A few years ago we were lucky enough to stay in Otavalo for a few nights. In my opinion, aside from the Galapagos of course – it’s one of the best places to visit in Ecuador.
Otavalo is a small city of about 31,000 people. It’s one of the more popular spots in Ecuador for westerners to visit. Not only is it friendly but you’ll find there is plenty to do outside of visiting the famous craft market. It’s also an easy drive from Quito and in theory you could visit it as a day trip; I’d suggest staying longer.
We based ourselves in the beautiful Hacienda Pinsaqui, just a short taxi ride from town. The place oozes history – three centuries worth in fact. The hacienda has played host to many important guests over the years including Simón Bolivar – the Venezuelan general who stayed on many occasions while fighting military and political battles.
Although the rooms look formal the feeling around the hacienda is anything but. It’s family run and very friendly. Take a wander around the property – and enjoy the sight of the strutting peacocks. Check out the horses, admire the gardens, grab a book and curl up on a lounge chair in one of the common rooms, pray at the onsite chapel or linger over breakfast. Chances are you won’t want to leave the place.
We tore ourselves away from the hacienda during the day and came back in the late afternoons to relax.
What to do in Otavalo
Fortunately our stay coincided with a Saturday – market day in Otavalo – so there was plenty to see. We started with the animal market as we’d heard it didn’t last for long.
After the animal market we headed over to the food market and then onto the crafts market. The Plaza de Ponchos is where you’ll find a huge assortment of vendors. Look for blankets, ponchos, sweaters, scarves, original paintings, finger puppets, woven mats and more. I came home with three prints that sit framed in my front hall.
On another day we split up. Four of us headed out on mountain bikes for the day and three headed off to go horseback riding.
Going mountain biking in Otavalo – at altitude.
We left town on cobblestone roads – always an assault on the back end – and headed up. Otavalo sits at an elevation of 2,550 metres (8,370 feet) so climbing is really hard work. And that is what we did for quite some time.
We finally reached Parque Condor – a Dutch owned foundation that rehabilitates raptors. The assortment of owls, eagles, hawks, falcons and even the Andean condor was something to see. Even if you don’t cycle here, this place is well worth driving up to visit.
Somehow we came upon a swing next – something the guys had to try out. It was akin to a zipline as you sat on a seat and took off down the hill – with a tire at the end to stop you. No brakes. Nothing safe about this but the guys had fun.
After these stops we continued onto a nearby lake – getting chased by snapping dogs a few times along the way. We found a lovely looking restaurant right beside the lake and sat down to eat. We were all famished by now and in need of a rest.
Two hours later we got up – with our order still not taken. Very, very weird with lots of promises but no action.
Fortunately the cycle back to Otavalo was more downhill than uphill and in less than an hour we were standing outside an ice cream shop. All was good in the world again.
If we’d had more time in Otavalo I would have loved to have walked the hills. There are tours you can arrange in town and there are literally days of walking possible.