One of the most important market towns in the Andes mountains is surely worth a stop for a day, and even an extra day or two to check out the surrounding villages and natural beauty.
Otavalo is a very touristy town with a proud indigenous culture. The main attractions in the town are the markets, which sell anything from traditional handicrafts to knock-off imports and fresh fruits and vegetables to live animals.
There are three main markets in Otavalo. The most important one is the craft market at Plaza de los Ponchos. Here, you’ll find countless booths covered with plastic and canvas tents selling colorful handmade woven goods, such as sweaters, hats, gloves, blankets, and scarves. There are also souvenirs available – anything from keychains and fridge magnets to coasters and pocketknives.
The market at Otavalo runs daily, rain or shine, but the official market day is Saturday, which is the most exciting day to visit. Don’t forget to bargain! You can get just about anything for about 50-60% of the original asking price.
If you come back after dark, you’ll gain a bigger appreciation for the markets. Every single one of the tents and tables that had been assembled during the day will be gone – save for a few food tents cooking up delicious street food – and the merchants will have to start from scratch the next morning.
The daily market is behind Plaza Bolívar. This is where everyday household goods and clothes are sold alongside fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and meats.
The street food here is worth a try. You can get grilled plantains stuffed with cheese or any kind of meat on a stick.
The animal market (which I didn’t have a chance to visit) is a little to the west of town. People get up early to sell live chickens, cows, and pigs there.
The main plaza, Plaza Bolívar, is worth a visit. The town’s main government buildings are located here.
Look for a plaque with a decree from Simón Bolívar himself, located on the town hall.
In the center of the plaza is a huge bust of Rumiñawi, an important Inca warrior who led a resistance against the Spanish in 1533.
The church on the plaza is called Iglesia de San Luis.
Iglesia El Jordán
A couple blocks away from Plaza Bolívar is another nice church, Iglesia El Jordán. It sits on another small plaza.
If you have the energy to climb the hill to the east of town, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of Otavalo. Just follow the road east from Plaza Bolívar. One of the roads will wind up the hill.
Because Google doesn’t have imagery of Otavalo to allow me to make a proper map, use this tourist map: