When Indy, one of the Interns from the Netherlands, went on the Otavalo, Ecuador day tour with Rebecca Adventure Travel, she said: “I was really looking forward to this tour as it would be more of a relaxing, cultural tour instead of an adventurous one. I really liked this trip! For those with extra time, I recommend spending an additional day in Otavalo. There is so much more to do, but it is too much for a day tour”. If you are interested in staying more days, read this blog to find out what to do in Otavalo and its surroundings.
Otavalo, Ecuador is a small town located near Quito, nestled amid the amazing Andes Mountains. Otavalo’s cobblestone streets are lined with quaint, adobe-style buildings, adorned with vivid murals and hand-painted signs, creating an inviting atmosphere in authentic native highland style. The locals, predominantly of indigenous Kichwa heritage, maintain their age-old traditions and are often seen in their colorful traditional clothing. Beyond its world-famous market at Plaza de los Ponchos, the town offers a tranquil escape with its peaceful parks, serene lakes, and towering volcanoes. Otavalo is a captivating destination that showcases the essence of Ecuador’s Andean culture and natural beauty.
1. Explore the Otavalo Artisan Market
Of course, the market can’t be missed. It is the biggest indigenous market in all of South America. It is open seven days a week, with Saturday being the busiest day. People from all over Ecuador come to Otavalo on this day to visit the market and shop for all kinds of things, like clothing, food, and more. Locals sell their traditional handicrafts, a tradition dating back to pre-Inca times. The Otavaleños’ beautiful weaving arts and techniques are known throughout South America.
2. Go to the Condor Park
You may have seen pictures of big eagles when typing in Otavalo on Google. This is because there is a rescue center which rehabilitates birds of prey. Condor Park is located at a strategic point near Otavalo. Here, you can find hawks, eagles, falcons, various owls, and the endangered Andean condor, which is also Ecuador’s national symbol! From the Park, if you look to the northeast, you’ll find the Imbabura Volcano; and to the northwest, the Cotacachi Volcano.
This organization doesn’t just stop at rescuing and caring for these birds; they extend their impact through environmental education initiatives that bridge the gap between these remarkable species and society. In addition, their innovative self-financing endeavors, such as ecotourism, not only sustain their vital work but also offer an opportunity for people to engage directly with nature and these amazing birds. It’s a holistic and inspiring approach to conservation and environmental education that is making a profound difference in the world.
3. Hike Around the Cuicocha Lake
This volcanic crater lake is located about 30 minutes from Otavalo and is definitely worth a visit! It is easily recognizable because it has two small islets at its center. You can hike around the lake on a 9 mi-long trail (14km) that takes around five hours to complete. You can also take a boat ride around the islets if you make a reservation one day in advance.
The word Cuicocha means “lagoon of the guinea pigs” in Kichwa. This place was the natural habitat of guinea pigs, but after the eruption of the Cotacachi volcano, they left their home. Also contributing to the lake’s name is the fact that the two islets are shaped like sleeping guinea pigs. There are multiple myths and legends surrounding Cuicocha, like people disappearing in its waters, the lagoon, having no bottom, and a golden guinea pig having made the first person who saw it rich while the second person transformed into a duck.
4. Climb the Cotacachi Volcano
The Cuicocha Lake lies at the foot of the Cotacachi Volcano. On a clear day, you will be rewarded with stunning views of this mountain when standing at the lake. Nearby, there is a first-class visitor center, which tells the geological history of the area. You will learn how the lake formed, when the volcano was last active, and the history of the native people. Also, there are 2-day programs to hike the volcano.
5. Visit Peguche Waterfall
Visiting Peguche Waterfall, a mere 45-minute walk from the heart of Otavalo, is an enchanting experience for any traveler. If a long walk isn’t your preference, convenient taxis or buses await to take you away. Upon arrival, a voluntary entrance fee of a dollar or two is typically offered to access the stunning waterfalls, a true natural wonder. The trail leading to these majestic falls is impeccably maintained, meandering through a verdant landscape adorned with the soothing presence of eucalyptus trees.
While the serene surroundings enrapture your senses, you’ll encounter a small artisan museum nestled beside the cascades, a treasure trove of local craftsmanship. But the adventure doesn’t end there! For the intrepid explorer, a path beckons on the right side of the waterfall, inviting you to ascend and discover a hidden world. As you venture deeper, you’ll navigate through a narrow, low passage, only to emerge into a breathtaking cave, where another waterfall cascades, unveiling a sublime natural spectacle. Peguche isn’t just a destination; it’s a captivating journey that brings with every step a sensory tapestry of nature’s wonders and cultural richness, inviting you to explore and be entranced.
6. Walk Across Cotacachi Town
This small town is known for its leather goods. It’s located only about 10 minutes by taxi from Otavalo. It is very quiet compared to Otavalo, but it is a nice place to hang out for a while. The streets are covered with art, and you can go shopping for any items you may need. This is the place to buy leather!
7. See the Otavalango Museum
In this museum, the local indigenous culture is showcased. Take a look at the historical site—it has a textile factory that is hundreds of years old! You can buy woven goods which are made in a little shop. Also, you can get a cleansing ritual done.
8. Explore San Pablo Lake
Located south of Otavalo at a ten-minute ride by car, situated within a volcanic caldera, lake San Pablo’s crystal-clear waters reflect the majestic peaks of the Andes, creating a serene haven at an elevation of 9,000 ft (2,800 m). Visitors can embark on boat rides to appreciate the landscape, hike scenic trails, and engage in birdwatching, all while enjoying the fresh mountain air. With its blend of natural beauty and cultural richness, San Pablo Lake beckons travelers to immerse themselves in a diverse range of experiences, from peaceful lakeside picnics to vibrant market explorations.
9. Discover Simón Bolivar Park
While touring Otavalo, make sure to visit Simón Bolívar Park, also known as Central Park. Significantly, this park is one of the town’s main squares and is encircled by notable buildings, including the Church of San Luis.
Originally, the church was a small chapel. However, in 1676, it was transformed into a larger temple. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the 1868 earthquake that hit Ibarra. Subsequently, in 1880, the restoration of the church commenced and was completed a decade later. Furthermore, the park offers the perfect spot to sit on a bench, rest, and take in the local lifestyle. This location is not only historically rich but also provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the essence of Otavalo.
10. Relax at Mojanda Lagoon
Another beautiful set of lakes to explore in the area is the Mojanda Lakes. To reach them from Otavalo, you need to take the Mojanda road, a route that begins in Otavalo. Be cautious, as the GPS might suggest a longer route.
The Mojanda Lakes are comprised of three lakes: Karikucha, Yanakucha, and Warmikucha. Near the lakes, you’ll find the Fuya Fuya hill, standing at 4,263 m.a.s.l.. Numerous hiking opportunities are available, including the chance to ascend Fuya Fuya. For this, we recommend going with a guide in case of any unforeseen issues. You’ll find parking spaces and stalls where you can buy drinks and snacks.
Did you like this blog? You might also like:
- Cruising or Lodge Stay? Discover the Best Way to Explore the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest
- Traveling to the Galapagos with Infants and Toddlers: A Complete Guide
- Colombian Coffee Region: What To Do With Kids