Otavalo is an Andean town surrounded by volcanoes and located in the north of Ecuador. Famous in the guidebooks for it’s traditional market, we soon found that there is so much more to do there. It was our first stop in Ecuador, and after a couple of tough days crossing the border from Colombia we were looking forward to seeing what Ecuador had in store.

You can buy all kinds of textiles at the Otavalo market

How we got to Otavalo

We had to get to Otavalo from the border town of Tulcan, and it was extremely easy. As soon as we arrived in the Tulcan bus terminal there was a bus heading to Quito. We headed on this bus and told the attendant that we were going to Otavalo. It cost $3.75 and the bus was big and comfortable (a big change from the expensive minibus we had been getting in recent weeks in Colombia). After about 2.5 hours of traveling we reached Otavalo. As the Quito bus travels the Pan-American highway we ended up being dropped a bit outside of town, but a $1.25 taxi got us into the centre and our hostel.

Where we stayed in Otavalo

Laguna Cuicocha – a must see place near Otavalo

We stayed in Hostal La Rosa, a new hostal located two blocks from the Plaza de Ponchos, where the market takes place. The rooms were nice and spacious, although it only has private rooms and no dorm. It’s also lacking a kitchen but the owner is really nice and helpful and gave us alot of tips for what to do in the area!

What we did in Otavalo

Market

The Otavalo market is one of the most important markets in all of South America. If traveling south it also represents the first chance to buy some warmer clothes to combat the chilly days on the Andes to come. The market sellers are all indigenous although the majority of the clothes are not handmade or authentic, most stalls have the same clothes and you will continue to see these clothes throughout Ecuador and the rest of South America. That said, if you can bargain right, you can pick up some good quality goods for a fair price. After 7 months on the road we took the chance to buy some new warm clothes!

The market is full of textiles and clothes

The market is open everyday but the ‘famous’ days to visit are on Wednesday on Saturday. We were there on a Wednesday and there was a few extra stalls and a few extra tourists but, other than that, it was the same as the other days! Saturday is famous as there is an animal market aswell which is located a few blocks further. Perhaps if you want to see the people selling some llamas and others it is a good day, but arrive early as we have heard that it normally ends before 9am!

Aoife and her friend who she bought some clothes from

Parque del Condor

Located 5km ( a $4 taxi ride) from Otavalo, Parque del Condor is a bird rehabilitation center, that also puts on live flight demonstrations to give you an up close view of the birds. The demonstrations are only on at 11.30am and 3.30pm and are solely in Spanish. You get to see some eagles and hawks in action and to miss the show is to miss the best part of the park in my opinion. There are a couple of Andean condors, different types of owls and different eagles (including a harpey eagle) on display throughout the park. Entrance is $4.50 and the park is only open Wednesday to Sunday.

The bird show and a stunning background

The Harpey Eagle

Aoife holding a Kestrel

El Lechero

Located a 20 minute walk from Parque del Condor is El Lechero, this is a famous tree which is said to have magical powers. The tree looks like something from Game of Thrones and the surrounding countryside is beautiful to observe. Not a must do activity but if you are in the area it is a nice time filler.

The amazing countryside on the way to El Lechero

El Lechero – the tree with magical powers

Peguche Waterfall

Peguche Waterfall is a beautiful waterfall about 18 metres in height. We decided to walk, following the directions on maps.me from El Lechero, which took about 1 hour in total. The walk was of moderate difficulty but just as we approached the waterfall the heavens opened making some parts of it slippy. There is an indigenous museum, a swimming bath and a fertility tree nearby also but we skipped them due to the rain. We did not have to pay an entrance fee but we have heard from others that they had to, maybe we got lucky?!

You can get up close to Peguche Waterfall

Another suspension bridge to add to the list in South America!

Laguna Cuicocha

This was the absolute highlight of our trip to Otavalo and in our opinion it is a must do. Laguna Cuicocha is a 3km crater lake sitting at the base of the impressive Cotocachi Volcano. Located on the lake are two islands which almost resemble a guinea pig perhaps giving the lake it’s name. In the sun the lake turns into a reflective mirror giving you the chance to take some amazing pictures. The walk around the entire lake takes about 5-6 hours, and you pass some amazing landscapes, getting different views of the lake along the way. We got here by car, our hostal owner offered to take us for $15 and collect us again when we want which we thought was a great deal. To get there with public transport you can catch a local bus to Quiroga for $0.30. From there a taxi costs $5 (regardless of the number of passengers) to the lake.

The reflection of the lake in the sun!

The trail is beautiful

The lake itself is simply amazing

Even with a storm approaching the lake retains its beauty

Other things to do

If you havent had enough of lakes you could walk around Laguna de Mojando aswell, but be careful as we have heard of some robberies on the trail in the past.

Top tips

  • Never accept the first price at the market, it’s part of the indigenous culture to bargain so have fun (and save money).
  • Don’t just visit Otavalo on a day trip, at least spend the night and give the town the time it deserves!
  • Go to The Pie Shop and try a slice of cake with ice cream. There are different flavours like passion fruit, blackberry and chocolate. It’s a bit pricey, $2 for the cake and $2 for a double serving of ice cream but trust us, it’s worth it!

Raspberry pie and ice cream from the Pie Shop

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[…] and Banos particularly. We also only booked our flights three weeks in advance, when we were in Otavalo, and to fly from Quito with a few days notice was too […]