Otavalo is a town in Northern Ecuador. It has about 50.000 inhabitants and is the capital of the district of the same name. Otavalo is world-famous for its indigenous population, the so-called Otavalos, many of which are travelling around the world to sell their famous handicrafts or play in Andean Folk music groups. The Otavalos are considered the economically most successful indigenous group of Latin America, and many of the grandest houses and largest Pick-Up Trucks in Otavalo are owned by Otavalos. However, a great percentage of the Otavalos, especially in the surrounding villages, live in poverty and are victims of racial discrimination. Otavalos are easily recognized by their traditional dress: white pants and a dark poncho for men; a dark skirt and a white blouse with colourful embroidery and colourful waisteband for women. Both sexes wear their hair long (the men usually platted).
Otavalo is approximately 2 hours north of Quito on the Panamerican Highway. Buses to Otavalo leave from the "Terminal Carcelen" in the North of Quito and disembark at a small bus terminal in Otavalo along Calle Atahualpa & Jacinto Collahuazo. The bus ride is US$2.50. If you come from Tulcan near the Colombian border, buses will probably drop you off at the Panamerican highway. From there, it's only a 10 minute walk to the center. Please note: If coming from Tulcan on a non Otavalo bus, some buses will drop you off at a parada at the northern entrance to the town. This is 1.8 km away from the bus terminal, and a 2.2 km walk into the main tourist center and hostal area. And about 1 km north of the bus stop (parada) at the northern roundabout (at the pedestrian overpass), which is basically the start of the town center. At the very least, try to get dropped off at the parada at the pedestrian overpass, which is about 150 meters north of the roundabout at the northern entrance to the town.
The "Otavalo" and "Los Lagos" bus companies running between Quito and Ibarra in the North of Otavalo will drop you off at the bus terminal in Otavalo. Outbound buses for Quito and Ibarra leave from the same terminal about every 15 minutes.
You can walk from one end of town to the other, including from most anywhere in the central area to the animal market. Taxies will take you anywhere within town for US$1.25 during the day or $1.50 at night. Negotiate with the driver if you want to go to places outside town. To Peguche waterfall, the rate is about $US2.50, to Mojanda Lake, you will pay about US$12. There are also plenty of buses going to nearby villages and towns, most of them leaving from the main terminal. Tour operators in Otavalo can arrange private transport for groups.
In Otavalo you will find a great selection of primarily Ecuadorian indigenous art products, particularly colorful woven products. Since many shops and vendors sell similar items, shopping around is all too easy. Bargaining is accepted, but as most prices are a bargain anyway, haggling is not as integral to the market experience as in Oriental bazaars. You can generally begin to walk away and listen for the price to come down. Also, try to buy souvenirs directly from the people that produce them, i.e. in the surrounding villages or at the Museo Viviente Otavalango, as many people in the market are just middlemen who pay pity-prices to the actual producers. Some of the surrounding towns and villages specialize on certain materials for their handicrafts, e.g. Cotacachi (leather), San Rafael (totora reed grass) or San Antonio (wood), so for those products you get more choice and probably better prices there than at the Otavalo market.
You will find restaurants with national and international cuisine all over town. However, restaurant locations, names and owners change quickly and it is best to ask fellow travellers and locals for their latest recommendations.
Prices range from US$2.00 for a set lunch with soup and main course, to US$8-10 for a dinner in one of the nicer restaurants. Some restaurants have a range of vegetarian options available. More adventurous diners can try one of the many food stalls around the handicraft market or at the market "24 de Mayo". The roast pork and the fried tilapia offered there are delicious, but make sure that the stalls fulfill basic hygiene requirements. You can also find the traditional roast guinea-pig ("cuy asado") in some restaurants in town. Give it a try, its really yummy, although it doesn't have much meat on it. Since Otavalo receives a fair amount of international visitors, you will also find restaurants specializing in Asian, Mexican and Italian food.
Kawsaymi offers cooking classes of the most delicious traditional Kichwa food. It is a family-run project located in a small indigenous community only a $3 taxi ride (about 15 minutes) outside the city center. Visitors enjoy a full afternoon of cooking classes, with an included tour of the home's medicinal garden, visits to the animals (cuy, aka guinea pigs), and opportunity of traditional dance, music, and embroidery. Topping off the experience, visitors dine on the most delicious food of Kichwa culture, which they themselves have prepared. It is an authentic experience of the indigenous culture, and a refreshing break from the typical tourist experience. Truly the best of Otavalo! Contact Claudia Fuerez by email or phone: firstname.lastname@example.org 0987684914
Papas de mi Abuelita is a food stall on Calle Bolivar serving salchipapas (french fries and hot dog), papipollo (french fries and chicken), and similar dishes for $1-$2. The Red Pub is a popular hangout spot for locals and tourists alike, serving a wide range of hamburgers, wings, nachos, and drinks. El Parche on 31 de Octubre is a great late-night hangout with live music, wings, fries, nachos, and drinks. Carbon de Palo on calle Bolivar is a Colombian restaurant with good value high quality food.For those with a sweet tooth, try the Pie Shop at the southern corner of the Plaza de Ponchos, or the café on the third floor of Sisa on Calle Calderon between Calle Bolivar and Sucre, which also serves excellent espresso-style coffees. La Casa de Intag on Colon and Sucre serves and sells locally produced specialty coffee.
