Otavalo is a valley in northern Ecuador surrounded by peaks of Imbabura, Cotacachi and Mojanda volcanos. The town is famous for its indigenous population and a 100 years old market, a major artisan fair of Ecuador and South America called “The Plaza of Ponchos”.
People Of Otavalo:
Indigenous Otavaleños are economically considered to be the most successful indigenous group of Latin America. They are known for weaving textiles, usually made of wool. Otavalo is also known for its traditional Andean Folklore music and musicians. Every summer the music of Otavalo and the surrounding areas plays a primary role in the indigenous festival for the summer solstice, called Inti Raymi.
Men are known as Otavaleños and women as Otavaleñas. Otavaleñas traditionally wear distinctive embroidered white blouses, with flared lace sleeves and black or dark over skirts. They usually have many strings of gold beads around their necks, with the number of strands and thickness of beads representing their age and wisdom, and matching tightly wound long strings of coral beads around each wrist. Men wear white trousers and dark blue ponchos.
Buses to Otavalo leave from the “Terminal Carcelen” in the North of Quito. It takes two hours on the Pan-American Highway and costs USD 2.50.
From Tulcan / Ibarra:
If you come from Tulcan on the Colombian border it is recommended to change the bus at Ibarra, a town 35 minutes away from Otavalo. Bus from Tulcan to Quito would drop you at the Pan American Highway which runs 15 minutes outside of town.
Three hours bus journey from Tulcan to Ibarra would cost USD 3 and from Ibarra to Otavalo it takes 35 minutes and costs USD 0.30.
Otavalo is a small town, its easy to get from one end to the other end of the town by walking. Taxis will take you anywhere within town for USD 1.25 during the day or USD 1.50 at night.
What To See:
San Pablo Lake is one of the largest lakes in Ecuador, its set at the foot of Imbabura Volcano. Its possible to rent motor boats and do kayaking at Parque Aquático in the village of Araque.
Plaza de Poncho is in the heart of Otavalo. Although, the market is set every morning on a smaller scale, its recommended to visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays when indigenous and mestizo people from Otavalo and nearby villages sell their handicrafts.
Animal Market or Mercado de Animales bustles just outside the centre of the town across the Pan-American Highway. Farmers buy and sell their livestock. The market is set only on Saturday morning from 07:00 to 10:00.
El Lechero viewpoint offers a panoramic view of Otavalo. There is a sacred gum tree which is believed to renew the energy of those who touch it. The indigenous people say that El Lechero and Lago San Pablo are the remains of two lovers from ancient rivaling families who were trying to escape to live freely with one another. They were caught in their attempt, and the lovers turned into the tree and lake always to remain side by side. You can see all three of the valleys’ volcanoes from this spot.
Condor Park was built by the Dutch government as an educational centre that provides care and training to injured raptors and teaches people about the importance of keeping raptors healthy.
Peguche Waterfall is an 18 meters high waterfall located 2.5 kms away from Otavalo. It is considered a sacred place by the indigenous people, as their relationship with the natural environment, especially the mountains, water, trees with respect to whom remains a cluster of meanings that inspires tales, myths and legends and rituals.
Cuicocha Lake is a crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano, its located 3246 meters above sea level. During the second day of Inti Raymi (Sun Festival) every summer solstice, indigenous shaman use Cuicocha as a bath for ritual cleansing and purification.
Mondays, Thursdays and second of November are considered to be the day of the deceased by the indigenous people. They go to the cemetery to perform worship through offerings, sacred songs and prayers to their family and deceased. To commemorate the memory of the faithful deceased, the indigenous prepare different foods, especially the preferred dish of the deceased and offer it at the cemetery in the early morning hours.
Where To Eat:
Plaza De Los Ponchos, the bustling market square gets a new look at dusk. Indigenous people setup stalls selling authentic local cuisines at a very cheap price.
Do not forget to try Ecuadorian steamed puddings”Humitas” and “Quimbolitos” and the local beverage “morocho”
Mercado 24 de Mayo is a newly opened central market. They sell fresh fruits and vegetables. It is the best place to find something to eat for lunch.
Do try the fresh fruit juice . Also typical is the beer with egg
The Pie House
The pie house next to Plaza De los Ponchos has some classic fruit pies, ranging from pineapple to blueberry and beyond. Its one of the things to try in Otavalo. Somedays there are twelve flavours to choose from.
Where To Sleep:
Chuquitos is located in the town centre. They have small but clean rooms and fast WiFi. They offer single private rooms from USD 12 which includes a simple breakfast.
Hostal Mirador Otavalo
Mirador De Otavalo is located uphill, about 4 blocks away from the main square. The hostel has rooms with a panoramic view of the town. They offer private rooms from USD 10. There is no breakfast included, however they do have a fully equipped kitchen and a good WiFi.