16 May What to Do On A Day Trip to Otavalo, Ecuador
From Quito, Otavalo makes a great day trip or weekend get-away. The area is known for its indigenous artisans and woodworkers, so most visitors go to shop for crafts. We had a few days to spare at the end of our two-month stay in Ecuador, so we took the opportunity to see something new and stayed two nights in an Airbnb at the heart of Otavalo.
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Getting to Otavalo
A bus from the North of Quito to Otavalo is around $2.50 and takes about 2 hours.
(We actually arrived in Otavalo on a direct bus from Latacunga. We didn’t have to stop through busy Quito, however, finding the bus to start with was a challenge. It’s the Cita Express, a nice orange and white bus, but it doesn’t leave from the Terminal in Latacunga, so we were instructed to wait for it along the side of the highway that skirts around Latacunga. It also doesn’t drop off at the Terminal in Otavalo, so the driver let us off at a highway gas station nearby. Cost was $4.50 each.)
Where to Stay in Otavalo
If you’re staying overnight, we would recommend locating yourself in the city center, as we did. Our Airbnb host was great and the apartment was super convenient with a nice view on the rooftop.
What to See and Do in Otavalo
Otavalo is located in a beautiful part of the Andes and it draws quite a few tourists, especially on Saturday’s big market day. Google Maps and the travel apps we used did not list many of places we wanted to visit, so we put together our own map:
The primary reason most visitors go to Otavalo is to shop. Otavaleños are famous nation-wide for producing textiles and other crafts. Many shops and vendor stalls are open all week long, although Saturday is when it really gets busy.
Plaza de Ponchos
If you go to one place in Otavalo, it will probably be this craft market. Geared toward tourists, the large square is filled with stalls, covered by umbrellas, selling every gift item imaginable. From blankets and ponchos to wood carvings, paintings, and trinkets, you’ll find it here. Prices are negotiable so you can try out your friendly haggling skills.
To really get to the source and buy from the craftspeople themselves, you’ll want to visit some of the neighboring towns. Each area is known for a different specialty: wood working in San Antonio de Ibarra (see more below), leather in Cotacachi, weaving in several others communities, etc.
We always enjoy walking through the non-touristy markets in places like this. While not on all maps, we found two other large, local markets for produce and day-to-day products.
Mercado 24 de Novembre
This is a large, covered market with long hallways of produce vendors and more stalls encircling the building as well. We picked up some fruit for breakfast and got some cheap, hot almuerzos (soup and a chicken dish for $2) which the ladies kindly packaged up for us to take home.
I kept seeing the name of this market as a destination on the local buses, but I couldn’t find evidence of its existence on any map or blog, so I asked around for directions. While not particularly interesting as a tourist destination, walking through this long produce market at the edge of the city center is another great view into local life.
Cascada de Peguche
Otavalo’s closest natural attraction is this bohemian-style park with the Peguche waterfall as its centerpiece. Walking there from the town center is over 2 miles, or you can also catch a taxi or bus heading that way from the Terminal. (We arrived via bus back from San Antonio de Ibarra – see more details below.)
When you get to the corner of a street called UPS Policia Cascada, there is a parking lot with a few shops around it and then a stone archway at the entrance to the park (pictured below). Once you go under the archway, there is a large Incan sun calendar made of stone and a second entrance off to the left.
The park itself includes camping spots, cobblestone pathways, a few points of interest (like the tree of fertility – full of nobs – and the centennial tree). In the back of the park is the waterfall with several viewpoints. There was a man who offered to guide us through the underground Incan caves for $2 each (and then dropped it to $1 each) – he seemed nice but it was time for us to walk back to town.
San Antonio de Ibarra Half-Day Trip
To explore a bit more, we decided to visit San Antonio to the North, which is known for wood working and carving. From Otavalo’s Terminal Terrestre, we caught an Ibarra bus (which leave every 10-20 minutes), watched our GPS location on an offline map, and got off at San Antonio. The 30 minute ride was 55 cents each. From the Pan-American highway, we walked up 27 de Noviembre to look at the shops and two plazas.
The main square has some interesting wood statues and very big, artsy/mythological playground. There are a lot of furniture shops as well as wood carving shops, from saints to naked people. There was also one handcrafted paper artist we really liked.
Unless you’re a really heavy shopper or planning to ship furniture home (which is available there), you probably don’t need more than an hour to experience San Antonio.
San Antonio to Peguche: When we were ready, we walked back to the highway and crossed to the other side. We happened to catch the very same bus heading back toward Otavalo, and I asked the driver and conductor to let us know when we were near the Cascada de Peguche. They let us off on the highway and once we crossed to the other side, we started seeing blue and white signs pointing toward Cascada de Peguche. It was pretty easy to follow and maybe a half a mile walk to the park.
Other Outdoor Adventures
Although we didn’t have time to visit, we heard good things about Lago San Pablo – the area’s volcanic crater lake only 20 minutes from town. The region surrounding Otavalo is also home to outdoor activities like horse-back riding, hiking, and mountain biking.
If you have any questions, or recommendations of your own, please leave a note in the comments section below!
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