10 reasons to explore the Otavalo area
Everyone comes to visit this corner of the Ecuadorian northern Andes to witness a town turn into a marketplace, where all the typical Andean wares are on show on the streets and, namely, at the main square, for everyone to see and purchase. It is certainly the main reason to visit. However, only coming for this would truly mean you’re missing out on many things that make the Otavalo area one of Ecuador’s prime tourist attractions.
These are just 10 more reasons to stay longer.
1 A harvest festival
Celebrated in early September to mark the end of the corn harvest, Yamor is a festivity that combines Catholic faith with delicious (and copious) food and drink. With its origins back in 1953, the festival involves a parade of religious icons, the election of a carnival queen, dancing and music. But the key ingredient is the yamor itself: a ‘chicha’ or fermented-corn beverage made of seven different types of corn, including a colourful mix of chulpi, morocho, black corn, yellow corn and popcorn, crushed and boiled to create an alcoholic drink. And it wouldn’t be a fiesta without food, with empanadas, mote and pork by the plateful.
2 Ancient weaving techniques
Although much of what is sold at the poncho market is assembly-line-style, machine-produced fare, there are several sites in the nearby Otavalo area that give you a peek at ancestral and traditional weaving: the Colonial wooden looms and pre-Columbian backstrap looms responsible for some of the most exquisite Andean tapestries, sweaters and ponchos. In the village of Ataco, find Miguel Andrango’s Tahuantinsuyo workshop, where he’ll show you his backstrap loom and natural dyes, or visit Peguche Wasi, in the town of Peguche, where José Farinango Lema has created a very interesting museum that showcases the fascinating Andean weaving culture.
3 Lakes and mountains (including a “guinea pig lake”)
The province of Imbabura, where Otavalo is located, is a veritable land of lakes. The most accessible lake is beautiful San Pablo, right of the main highway, where you can eat at the very edge of the water or take a boat ride with the beautiful backdrop of Mount Imbabura… You can also discover high páramo lakes at Mojanda, and climb Mount Fuya Fuya, one of Ecuador’s easiest peaks to reach. You can also visit stunning Cuicocha, the “Guinea Pig Lake”, with forest trails and boat rides around the crater’s central islets…
Some 15 minutes north of Otavalo by car takes you to the small village of San Antonio de Ibarra, which specializes in woodcarving. Discover the talent of woodcarvers and find all kinds of sculptures at the many workshops located along the main square and throughout the town’s main streets.
The town of Cotacachi has dedicated itself to becoming the leather capital of Ecuador. Wall-to-wall leather goods stores line Calle 10 de Agosto, and you can find excellent quality leather bags, jackets, belts and more at excellent prices.
To the southeast of Otavalo spreads the wonderful Zuleta valley, known for its stately hacienda, which we recommend you to, at least, take a time to visit, if not overnight. The village is known for its fine embroidery, which colorfully decorates shirts, blouses, (even shoes) and other textiles. The cheese here is also excellent!
Condors are few and far between these days and actually seeing one is quite difficult, but you can head out to Otavalo’s Condor Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center for birds of prey that apart from showcasing condors, also houses amazing eagles (including the great Harpy Eagle), numerous owl species, falcons, and more… offering a great falconry show you mustn´t miss at 11 am.
8 A sacred waterfall
The Peguche waterfall is a beautiful natural site to behold, a place where the locals come for cleansing rituals and visitors can picnic, with nearby caves and nature walks in the area.
9 Excellent food and chicha
Otavalo is known for its grain diversity, as well as many different species of corn (cobs come in every color from red, purple and black to salmon pink). Delicious corn soup, known as chuchuca, fava beans, “red meat” (delicious pork) and for the adventurous, crispy guinea pig, an exotic classic of the region.
10 The train
Otavalo has recently revamped its train station and railway connection to the cities of Ibarra and Salinas, a wonderful train ride that meanders through mountains and tunnels to the northern transects of the country, towards the first Afro-Ecuadorian communities of the Andes! A journey not to be missed!