Intro to the best attractions around Otavalo, Ecuador
In this post I’ll give you an overview of things to do in & around the market town of Otavalo in the northern part of Ecuador.
Otavalo is located in the small northern province of Imbabura, Ecuador. Imbabura is still a mostly rural province. Most of its inhabitants still live in the countryside – el Campo. That is, outside of the main cities: Ibarra, Otavalo & Cotacachi. Something you’ll notice the moment you enter the province.
It’s the greenest province of Ecuador, blessed by pure mountain air. Besides some majestic volcanos, it houses many lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and forests. That makes the province of Imbabura not only one of the healthiest places to visit, but also one of the most beautiful.
Imbabura features enough natural attractions to have earned the title of Global GeoPark recently, by UNESCO. Furthermore, it’s the first GeoPark in the country.
The main attractions around Otavalo, besides the world famous handicrafts market, are:
But wait, wait… isn’t the Crafts Market the main attraction?
Yes, right… of course, the handicrafts market is the main attraction in Otavalo. For most people, Otavalo is the first stop in Ecuador after their flight coming in from wherever they started their latest adventure.
- Note: Most travelers, planning a tour of the country, first head out to Otavalo. However, because they think the airport is near to Quito, they spend the first night in the capital. While, depending on your plans, in time & money it’s better to go directly to Otavalo from the airport. This way, gaining a day and avoiding a busy city. If you like the idea, at our Hotel we can arrange a taxi with our own trustworthy & friendly driver Don Luis for just $55.
I initially was of the impression that most travellers already knew all about this world famous & popular market. Enough to skip an introduction to the handicrafts market and use this post only to tell you about the other attractions around Otavalo.
But thinking it over … maybe, I’m going too fast here. A visit to the market for many visitors still is one of the many highlights you can enjoy in this country. Not only for the variety in handicrafts (Many of which are produced in and around Otavalo) & the best prices but also because of the friendliness of the colorful inhabitants of this Andean town.
- Note: The place harbors several good hotels and first class restaurants (like our small, but cozy place, right in the center of Otavalo: Hotel Doña Esther & Restaurante Árbol de Montalvo).
A long history
Besides that, the Otavalo market is a historical market. For centuries the indigenous people come to the town center to sell their handmade crafts on the Plaza de Ponchos. Mainly on Saturdays, but actually on every other day as well. Even on Sundays. For more on the market’s history, click on Otavalo market.
That’s the main reason the some Otavalos or Otavaleños nowadays are among the richest people in the area. Men and women with an enterprising spirit, who travel the whole world to buy & sell.
The Cuicocha crater lake
One of the most popular things to do around Otavalo, Ecuador is a visit to the Cuicocha crater lake (30 minutes by car/taxi-pickup).
Ideal for hiking. A complete tour around the beautiful lake takes between 4-5 hours. A real outdoor adventure through unique flora & fauna, which you can also enjoy during a shorter tour of the lake.
On your way around you can almost permanently enjoy views of the lake, but also of the surroundings. From the rim you can spot several towns and many smaller villages. As well as some of the highest mountains of Ecuador: the Cotacachi, the Imbabura, the Cayambe, and sometimes also the Cotopaxi.
On the weekends & holidays small boats can take you around the two islands in the middle of the lake.
For more tips & info on this day trip, click on Cuicocha crater lake.
The Mojanda lake area/Fuya Fuya volcano
Another popular thing to do near Otavalo, Ecuador is a visit to the Mojanda lake area/Fuya Fuya volcano (30 minutes by car, taxi-pickup)
Besides the Cuicocha lake, Mojando is another ideal option for hiking. Or, if you wish, just to enjoy a walk and nature.
Mojanda houses three bigger lakes and several smaller ones. There are many trails here to choose from. Also several summits to conquer. The most popular one though is the top of the Fuya Fuya volcano (4263 m./13.986 ft.). A challenging, but adventurous Andean peak…actually, a twin peak!
For more tips & info on this day trip, click on Fuya Fuya volcano.
The Condor Park
Another “Thing to do” closer to Otavalo, Ecuador is a the Condor Park (15 minutes by car, taxi-pickup, 1 hour hiking).
You’ll find the Condor Park above Otavalo, on the eastern hill. The park is dedicated to the rescue of birds of prey. The park is beautiful in itself for a visit, but there are also two daily flight shows
- Note: Opening hours: Wednesday – Sunday, 9-17 hours, flight shows: 11:30 and 15:30.
From the Condor Park you can enjoy beautiful views of the Awakening Valley of Otavalo, as well as the Lake of San Pablo.
For more tips & info on this day trip, click on Condor Park.
The Peguche Waterfall
Another close thing to do nearby, is the Peguche Waterfall. It’s only 30-45 minute walk from our hotel in the centre of Otavalo, Hotel Dona Esther.
Trails lead you through a relaxing, parklike forest, at the end of which you’ll find the Waterfall. Well, .. actually you can continue on. The trail leads to a spectacular spot above the waterfall. And even further on, to a road that leads to the Lake of San Pablo.
For more tips & info on this (half a) day trip, click on: Peguche Waterfall
Village-tour around Otavalo, Ecuador
Around Otavalo you’ll find many little villages like Peguche, Agato, La Companía, San Rafael & others, where you’ll find many workshops.
These family workshops are the main producers of the handicrafts for sale on Otavalo’s famous marketplace, the Plaza de Ponchos. Foremost weavers, but also hat makers, instrument makers, woodworkers.
