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Otavalo

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Andean Highlands : Otavalo
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Otavalo with the Imbabura Volcano in the background

Otavalo is a small town in Ecuador.

Get in

Plaza in Otavalo

Otavalo is approximately 2 hours north of Quito on the Pan American highway. Buses disembark at a small bus terminal northeast in town along Calle Atahualpa & Jacinto Collahuazo and leave for Quito every 10 minutes.


If you come from Tulcan busses will probably drop you off at the Pan American highway, it's only a 10 minute walk to the center from there.

The Otavalo/Las Lagos bus company will drop you off at the bus terminal in Otavalo.

There is a small bus terminal northeast in town along calle Atahualpa & Jacinto Collahuazo and busses leave for Quito (2,5 hours) every 10 minutes.

Get around

Taxies will take you anywhere within town for USD 1.

See

  • Every Saturday there is a Mercado Artesanal in Plaza de Poncho on calle Sucre y Salinas where indigenous people come from far and wide to sell their handicrafts to tourists. Although Saturday is the main market day, purchasing handicrafts on any other day is possible and a far less hectic experience. If you want something more authentic, try the food market Mercado 24 de Mayo, it's the best place to buy pig's heads or intestines. There is also an animal market Mercado de Animales northwest of town across the panamaricana and a cockfight on Saturdays.

Peguche Waterfall Situated at 3 km from Otavalo; is a beautiful fall with a hight of 18 m; is formed by the waters from the Peguche river, that starts in the San Pablo lake. After the waterfall the river takes the name of Jatun Yacu or Big Water.This is a sacred place for the Indians, for one of the characteristics of the Indian culture is their close relationship with nature, specially mountains, water, trees, which inspired stories, myths and legends, rites and festivities. The lagoons, the cascades, the slopes of water are places loaded with powers where the natives carry out ritual baths of purification or pacts with the spirit of the place to get force and energy for the rituals and tests of force of the Inti Raymi (part of San Juan festivities, June 21).

Imbabura Mountain This mountain of 4610 mts altitude is located 60 km north of Quito, near Otavalo and the San Pablo Lake. The tradition attributes him the paternity of the indigenous people and culture, the "Taita” (father) as they call him, is the protector of the Indians, symbol of hardness and virility; crops and good time are dependent on him. In dry seasons or when the rains keep away the communities carry out rituals in the hill or in the sacred places like the Rumihuantuk, to call his aid. In these ceremonial acts take place the Huaccha caray (poor gifts) wich consists in collecting food of all the families: this food is blessed by the Yachac or shamán, then it is shared by all people in the sacred place, while they pray and request God and the taita Imbabura for water.

San Pablo Lake 3.5 km southeast from the center of Otavalo. Lies at the feet of the Imbabura volcano and occupies a tectonic hole of 4 km long for approximately 3 km wide. It is one of the most visited lakes in Ecuador. Imbacucha and Chicapán are Kichwa names given to the lake. Chicapán is the oldest archaic name. The lake is worshipped by the inhabitants and the natives of the different communities of the surroundings. There are also some old legends that explain the mythical origin of the lake.

The Cayambe It is an imposing extinct volcano, the third higher mountain of Ecuador and the highest point in the planet crossed by the equatorial line. He is located approximately 65 km northeast of Quito and 60 km southeast of Otavalo; in clear days his summit, eternally covered with snow, is perfectly visible from several points of the northern region. For the indigenous culture, and due to his location and his form, the Cayambe constituted an important astronomical reference and an exact agricultural calendar. The old people considered the mountain as the center of the Universe and time.

Cotacachi Mountain This mountain occupies the position N° 11 among the giants from Ecuador with a height 4.939 meters. Seated on the western mountain range, 18 km. of Otavalo, she is part of the Ecological Cotacachi Cayapas protected area. For the natives this mountain is a woman whose name is: Maria Isabel Nieves Cotacachi; there are many legends relative to her love with the “taita” Imbabura. It is a mountain of medium difficulty, compound mainly of rock and in her final part rock and snow. It is an active volcano although one doesn't know historical data on recent eruptions; the crater is located towards the western side. In her base she possesses extensive moor regions and in her western flanks she connects with extensive moor areas, lagoons and cloudy forest.

Cuicocha Lake It is located 14 km. from Otavalo. It is a deep volcanic crater of 4 km. long for 3 km. wide. In the center of this lake are three domes of volcanic rock that conform two islands covered with vegetation and separated by a water channel, called “channel of the dreams". This volcano shows small activity signs that are visible when you go in the boat around the islands. Her name derives from a pre-inca language: "Tsui cocha" or "lagoon of the gods." Around this lagoon there is a path for a four hour walk, and from here also start the access road to the Cotacachi Mountain.

Chachimbiro On the skirts of the Cotacachi Volcano exists an oasis of green nature; in there lies Chachimbiro, located at 45 minutes of Otavalo, a wonderful place of the province of Imbabura which nature reserved for the health and well-being of you and your family. The thermal waters of Chachimbiro are of volcanic origin with temperatures of 45 and 55 grades. Their chemical composition presents a high level of chlorides and iron, magnesium, copper, sulfur among other minerals. The water acts as a purgative stimulant of the cardiovascular system and has anti inflammatory effects in case of traumatism, neuralgias and artritis; it also has a diuretic effect and stimulates the central nervous system. And, last but not least, Chachimbiro has all the accomodities you need to stay and feel happy.

