls to fine dining there are plenty of great places to eat in and around Otavalo. Some of the ones we find the best are Balcon de Imbabura, Puerto Lago and Lost Choclitos. When you’re ready for dessert, don’t miss the Pie Shop. Here you will find some of the best pies in Ecuador in a range of delicious flavors.
We love Otavalo, and especially the activities around the city. Our insider recommendation is to visit the market on a quieter day as it is there every day of the week. This way you may get better deals as there are fewer customers. We also recommend trying some local food at the market – delicious! When you’re done with that, head out to Cuicocha, at least to take a photo of this pretty lake.