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The World-famous Otavalo Market: A short guide

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At a time when market-type transactions are increasingly happening online, it’s nice to know places where customers can get a natural feel for their purchases—and even haggle on prices—before buying them still exist. Take, for example, one of the most popular markets in South America: Otavalo’s world-famous indigenous market. Though vendors occupy the Plaza de Ponchos (officially named Plaza Centenario) in this otherwise inconspicuous town pretty much every day of the year, Wednesday mornings and Saturdays are when the market comes abuzz; it even spills out into every surrounding alleyway and street.

Otavalo Center

Thousands of locals and visitors descend on the Otavalo Market every week. They look to purchase textiles, artisanal crafts, souvenirs, Jewelry, figurines, leather goods, and so much more! And, as it is located a mere two-hour drive from Quito, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the capital, at the foot of the inactive Imbabura Volcano, it is a great reason why the Otavalo Market is a not-to-miss destination in Ecuador!




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What is the history of the Otavalo Market, and why is it so popular?

The Otavalo Market has gradually gained popularity since the latter half of the 20th century. Its history is closely tied to the development of indigenous textile production, which incorporates innovative techniques introduced in Scotland in the 1960s. The combination of high-quality wool (primarily from alpacas), rich, vibrant colors, attention to detail, and generations-old craftsmanship yields sought-after products sold throughout Ecuador, neighboring countries, and such far-away places as the United States, Europe, and Asia.The original inhabitants of the Otavalo area were the Cayambe people, and it is still possible to find traces of their culture in traditional clothing styles and language. The market began as a place for local farmers to trade their goods before expanding to include international imports, such as Jewelry from Peru or Colombia or textiles from all over the Andean region. This has meant that the style of the Otavalo Market has changed dramatically over the years.

Otavalo Market

It is a very traditional place for locals and tourists alike who come to take part in buying, selling, or simply sharing a good time. People from all around Ecuador and many visitors from Europe and North America visit this market. The visitors are often lured by beautiful handmade crafts and items representing Ecuador’s rich cultural heritage.



What is available in the Otavalo indigenous market?

The Otavalo Market has various goods catering to all sorts of tastes. The vendors offer apparel, Jewelry, musical instruments, and artisanal crafts such as wood carvings and sculptures, many focusing on symbols from traditional Ecuadorian culture. They also have many souvenirs, including keychains, magnets, postcards, etc.

Day 1 Otavalo Marketplace Culture (1)

Artisanal Products

The Otavalo Market is known for its artisanal products, handmade by local artisans and master craftsmen. You can find everything from intricate ceramics to musical instruments made with wood from the nearby cloud forest and various textiles and clothing items.

Jewelry

The market is also home to many vendors selling silver and gold jewelry, including necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and other trinkets for perfect gifts or souvenirs.

Souvenirs 

As mentioned, the Otavalo Market offers a great selection of souvenirs, such as keychains, magnets, and postcards with images of traditional Ecuadorian culture.

Textiles

The market is also great to get your hands on some of the country’s finest textiles. Traditional and contemporary designs have a wide selection of hand-woven ponchos, shawls, sweaters, scarves, and rugs.

Leather Goods

Leather goods are another popular purchase in the market. You can find everything from leather bags and wallets to shoes, belts, and horse saddles.

Otavalo 1.Jpg

How do I get to Otavalo Market?

Otavalo is just a short drive away from Quito. You can ask your Destination Expert about transfer services and the services of a Guide that can facilitate an immersive experience.

The Otavalo Market is in the Plaza de Ponchos, or Plaza Centenario, in the town center. It’s open every day of the week from early morning until late afternoon. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, it is bustling as vendors from all over the region come to set up shop.

Imbabura Volcano.

Proximity to Quito

Otavalo is just a two-hour drive from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It is located in the Imbabura Province, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the city. It is perfectly viable to plan a day-long visit to Otavalo; ask your Destination Expert about including a visit to Otavalo in your Ecuador trip!

Day-tours

Many day tours are available from Quito for those wanting to visit the Otavalo Market without planning their own transportation. Visits usually include a guided tour of the market and visits to nearby attractions such as Lake San Pablo or Cotacachi Leather Town. Make sure you ask about transportation options, as shuttle services are the best way of ensuring your Day Tour stays on track.

Other points of interest near Otavalo

In addition to being a popular tourist destination, Otavalo is also known for its beautiful scenery.

Visitors can explore the nearby San Pablo Lake, located less than 6 miles from Otavalo and surrounded by lush forest. It is an ideal spot to relax and take in stunning views of the Imbabura Volcano. Visitors can rent kayaks or paddle boats near the lake or take a guided tour to learn more about the area.

Lago San Pablo 2.Jpg

The Otavalo area is also home to several indigenous villages. Tourists can visit these villages to experience the traditional culture and customs of the local people, or they can hike up one of the many nearby mountains for incredible views.

The Cotacachi Leather Town is also located near Otavalo, making it an ideal place to visit for those looking for a unique shopping experience. Here, visitors can find high-quality leather products at low prices.

Finally, the Salinas of Carmen de Pahuma Nature Reserve is an incredible protected area just a few miles southwest of Otavalo. This reserve contains three ecosystems and is home to various flora and fauna.

The Otavalo Market is one of Ecuador’s most popular tourist destinations. With its vibrant atmosphere, artisanal products, and stunning views of the nearby mountains and lakes, it is no wonder why so many people trek to this unique place each year. Whether you are looking for souvenirs or just a good time, Otavalo has something for everyone and is a perfect addition to a stay in Quito.

Javier Garcia

Javier Garcia

Eduardo Silva

Carolina Escobar

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Javier Garcia

Javier Garcia

Eduardo Silva

Carolina Escobar

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Updated:January 22, 2024

Published:August 18, 2023

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