Do

  • Do not only come for the Saturday Market, there are too many things to see and do around Otavalo for just 1 day. See below.

Buy

Mercado Artesanal

You might have a better chance to do your shopping if you arrive early, as early morning good luck sales are valuable here, and vendors seem to become less interested in the mid afternoon. Check out the prices in nearby shops before buying on the market too, as surprisingly, they are often better value.

Typical market products: [1] Article about the market: [2]

Eat

  • When you are at the Saturday Market, eat at the Pie Shop. They specialize in HUGE hamburgers and sandwiches on hamburger buns. For dessert, have a slice of delicious and fresh pie. Depending on the day, they make strawberry, blackberry, pumpkin, apple, and chocolate cream pie. This renowned restaurant is a mixing pot for travelers from all over the world.
  • Arbol de Montalvo Restaurant, Juan Montalvo 4-44 and Bolivar (in the back of Hostal Doña Esther), 06-2920739, [3]. 18-21 weekends all day. Mediterranean styled food with a personal touch, using the local ingredients. We also serve typical Ecuadorian dishes and the pizzas are famous in town, made in a wood-burning oven. Safe water and organic vegetables. average $ 7.00.


Drink

Sleep

  • Hotel Riviera Sucre, Hotel Riviera Sucre, García Moreno 3-80 y Roca, 06-2-920-241 (rivierasucre@hotmail.com). Has nice colourful yard with water fountain. A singlebed cost $15. Excellent service, beautiful rooms and gardens with huminbirds.The Hotel Riviera-Sucre is located in beautiful and historic Otavalo, Ecuador.Its beautiful Colonial architecture includes a stone water fountain and three courtyards in which to sit, read or write or enjoy the sun.It also features a library with a book exchange as well two inviting fireplaces to warm the spirit. The hotel is the oldest in Otavalo yet offers modern conveniences.




  • Hacienda Cusin, San Pablo del Lago, Imbabura, 6-291-8013. Restored 17th century estate 20 minutes south of Otavalo by taxi ($5). Excellent service, beautiful rooms and gardens, great food. World known Hacienda Cusin offers horseback riding, massages, Spanish lessons, and lots more. Rooms start at $75. Wonderful!
  • Hostal Doña Esther, Juan Montalvo 4-44 and Bolívar, 06-2920739. Checkin 13.00 checkout 12.00. Double room with private bathroom $ 36. Located near the Central Park and the Saturday market, Doña Esther is a colonial style, small and cosy hotel. All rooms are situated around a green inner court yard. The restaurant serves excellent food in Mediterranean style with a personal touch, using the local ingredients.
  • El Rancho (Indigenous Homestay), 8 Barrio Rancho Chico, Ilumán (Get off the Iluman bus from Otavalo (18c) at the Barrio Rancho Chico sign.), 0979 80742, 2946 092, [4]. checkin: any time; checkout: any time. El Rancho is a large family home in Ilumàn, a village with a 100strong shaman´s association. It is 6 km outside Otavalo, which takes 15mins on a bus, and buses run every 15 mins. The warm and very friendly family are indigenous Otavaliños who have lived here for generations and sold jewelery and weaving on the market for 15 years. Esthela is a great cook of platos typicos, and usually prepares fresh food picked from the gardens of her nearby family. The views of Volan Cotacachi (4961m) from the huge roof balcony are amazing[5], and Imbabura (4610m) is directly behind the house. It´s a great place for hikers, birdwatchers, or language learners. USD 5-15. (0.2705373247971191,-78.23432922363281)

Cuicocha Lake West of Otavalo at the base of Volcan Cotacachi and near Cotacachi Village. It is an eco reserve, with a lake in the crater of the volcano. Very pretty, with a lovely, but reasonably long, day walk around. Great views to Volcan Imbabura and Otavalo can be seen from there. To get there take a taxi to Cotacachi village, or take the bus from Otavalo terminal(20c), then hire a taxi from there.

  • La Posada del Quinde, Calle Quito con M. Egas (Five blocks from the Plaza de Ponchos), 593 6 2920750 (), [6]. checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12AM. A bed and breakfast, previously known as Hotel Ali Shungu, is spoken of favourably by guests. Email reservations are accepted. 60/double.

Cotacachi Village

Each of the small villages around Otavalo and Ibarra general specialise in a particular craft. Cotacachi specialises in leather goods.


Ibarra

A local speciality is Helados de Paila, or sorbet icecream. With beautiful fruit used to make the sorbet, it is a must for any visitor.


Ilumàn

Amazing walking, and a much quieter pace of life just a 15 minute bus ride from touristy Otavalo. This indigenous village is truly charming. There are over 100 shamans in Ilumàn´s shaman´s association. They are famous for two types of work, one traditional botanical medicine, and more spiritual advice. The bus from Otavalo goes every 15 minutes from the terminal, and costs 18c.


Other Villages

There are a large number of villages surrounding Otavalo, Ibarra, and Cotacachi. Each village tends to specialise in the manufacture of a one particular good, from the rugs, to Panama hats, to bronze busts.




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