Sitting at 8,500′ elevation, Otavalo is home to the largest mercado (market) in all of South America. But contrary to popular belief, there are more things to do in the Otavalo area than just visiting the mercado! You can hike, visit a giant lake (Lago Cuicocha), and see waterfalls, all within a half-hour drive of Otavalo!
When is the Best Time To Visit Otavalo Market?
The market is open every day of the week but is busiest (more crowds and more vendors) on Wednesday and Saturday. If you go on an off-day, you will have more bargaining power. Each vendor will greet you with a sing-songy, “hola, a la orden” which means, “hello, at your service”. I am not a materialistic person and I embrace the idea of minimalism, but I’ll be honest, my inner shopper was difficult to tame in this market because I love scarves and artisan stone jewelry.
TIP FOR VISITING OTAVALO MARKET: Walk through the ENTIRE market first before buying anything, as most stalls will sell exactly the same items and you can get an idea of what a reasonable price is. If you really want something, go back after you’ve seen everything and negotiate the price as low as you can without offending the artist. For $19, I bought a pashmina scarf, a raw turquoise and silver necklace, and a woven headband. Traditional wear here is different than in Cuenca – you will see white flowery blouses and long black skirts on women.
We stayed at an Airbnb that cost $28 a night and we had the lower floor of the cabana to ourselves with a private bathroom.
How Do You Get To Otavalo?
Most people visit Otavalo on a day trip from Quito, which is located only about 1.5 hours’ drive away. Because we had a car, we decided to take advantage of our location and take a few day trips to nearby cities. However, there are several buses that come and go from Quito all morning and afternoon.
DAY TRIPS FROM OTAVALO
Lago Cuicocha (Guinea Pig Lake)
30-minute drive from Otavalo
Sitting right around 10,000′ elevation, Lago Cuicocha was so named because the island in the center of the crater lake resembled a guinea pig. This was one of the highlights of our trip and an easy day trip from Otavalo. Regrettably we did not have enough time to hike around the entire crater rim (8 miles, approximately 5 hours) but we did enough to get a feel for the place. On the way to the lake, you will pass a town called Cotacachi which is known for cuero (leather) goods. If you’re on the lookout for boots, shoes, wallets, jackets or purses made of good-quality leather for reasonable prices, this is the place to go. Prices are negotiable.
Cascadas de Peguche (Peguche Waterfall)
15-minute drive from Otavalo
On the way to Lago Cuicocha is Peguche Waterall. Entry is free (donations excepted) and parking is $1 if you drive your own vehicle. Bring your swimmers if you want to take a dip (free of charge) in the natural springs (which were quite cold in April). Feral dogs were everywhere and I love it!
I hope this gives you a better idea of what to expect from visiting Otavalo Market as well as other day trip ideas!