Popular drinking spots in the center of town include "The Red Pub" on Calle Morales between Calle Sucre and Jaramillo. On weekends you will find a very lively nightlife along the northern end of Calle "31 de Octubre", with an array of clubs, peñas, and bars. "El Parche" on 31 de Octubre is a popular hangout for locals and the younger international population of Otavalo, featuring live music, outdoor and indoor seating, food and drinks.
Finding accommodation in Otavalo is no problem at all, even on busy weekends. All over Otavalo and closeby, there are some 50 establishments offering accommodation for all budgets, from simple dorm beds in backpacker hostels, to luxury-style suites in centuries-old haciendas. The only time of year when you should consider booking at least a week in advance is the time of the Inti Raymi (Sun Festival) around 21 June and during the Yamor-festivities in early September. Below is a selection of midrange to toprange hotels that receive good reports.
Hostal Aly, on the corner of Bolivar and Salinas. More like a hotel than a hostal. US $10 single with shared bathroom, $12 with private bathroom. Its clean and relatively quiet. Reasonably good value for what you pay. Cons.... rooms on the first floor are well lit at night due to the street lights.
If you want to experience a homestay with a local, indigenous family and learn about their culture and way of life, the following options are recommended.
There's no direct public transport to the airport, but it can be done relatively easily for under $15: Take a bus from the Otavalo terminal that goes through Cayambe to El Quinche ($1.80, less than 2 hours). Walk a couple blocks up to the park in El Quinche and negotiate a taxi to the airport (app. $12, 15 minutes). Taxis between the airport and Otavalo cost $50-60. Some tour operators offer private shuttle-service for app. $80 per van, e.g. the Otavalo-based agency Runa Tupari .
Heading South from Otavalo it is possible to get buses that will bypass Quito and will be bound for Latacunga (4 hours) or Ambato. Otherwise, you'll have to traverse the entire length of Quito to get to the southern bus terminal.
For reference, Quito has two main bus terminals:
--Carcelen (North) is mainly used for transportation to and from Quito and Otavalo/Ibarra.
--Quitumbe (South) is used for almost all other parts of the country, including longer trips to Peru.
These two terminals are ~27km apart, and it takes about 40 minutes in a car without traffic to go from one to the other.
Taking the bus from Otavalo to Quito will leave you in Terminal Carcelen, in the far north of Quito. In order to get to Terminal Quitumbe, you need to take a city bus to the Trole and go all the way south to Quitumbe. This can take upwards of two hours, and you run the risk of getting pick-pocketed on the Trole. Or, you could pay the $20-25 to have a taxi bring you there.
You can skip Quito all together by taking the Cita Express to Ambato. This bus DOES NOT STOP IN QUITO. It originates in Ibarra, and you can pick it up on the Panamericana outside of Otavalo heading south. Any taxi driver will know where to catch the Cita Express and usually will know what time it passes. Granted, you will be waiting on the side of the highway, so try to get there as close to the right time as possible. Departure times from Ibarra can be found on latinbus.com -- add about 30 minutes, and that's right around when it will pass Otavalo. Times departing Ibarra for Cita Express are 06:30, 08:00, 09:30, 12:15, 13:30, 16:45, and 22:00. Cost US $5.50 Be advised: Informed by a local that the Cita Express only picks up from two stops (parada). At the parada at the northern entrance to the town, 2.2km from the center. This parada is opposite the entrance to the Unidad Educativa Sarance. And at the parada at the southern end of the town, just past the southern roundabout. To walk to the southern roundabout parada, walk to the end of Bolivar Street, to the Panamerican highway, turn left, and walk to the roundabout. The parada is on the right just past the roundabout. Can definitely confirm that the 0800 Cita Express bus only picked up at these two locations.
Update April 2016. There are direct buses from Otavalo Terminal to Ambato at 1330 and 1430. No need to go to wait on Pan-American. Run by company 22 de Julio. Takes about 5 hours and costs USD5.50.
You can disembark anytime before Ambato, which is particularly useful for people who want to see Latacunga or the Cotopaxi region.