Otavalo, vibrant open-air market in the Andes – Ecuador
A perfect day trip departing from Quito includes a visit to the charming town of Otavalo. It´s one of the nicest open-air markets in South America, where the friendly indigenous inhabitants called Otavalos offer diverse handicrafts.
For me, every trip to this city nestled in the heart of the Andes, 2 hours north of Quito, provides me with a myriad of opportunities to take some pictures of the stunning colorful landscapes of the people, traditions, and nature along the Andes Cordillera.
Where to stay
Start your trip by booking a night´s stay at one of the lovely haciendas outside Otavalo, like the charming colonial manor house Hacienda Pinsaquí. I love this charming quiet hideaway located 5km from town, offering history, spacious rooms, and excellent service.
Book a tour
A day tour to Otavalo is a wonderful way to get the most not only of Otavalo, but also of the area and avoid the hassle and stress of planning transportation and logisitcs. Here are some tour options for you.
This town with approx. 90.000 inhabitants is located in the heart of the Andes and offers a great opportunity to learn about the traditions of this indigenous group.
The two-hour drive North from Quito, will allow you to admire the gorgeous landscapes of the Highlands.
Plaza de Ponchos
Once you arrive at the town, you should head down to the main attraction, La plaza de Ponchos. This is a nice open-air market in the middle of the square with over 90 stands run by Otavalos (indigenous group from Otavalo), as well as mestizos. Here you will be greeted by this vibrant atmosphere, where vendors and tourists negotiate the best prices for a wide range of colorful handicrafts, textiles, tapestries, jewelry, accessories. Several friendly vendors will offer you their products and you will find that some of them might even speak your language. (Most do speak English).
Stroll along the passageways to find out all the different items you can buy. Just make sure that you do not pay the first price you are offered, and take time to visit several vendors to compare items.
You can even find a small market offering fresh produce.
Otavalos are not only talented craftsmen, but they are also wise men of trade and since products do not have a fixed price, they will try to get you to pay a bit more than you probably should. Just get into the bargaining game, ask a price and offer at least 30% less, and leave if they do not agree with what you offer. You will see that they will soon be going after you with the item. Despite the need to bargain, you will notice that prices are quite low here, so shopping is going to be an enjoyable experience.
If you have more than a day in the city, then hire a registered cab to bring you to the amazing Peguche waterfall, a short walk through a fragrant Eucalyptus forest will bring you to this captivating waterfall.
If you want more in-depth information and also a guide that you can bring along during your trip, I recommend the travel guide Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands.
This is a great source of information and tips, maps and all you need if you plan on visiting Ecuador. I personally like the option of having a hard copy version where I can take notes and have at hand.
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You can also send an email to get help planning your trip: info(at) visitecuadorandsouthamerica(dot)com