Getting there & away
Buses depart Quito’s main terminal every 20 minutes or so and charge $2 for the two- to three-hour ride to Otavalo. Transportes Otavalo and Transportes Los Lagos used to race each other on the highway until they merged into Transportos Otavalo/Los Lagos. It is the only bus company allowed into Otavalo’s bus terminal. The others drop passengers off on the Panamericana, from where they have to hoof it six to eight blocks to downtown.
In Otavalo, the main bus terminal (Atahualpa) is at the northern end of town, from where you can take a taxi to most hotels for $1. From this terminal, Transportes Otavalo/Los Lagos leave for Quito and Ibarra every 10 minutes.
Both Transportos Otavalo/Los Lagos and Transportes 6 de Junio travel to the remote Intag valley hamlets of Apuela ($3, 2½ hours) and García Moreno ($4, 3½ hours). The screeching rollercoaster ride over sheer drops through spectacular scenery is somewhat of an event. Old local buses, with fares roughly $1 per hour of travel, drive the route south of Otavalo to San Pablo del Lago (20 minutes) and Araque (two hours). Cooperativa Imbaburapac has buses from Otavalo to Ilumán (30 minutes), Agato (two hours), San Pablo del Lago (15 minutes), Ibarra (45 minutes) and Cayambe (35 minutes) every hour or so. The bus to Ibarra passes through the small indigenous villages en route to the north. Transportes Cotacachi goes to Cotacachi via the longer route (through Quiroga), and Transportes 6 de Junio takes the shorter route ($0.25, 25 minutes), via the Panamericana. Intrepid travelers could brave these lesser-known areas in a daytrip, although, as most villages lack in accommodations, plans should be made for an early return.
For the villages of Calderón, Guayllabamba and Cayambe, take an Otavalo–Quito bus (most frequent on Saturday afternoons). The buses stop at the turnoff from the main road in Cayambe, a walk of several hundred meters into town.