Otavalo Market is one of the largest, most famous markets in South America. If you’re planning a trip to Quito you can try to visit Otavalo Market in one day – as I did – or you have the option of finding accommodation for the night and further exploring the region. My advice? Do the latter if you have the time.
HOW LONG IS THE JOURNEY FROM QUITO?
The advice from staff at my hostel was that it would take about 2 hours to get to Otavalo Market from the centre of Quito and that the bus leaves every 15 minutes. While correct, they failed to advise that it can take another 2 hours to reach the central bus terminal from elsewhere in the city. In reality, the journey is more likely to take 4 hours each way.
HOW DO YOU GET TO OTAVALO MARKET?
To get to Otavalo Market from Quito you have to catch at least two different buses. From wherever your accommodation is located, you first have to reach a terminal called Carcelen. I was in San Blas and I found a direct bus at the end of the street. I was also informed that this journey can be done more quickly in two parts if you take the rolley bus to La Ofelia first and then another short bus to Carcelen. Both journeys cost $0.25 at the time of writing.
The advantage of taking the direct bus is that you’re more likely to get a seat and you don’t have to worry about the interchange. The disadvantage is that they drop you in the centre of Carcelen, not at the bus terminal. Also worth noting is the fact that the driver will not stop in Carcelen unless you request him to.
After disembarking the first bus I asked in a shop about transport to the Carcelen bus terminal and was told I could stand at the side of the road where the first bus had dropped me off. No bus came and after 30 minutes of waiting I paid $2 for a cab.
FINAL LEG TO OTAVALO MARKET
Once I’d found Carcelen bus terminal, there were regular services to Otavalo Market and this part of the journey took 2 more hours.
While a 4-hour journey isn’t too bad if you’re really keen to see something, I don’t know if I’d personally say it was worth so much effort. The other problem I had was that it was 2 pm by the time I arrived. If you’re wondering ‘Is Quito safe after dark?’ then the answer is ‘It’s probably not worth finding out.’ I gave myself 30 minutes at Otavalo Market so I could be back in my Quito hostel by nightfall.
I ran around Otavalo Market like a woman possessed. There were plenty of colourful traditional items on sale, and this would be the perfect place to pick up souvenirs, gifts and a few useful items for your travels. If you’re interested in seeing the animal market, this tends to only be on in the early mornings and it’s best to inquire locally about which days to visit (usually it’s on a Saturday).
AROUND OTAVALO MARKET
There are a few things to see in the area, including a crater lake, a waterfall and some museums. Stay the night and you can explore these in addition to having more than 30 minutes at the market!
Back in Quito, some other popular trips include the Mitad del Mundo museum, where you can test the effects of being on the Equator, and Mindo – a delightful species-rich forest retreat filled with adventure activities. It’s also a good base for booking flights to the Galapagos Islands, although I’d advise you don’t buy your Galapagos Cruise until you’re there as last-minute deals are much cheaper.
FIND ACCOMMODATION IN QUITO
I’ve recently started using HotelsCombined to search for accommodation as I travel. It’s become one of my favourite tools because it aggregates the results of online searches from over 40 travel sites to bring you the best deals much faster than if you had to look them up to compare them separately.