Otavalo seems to be held very highly in the eyes of the Ecuadorian Tourism Board. Indeed almost every tourist that spends enough time in this wonderful country will make the trip here, located two hours north of Quito, for its world renowned Saturday market. Sadly though it seems its traditional business of weaving has now been overtaken by this frenzied selling of souvenirs with the stereotypical fanny belt and camera touting tourists willing to pay over the top prices for their souvenir goods.
I should know by now that places with such a high billing always seems to disappoint me and I’m afraid Otavalo falls into this category. I'm not saying it isn’t worth a visit though. Although Otavalo has tourist markets, the town’s biggest attraction and economic income every day of the week, the best and biggest by far is the market on Saturday. Catching a bus from outside Terminal Terrestre in Quito to Otavalo is almost as easy as someone trying to pick-pocket you on the cities public transport system, leaving every ten minutes and costing $2 for the two hour ride.
The ride to Otavalo is quite breathtaking even with the random Jean Claude Van Dam movies that buses seem to have a craving. As well as many high gorges and cascading waterfalls you also pass the snow covered Cayambe and Imbabura volcanoes and the rather scenic Lago (lake) de San Pablo.
Upon arriving into Otavalo and getting dropped off at the bus station in the north end of town, it's only a five minute walk south along Calle Sucre until you reach the sprawling market. The size of the market is quite unbelievable, running the length of Calle Sucre up to Parque Central and encompassing the majority of the side roads as well. You would need a good 2-3 hours to take in the whole market but similarly to Pisaq in Peru, one hour is probably enough as the market stalls become slightly monotonous with each one selling virtually identical goods. These same goods can be found in any tourist place in Ecuador such as Banos, Quito, Saquisili and Riobamba, with similar qualities and prices. Therefore a specific trip to Otavalo is not really a necessity.
The first stalls reached on the walk southwards from the bus terminal almost put me off from venturing any further with the ridiculously high prices the stall holders were quoting. Luckily the further south along Calle Sucre you walk, the lower the prices get and if you are here late in the day you can actually get yourself some decent bargains.
For me, my trip to Otavalo was enjoyable, but there wasn’t anything I hadn't already seen at numerous other destinations around Ecuador. The only reason I would recommend a Saturday morning trip here is for the animal market located all the way at the bottom of Calle Sucre, 2km south of the tourist market.