I must admit I didn’t go into Otavalo, or Ecuador with an open mind. Secretly I wasn’t quite ready to leave Colombia just yet, but our visa was fast expiring and that gave us the little nudge we needed to make the jump. We decided to ease ourselves in, instead of heading straight for Quito, we spent a few nights in what turned out to be one of the most charming little places I’ve ever been. Otavalo.
Theres nothing overwhelmingly different about it. But the people… Oh my God the people! This amazing market town is populated almost exclusively by beautiful Andean Indians (and I’m talking about the men and the women here hubba hubba!)
The women all wearing traditional black skirts, white shirts and gold necklaces with some kind of fedora hat with a long feather in the band, a traditional hair wrap or single braid.
The men wear white linen pants, brown sandles, a black cashmere poncho and their own fedora hat (slightly different from the women’s one) and almost all have a silky, black single braid hair running down their backs.
Even the younger generation, who have a more modern style, still rock the hat and braid combo and it looks amazing.
Basically, they’re all super friendly ridey-pants.
From Salento to Otavalo:
We travelled from Salento in Colombia to Otavalo in Ecuador, read here for the full “How To Guide”.
From Tulcan bus station, you can grab a bus direct to Quito, or like us, to Otavalo. We paid $7.50 for both of us, and it was only a 4 hour drive. Upon arrival to Otavalo the bus will drop you off on the side of a main road. Take the pedestrian bridge to the other side and take a right as you exit the bridge.
It looks dodgy but this street is completely safe. Keep walking straight (around 4 blocks) and you’ll soon arrive to the centre. You’ll notice the string of shops and eventually the Plaza de Los Ponchos, where the markets are held each day.
Accommodation in Otavalo:
There are a number of hostels at reasonable prices. We stayed in the Hostel Runaway Inn for $5 per person. This cheap price includes a private room with private bathroom, a shared Kitchen and Wi-Fi.
The wifi isn’t great in the rooms but it’s not the worst we’ve encountered. But it was definitely the cheapest place we found, and nice and comfy.
Things To Do in Otavalo:
Markets, Camera, Action:
This isn’t your average market, it’s very unique and has all kinds of amazing stuff! Loads of ponchos and jackets, musical instruments of all shapes and sizes, doo-dads and whatcha-macallits galore. We found it hard to not buy everything. Haggle away but we’d recommend visiting as they start to close up (around 4-5pm). This is when they drop the prices dramatically, trying to squeeze in that last minute sale! The vendors were so nice, always polite and not pushy whatsoever.
The market is held everyday from 9-6pm, with the busiest days being Saturdays and Wednesdays. These seem to be the days the tours come in from Quito. It’s worth a mention here that a tour from Quito to Otavalo will run you somewhere around $50 plus whatever you spend on food and at the market. Myself and Katie stayed in Otavalo for 3 nights and spent that between us! Get yourself on a local bus and save about $45. You DO NOT need to do this with a tour.
Every Saturday there is also a live animal market, a big tourist attraction. They sell everything from live stock to domestic pets. I’m glad we weren’t here on a Saturday, Katie would have hounded me to buy a goat.
Just go and stroll around the city. The street lights alone are beautiful to see. People watch, get lost down the little, narrow streets and venture towards the suburbs aka, the mountains. We had no issues and found it a safe place to wander.
3. Bye Bye Miss Otavalian Pie:
On the recommendation of some friends we were told to visit The Pie Shop. And how can we say no to pie?
At the top left corner of the plaza there’s a little shop that is renowned for its fruit pie. One slice between two is enough and at the price of $4 you won’t be disappointed but know that this is bloody expensive for Ecuador standards. We didn’t ask the price beforehand and coughed up $8 for two slices, and then proceeded to have a heartattack. In saying that, it’s a delicious 3inch thick wedge of fruit heaven served with two balls of icecream and condensed milk. YUP. Worth it.
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls:
People travel from as far as Quito on day trips to visit the Peguche Waterfalls and Caves, spending ridiculous amounts of money to do so. There’s nothing hugely mindblowing about these waterfalls but who doesn’t love a good waterfall and a peaceful day. It’s nature. That’s good enough for us.
Busses run from the centre to the waterfalls but in true Ungraceful style, we took the more appealing option, an hour walk. One that definitely didn’t take an hour. Ask any local to direct you towards the Peguche waterfalls, or towards the tracks.
Join the locals, and walk along the railroad tracks, saying hello to every passerby. Watch the elderly farmers walk their livestock ON the tracks and enjoy the company of street dogs. It’s a straight walk, once you stick to the tracks you cannot get lost. As the track eventually veers dramatically to the left, this is where you will need to take a right up along a dirt track and through a cute neighbourhood full of farmlands.
Alternatively, you can keep walking along the tracks and you’ll start to see signs, but thanks to the helpful Otavaleños, we were shown a little shortcut. Soon there will be signs leading you the whole way to the waterfall.
You’ll need to sign on the dotted line at the entry office. Here they ask for a donation, this is optional.
We always suggest bringing a packed lunch but this time, make sure you do. There are small cabin-like miradors facing the waterfall, don’t miss the chance to have lunch by the waterfall.
Take the steps up alongside the right of the waterfall to find another viewing point and a small cave. If it’s hot, there are some hot springs and a natural swimming holes closeby.
You won’t miss the nearby miniature village filled with a large family. You can stay here, partake in Temezcal, fire healing ceremonies or just to grab a bite to eat. Pass through this lil village to find the larger and more adventurous looking rope swing bridge.
We were the only ones on this bridge, and spent way longer than expected just sitting, hanging out and enjoying the sounds, sights and smells of pacha mama. This is a “free” and thoroughly enjoyable day out.
Otavalo is a great introduction to Ecuador. It got me over my “I don’t wanna leave Colombia” slump and got my head back in the game. Even though there’s not loads to do here, I would highly recommend it to anyone.
As always, if there’s anything else you need to know, or if there’s something I missed, please get in touch as we’d love to hear from you.