|There’s barely a tour of Ecuador that doesn’t feature a Saturday morning trip to Otavalo. People don’t come here for colonial architecture or the iguanas. They come to experience the textile market in the wonderfully named Plaza de Ponchos. Every Saturday this square and the surrounding streets are lined with stalls and from about 9am the space fills with Ecuadorian and foreign visitors admiring and haggling for a wall tapestry, a rug, a sweater, a table cloth, a belt, hat or anything else woven from wool or cloth that can be squeezed into a suitcase.
The Otavaleños have been producing fine weavings since before the Incas arrived. They’re not alone in that but more than any other indigenous Ecuadorian group they have organised effectively to control the trade of their products in town and across the world.
It’s not all textiles, you can also visit the animal market which is on Calle Morales adjacent to the Panamericana and starts from sunrise. Then there is the produce market in the Plaza 24 de Mayo.
After all that marketing you might want to get out of Otavalo, maybe after a blackberry juice (jugo de mora) and a spot of lunch. But don’t head straight back to Quito because the surrounding countryside is magnificent. Here’s what you can visit around Otavalo:
Lago de San Pablo
You probably passed it on your way into town from Quito. A beautiful blue lake with a few houses around the shore and Volcan Imbabura towering above. You can walk, cycle or drive around the lake.
If you follow Piedrahita street east out of Otavalo it heads uphill and becomes a path. Follow it over the hill to descend down to the lake, past eucalyptus trees and aloe vera plants.
Lagunas de Mojanda
Three lagoons shaded by rocky mountains 18km out of Otavalo. It’s a wonderful area to stay, walk and ride horses.
Peguche is home to many weavers and other artisans who make musical instruments (flutes and panpipes dominate obviously). You can also walk up to a waterfall near the village. You pay $1 to enter the site. A well-maintained cobbled path winds past eucalyptus trees and emerges at quite a beautiful waterfall. You can follow a path to the top or clamber up to various other viewpoints. Various paths can be followed around the surrounding hillsides and it is also possible to camp for a night. In January 2011 some cabins and toilets had been built by the Ministry of Tourism but not officially opened so the community had no key. Unless this has changed, you’ll have to walk back to the entrance gate to use the super-clean toilets there.
It is 4km to walk to Peguche from Otavalo and is a fairly pleasant walk following the old train line, a good way to acclimatise for a longer walk in the area. At the end the path joins the road and goes uphill a short distance. Follow it left to the village or right to the waterfall.
Agato is 4km north-east of Otavalo. Artisans specialise in fine embroidery and traditional weaving using a back strap loom.
You can also visit the nearby town of Cotacachi where there are many leather shops and the beautiful Laguna Cuicocha which is the access point to Cotacachi-Cayapas National Park and the road into the Intag region.
In Pucará de Curiloma, close to the waterfall of Peguche, is a park where you can walk, enjoy fantastic views of the Valle del Amanecer and see condors, vultures, falcons, eagles, and owls. The aim of the park is to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce various birds of prey (especially the Andean Condor), in their habitat.
Click here to find out Where to Stay or Where to Eat in Otavalo.