Besides the handicrafts, the little village of Iluman is known for shamanism.
You can visit these villages hiking, but it’s better to hire our friendly, trustworthy and well informed driver-guide at the Hotel Doña Esther, Don Luis. (One of the main reasons is that he only charges $10 an hour). With the same enthusiasm he’ll also bring you to the other attractions I mention on this page.
The town of Cotacachi, Ecuador
The town of Cotacachi is located just a short distance away from Otavalo. However, travel time depends on you taking a taxi (15 minutes) or a local bus (30 minutes).
Cotacachi is primarily known for its high quality leather products. For sale in the many shops in the centre of this small, cozy and typical Andean town. Due to these characteristics Cotacachi was recently named Pueblo mágico (a magical place). One of the first traditional villages to earn that title in Ecuador.
- Note: Many visitors combine a visit to Cotacachi with a morning tour of the Cuicocha crater lake.
Thermal springs Chachimbiro
If you just want to relax, we recommend a visit to the Thermal springs of Chachimbiro, only an hour drive from Otavalo (in taxi).
There are several options to choose from, but we would recommend the Hacienda Chachimbiro. Mainly because it’s a spacious area with a beautiful garden, besides friendly & clean. And they have a good restaurant on the site.
To read more about this relaxing day trip, click on: Thermal Springs of Chachimbiro.
Colonial city of Ibarra, Ecuador
The capital of Imbabura, Ibarra, is just a 20 minute drive away from Otavalo, in taxi. Or, a little over half an hour in bus.
Ibarra has its own attractions. Above all its historical centre grouped around two beautiful central parks. In other words, a worthwhile visit!
And while you’re there, why not try Ibarra’s traditional Helados de paila. Ice cream freshly made in big copper kettles. There are several places in the centre where they still show you how they make the famous ice cream.
A visit to Mitad del Mundo, Cayambe
Finally, near the town of Cayambe you’ll find an alternative Mitad del Mundo-monument. From Otavalo, 30 minutes in taxi, or 45 minutes with a local bus.
- Note: If you choose to take the bus to Cayambe, you’’ll need a taxi to go to the Mitad del Mundo monument (10 minutes).
There’s an older monument, but also a modern one… on the right spot.
- Note: If you like to know a little bit more about the special place on Earth Ecuador represents, read my PDF-file on the historical visit of the French mission to Ecuador in the 18th century. You’ll get a FREE COPY subscribing to my Travel Blog.
To read more about this (half a) day trip, click on: Mitad del Mundo, Cayambe.
Touring the Authentic Rural area around Zuleta
A beautiful tour you can take from Otavalo leads the Beautiful & Authentic Rural Andean area around Zuleta, Imbabura.
Ideal for hiking, biking, horese riders, just to tour around or a picnic.
To read more about this (half a) day trip, click on: Visit to Zuleta
Oyacachi is a unique, beautiful Andean village. Surprisingly belonging to the Amazonian province of Napo, but still reachable in a day trip from Otavalo.
To read more about this adventurous day trip, click on: Visit to Oyacachi.
The Pambamarca mountain range near Cayambe
The Pambamarca area combines history with amazing bird-eye views. In the area you’ll find the remains of several Inca fortresses, called Pucarás. Strategic places which provide with the beautiful views mentioned.
To read more about this adventurous day trip from Otavalo, click on: Visit Pambamarca.
A visit to the Archaeological Site of Cochasqui
There are many archaeological remains spread over the country, but few which you can visit officially. The Pre-Inca site Cochasqui – constructed & inhabited from 850AD until the Spanish conquest in the 1530s – is one of them.
To learn more, click on: Visit Cochasqui.
Final overview of things to do around Otavalo (overview):
- Authentic rural area around Zuleta
- Mitad del Mundo, Cayambe
- The hidden village of Oyacachi
- Historical zone of Pambamarca
- The pre-Inca Pyramids of Cochasquí
- The waterfall of Taxopamba (under construction)
- Valley of Intag Cloud forest (under construction)
How to get to the Things to do around Otavalo
Some of the attractions mentioned are accessible on foot, like the Peguche Waterfall (easy hike) & the Condor Park (a steep hike up, but doable). Sometimes people take a taxi to the Waterfall or the Condor Park and walk back.
All the other attractions are further away. Some are reachable by bus, but seldom directly. So, the best way to get there is by hiring a taxi.
All over Otavalo you can find (yellow) taxis, which can bring you to the attractions you want to visit:
- I would recommend you to negotiate a price beforehand & pay at the end of the tour.
- And secondly, be sure he – or sometimes she – knows how to drive. (Hard to know beforehand, but I’d say hire a somewhat older driver – not the young guys – and if you don’t like the way he/she drives soon enough, look for another one).
Alternatively we – at Hotel Doña Esther/Restaurante Árbol de Montalvo – can arrange a taxi for you. For a good price & driven by a friendly, professional driver.
Someone who can lead you to all Things to Do near Otavalo, further away or a combination of some of the attractions I presented to you in this post.
- In a normal car there’s room for max 4 pax. If you travel with more people (& maybe extra luggage) , we can arrange for bigger transport – a mini-van or bus – provided by a local company.
- IMPORTANT: We can only provide this service to guests of our hotel.
If you decide to make a day-trip, you can to ask the driver to find a (typical) restaurant on the way. Or else, we can prepare a take-away box lunch ($6.00 each) for you at the hotel.
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