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Famous for its indigenous handicrafts market, Otavalo is one of Ecuador’s most popular travel destinations. While the throngs of tourists who arrive here by the busload may be a turn-off for those seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience, they’re good news for the region’s indigenous residents. Known for their weavings, otavaleños are one of Latin America’s most prosperous indigenous groups, and foreigners buy up their products, or factory-made versions that resemble them, more than any other craft in Ecuador. The market itself, which takes place on Saturdays and Wednesdays, is a madhouse. But it’s also a marvelous way to interact ...

Famous for its indigenous handicrafts market, Otavalo is one of Ecuador’s most popular travel destinations. While the throngs of tourists who arrive here by the busload may be a turn-off for those seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience, they’re good news for the region’s indigenous residents. Known for their weavings, otavaleños are one of Latin America’s most prosperous indigenous groups, and foreigners buy up their products, or factory-made versions that resemble them, more than any other craft in Ecuador. The market itself, which takes place on Saturdays and Wednesdays, is a madhouse. But it’s also a marvelous way to interact with otavaleños, who are wicked bargainers, wear some of Ecuador’s most beautiful traditional clothing and always seem to maintain a sense of humor when haggling. Otavalo is also known for its animal market, a bustling affair that takes place early Saturday mornings on the outskirts of town. It’s a far more “authentic” experience than the crafts market. As the sun rises, indigenous Ecuadorians pour in from outlying villages and pull sheep, cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock from the backs of trucks or off the tops of buses and bargain beneath an Andean backdrop of volcanic peaks. For travelers, the scene is the payoff for braving the crowds in town.

Danny Palmerlee
About the Expert

Danny Palmerlee is the main author of numerous Lonely Planet travel guides, including Ecuador, Argentina, South America on a Shoestring, and Pacific Northwest Trips.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Otavalo is the capital of Otavalo Canton and is a largely indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador.
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Ecuador Sucre
  • Research: Wikitravel | Otavalo
  • Weather: Daylight

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    June to September