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Otavalo: One Of The Best Places To Visit In Ecuador

Otavalo: One of the Best Places to Visit in Ecuador

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.

"Outside of Hacienda Pinsaqui"

Outside of Hacienda Pinsaqui

"The living room of Hacienda Pinsaqui"

The living room of Hacienda Pinsaqui

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.

"Local musicians playing at the Hacienda Pinsaqui"

Local musicians playing at the Hacienda Pinsaqui

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.

"I think you could call these free range pigs"

I think you could call these free range pigs

"A handsome woman with her pig for sale"

A handsome woman with her pig for sale

"How to carry a sheep home"

How to carry a sheep home

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.

"Which colour of drink would you try?"

Which colour of drink would you try?

"Corn in various forms for sale"

Corn in various forms for sale

"Fresh mangoes galore"

Fresh mangoes galore

"My friend Jo trying on a hat"

My friend Jo trying on a hat

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.

"My son sucking wind as he heads up; my friend in the back walking this hill"

My son sucking wind as he heads up; my friend in the back walking this hill

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.

"Andean condor at Parque Condor above Otavalo"

Andean condor at Parque Condor above Otavalo

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.

"John on a zip - swing ready to take off"

John on a zip – swing ready to take off

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.

How about you – would you call Otavalo one of the best places to visit in Ecuador?

Photo credit: Pinsaqui living room, band playing, Outside of Pinsaqui, condor

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 22 Comments
  1. I can see it might be hard to tear yourself away from Hacienda Pinsaqui — looks lovely. So much to do and see in the area. I haven’t been to Ecuador, but Otavalo seems like a great place to visit. I’ve heard other stories of visits to Ecuador, but this sounds the most enjoyable.

  2. We stopped by here on a day trip – it looked like a great spot to spend some time. Glad you had a chance to check it out a bit and share your stories. I’d second your recommendation to spend time here!

  3. Otavalo sure looks like a great place to visit. That living area looks so cozy. As for the drink I’d try the red one 🙂

  4. I would love to spend some time here especially at the markets. Despite being a small town, it sure had a lot to offer visitors including that charming hotel. Mangoes are my absolute favorite fruits and seeing those is making me salivate. I’ve never been to Ecuador but if I did, this would definitely be worth spending some time in.

  5. I’d never heard of Otavalo but it definitely looks and sounds like the perfect place to visit.
    Love the market — I’d take a red drink. And I’d try that zipline thingy too, even without brakes.
    Wonder what happened to your order.

  6. I want to get to Otavalo. Robin Slater of Quito-based Sangay Touring did a guest post for us on the craft market a few years ago. I fell in love. A month later, a friend was heading the Ecuador with a stop in Otavalo. I showed her the photo of the woven purse I wanted and she brought it back- so I have a piece of Otavalo, but I want to see it for myself. Thanks for bringing it alive.

    1. @Billie There are such lovely things at such affordable prices to buy at the crafts market. Wonderful that you were able to get exactly what you wanted. I love supporting locals at markets like these and then looking at the pieces at home brings pleasure for years to come.

  7. I really wish we would have had more time in Otavalo. We were just there for the market and a very quick tour. A mountain bike ride there would have been incredible.

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