We had been looking forward to discovering Ecuador’s colonial capital since we entered the country almost a week ago. It is one of the first twelve places to be given the status of a unesco world heritage site.
Otavalo | Experience more than the unique indigenous market town
Otavalo is a town in the Andean highlands in the Imbabura province of northern Ecuador. It’s surrounded by volcanoes and the most amazing landscape and really is worth a visit if you’re heading to Ecuador. The town has a large population of indigenous people and they bring a colourful vibe to the town. The people are friendly and welcoming and we very much enjoyed our stay here.
How to get to Otavalo?
We visited Otavalo after crossing the border from Colombia and you can read all about our border crossing experience here. Once we had crossed we headed to the Ecuadorian border town of Tulcan. At the bus station we bought a ticket to Otavalo. The cost of the journey was approx $5.00 per person and took about 3 hrs. When we arrived in Otavalo the driver dropped us off just outside the city and we had to get a taxi the rest of the way. It would have been walkable had we not had luggage but the taxi fare was only about $2.00 so very much worth it.
Where to stay in Otavalo?
Otavalo is a town that welcomes visitors and there are an abundance of places to stay from the more expensive hotels to budget backpacker hostels. The one we chose was Hostel la Rosa which was fairly central and had everything we needed. Our room was on the 3rd floor and we had an amazing view to one of the many volcanoes surrounding the town. Our hostel was only a few blocks away from the main squares and the breakfast was good. One of the people that ran the hostel offered us taxi services on the day we did the volcano hike and all the staff were really keen to assist us with public transport information and information on what was happening in the town on different days. It was a good hostel to base ourselves in for our week in Otavalo.
10 best things to see & do in Otavalo?
Visit the famous indigenous market
Otavalo is famous for its large indigenous market found in the Plaza del Ponchos. Every day local artisans flood the main square to sell their crafts and wares. On a Wednesday and a Saturday the market is extended up and down the roads extending out from the plaza and you can find even more gifts, housewares, clothing and foodstuffs on offer. Its a colourful sight and one which attracts loads of visitors to this fabulous town.
Hike to the local waterfall
Being a volcanic region there’s a lot of hills and with a lot of hills that usually means some pretty good waterfalls. Quite close to the town is the Perguche waterfall which can be accessed in about an hour with a short hike out of town. The hike takes you up through the forest on some fairly well marked paths following the river until you come to the spectacular falls. There are several viewing platforms to view the gushing water from, including one at the very top where you can see it tumble to the river below. Unfortunately when we visited we weren’t able to get close to the bottom of the falls as there had been a massive landslide which had washed away the closest path to the bottom but it was spectacular none the less.
Explore the Condor Sanctuary
If you’ve still got some energy then after the Perguche waterfall you can continue upwards until you reach the top of the hill and you’ll find the path to the Condor Sanctuary. Alternatively if you want to visit on another day then you can walk on a fairly decent paved road straight from town or catch the bus. The condor sanctuary or Parque Condor is a rescue centre for many birds of prey including the mighty Condor. The admission fee is $5.00 and if you want to see the flight displays in the afternoon its an extra $3.00. The flight displays only happen if the weather is fair and on the day we visited they weren’t sure they were going to be flying so we just visited the birds. Each bird has a plaque identifying what it is and its story. I used our google translate app to translate for us as its all in Spanish but we got the gist of what we were looking at and how they came to be in the sanctuary. They had some really gorgeous birds and of course the stars of the day were the condors. It really is a superb facility and a great place to visit.
Quite close to the Condor Sanctuary is the site of El Lechero which is a great viewpoint and who’s tree is considered sacred by the indigenous community. The tree has somewhat diminished over the years but the place is still considered sacred and many ceremonies and rituals are performed here.
Take a bus to Parc Aquatico
Just behind the town of Otavalo is Lago San Pablo and the Aquatic park. To get here you need to jump on the bus from the main bus station in Otavalo to Araque but make sure you tell the driver that you want the Parque Aquatico or you might find yourself off at the wrong stop and having to walk for approx 5km to get to the Parque. Once there you have the opportunity to go on a boat trip round the lake, hire a boat, take a pony ride, have lunch or just enjoy the lake and all the local people out having family time. If you want some local food then there is a round restaurant near the water where an army of local ladies cook up a variety of local specialities, which looked delicious and was great value for money. Chris had the fried fish and I had shrimp and it was a fantastic lunch.
Visit the indigenous museum – Museo Viviente Otavalango
The Museo Viviente Otavalango was one of the best things we did in Otavalo. Its a living museum and tells the story of the indigenous people of the region and the changes to their lives and livelyhoods when the Spanish arrived and settled. The story tells how they worked, lived, celebrated both life and death and it was fascinating. To get there you can walk there or get a taxi. If you walk its about a 45 min walk south of the town on fairly main roads so its safe and if you get a taxi then it will cost about $4.00 approx. When we were finished the tour our guide offered to call a taxi for us but we caught the bus out on the main road and headed back to the main bus station which cost us $0.80 each. The cost to enter the museum is $5.00 per person but try not to visit on a Wednesday or Saturday as you won’t see the weavers working as they’ll be selling their products at the market.
Hike the circular route of the Laguna de Cuicocha
Laguna Cuicocha is a 3 km wide caldera and crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano and is a fantastic day hike and easily accessible from Otavalo. The walk round is fantastic, full of ups and downs and the most spectacular views. Full details of how to get there, what you’ll find there, the route and what to expect can be found by reading our full blog post – Laguna de Cuicocha and how to hike this beautiful volcanic lake
Hike the Fuya Fuya volcano
If hiking is your thing then this is another fantastic hike you can reach easily from Otavalo. Fuya Fuya is an extinct volcano with two summits that are part of a larger massif called Mojanda. The start of the walk is from Laguna Mojanda and on a clear day the views can be amazing. Unfortunately when we visited it wasn’t clear but you can find out more about how to get there and what to expect if you visit our Hike Fuya Fuya day hike from Otavalo the ultimate guide blog post.
Catch a movie at the cinema
Otavalo has a quaint little cinema that is very much worth a visit. It only costs a few dollars to get in. When you’re inside you choose your seats, order your popcorn and drink and when you’re all settled in your seat the ushers bring your snacks to you on a cute little tray that slots into the cup holder in your seat. Now it doesn’t matter if you speak Spanish or not you can usually get the gist of what’s going on by the action and for us it wasn’t too difficult as the movie we went to see was the Minions movie. Check it out, its a lovely experience.
Hang out in Parque Bolivar
Parque Bolivar is where the main church is and the statue of the man himself, Simon. It’s a central point in the town where all the locals congregate at times of celebrations, religious holidays and just to pass the time of day with friends. Its a lovely park to just sit and drink a coffee and people watch. The park is dominated by the Iglesia Católica San Luis de Otavalo and although lovely during the day is truly beautiful at night when lit up.
Otavalo is a town not to be missed when visiting Ecuador. There’s so much to do here and we loved it. The people are so friendly and welcoming we really felt at home. As well as the variety of things to do the options for food and drink are extensive. One recommendation would be the Argentinian Empanada spot on Calle Sucre, just up from Plaza del Ponchos. They serve superb empanadas and fantastic milkshakes. Another recommendation was to try the Hornado which is a slow roasted pork dish and really really tasty.
Booking resources for your hike of Fuya Fuya
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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San Cristóbal is the fifth largest and easternmost island of the Galapagos. It is comprised of three or four fused volcanoes, all extinct.
Fuya Fuya means cloud cloud in Kichwa the local indigenous language of the Otavalos people. Legend says that the clouds are born here on it’s twin peaks