I am sure you have heard about Otavalo, Ecuador for the Otavalo Market, the biggest in South America. I was about to ignore it as I am not very interested in markets, especially after being in Chichicastenango in Guatemala, a spectacular festival of colors.
To know about Ecuador entry protocol and more about Ecuador in general check out my Ecuador travel guide
Luckily my curiosity took me to search further, and when I googled Otavalo things to do, I realized that there is a whole world beyond the market in Otavalo, ready to be explored.
If you know me, you know already that I am not very fond of organized tours, if it’s not necessary. And in fact, after I read all the things you can do in Otavalo, I immediately searched for hostels and booked 6 nights.
I really didn’t want to miss this opportunity to explore its natural treasures and made sure I had enough time to see everything without rushing it.
While I am writing this, I am in a cute little organic cafe’ in the heart of Otavalo. I have arrived a couple of days ago. I spent the first day working from this cozy cafe’ and the second day, after being in the tourist office and making sure I am covering it all, I have started exploring.
Read also: 25 interesting facts about Ecuador
Here below I will tell you in real time all the things I have been doing so that you can organize your own amazing trip to Otavalo.
Are you ready? Let’s go
THE MOST EXCITING THINGS TO DO IN OTAVALO
EXPLORE THE MARKET
Ok, it’s the most obvious things to do and I put it first so we can get it out of the way and pass on to more interesting stuff.
As I was mentioning I wasn’t thrilled to visit Otavalo Market, first because I am traveling and I am not buying anything, I don’t have space, and I don’t need anything, second because living in Latin America for 8 years I have seen so many markets that I am a little overwhelmed. Besides, I’m not too fond of crowds. So…
However, if you love markets you need to know that the big one is on Saturdays when sellers come from all over the region to showcase their products, mainly textiles but you can also find artisanal objects, and food.
If you don’t make it on a Saturday, worry not, because there is a permanent market, every single day, in the same plaza (Plaza de los ponchos), just in a smaller scale, but you will still find everything they sell on Saturdays.
Since I was there, before heading off to my first touring outside town, I decided to take a walk around and get some shots.
I have to say the products didn’t really impress me but what I really loved was to watch the local elderly ladies selling their own stuff or talking to each other discussing what, I would have loved to know. All dressed up in their traditional outfit. I tried to capture a few of them on my camera.
While some of the stands would pack early around 4.30/5, most of them are still there until late evening, trying to catch the late customers.
VISIT THE PARQUE CONDOR
You know I don’t like to support places that breed wild animals in captivity, but there are exceptions, which is when they do it with the purpose to rescue the less fortunate ones that for many different reasons, would not be able to survive in the wilderness.
This is what Parque Condor does, they rescue any kinds of raptors and give them a home, but not only. Sometimes they make sure they are in the conditions to mate and the help the small ones to get back into their own natural environments.
They also provide educational activities to promote awareness among kids, and adult kids, explaining the importance of respecting nature and why these spectacular birds are so important in the life cycle.
The center is open from Wednesday through Sunday and during these days at 11.30 am and 3.30 pm they have a sort of show, where the founder show some of the species they have, and let them fly, explaining in a funny and entertaining way about their nature, behavior and their life in general and what brought them there.
You hear sad stories of birds that have been shot at or baby ones that have fallen from their nest because we humans have cut the tree where the nest was built. The local authorities and individuals who find the endangered animals bring them there to be healed and taken care of.
After the show, you can walk around and see the beautiful creatures in their own cage, spacious though, where they can still fly, well a little.
I am in love with owls and they have so many spices I have taken thousands of pictures.
Although it’s kind of sad to see them there enclosed, it’s relieving to know that they wouldn’t have made it alive otherwise.
The place is worth visiting also for the spectacular views over Otavalo and the valley.
On the way up the hill, you will also see the lake of San Pablo. It is a spectacular view and I regret that I didn’t ask the taxi driver to stop and let me take a picture.
How to get there
From Otavalo, you need to take a taxi as there are no buses going there. It’s 4.5km but although you are a hiker everybody suggests you shouldn’t walk there as the road it’s not one of the safest places to walk by.
Taxi cost 4$ although on the way up I paid 5. I didn’t want to complain or bargain. So I was ok. But it’s 4$ each way.
Entry fee 4.5 USD (all worth it)
Once you finish your visit you can ask the kind lady at the entrance to call a taxi for you and they will come in 10 minutes.
This is their website for further reading.
WALK TO THE PEGUCHE WATERFALL
Let me know about a waterfall and I am already there. I love them. Besides that I find them so photogenic, I really admire their powerful energy. It’s like they want to remind us how small we are before nature.
Anyway, Peguche was just 45 minutes walk away from town so I decided to make it my first visit.
Then, when I realized it was closed to the Condor Park I thought I would make both visits on the same day. Only later I realized that the road marked in google map was not accessible by car, so the taxi would need to go all the way to Otavalo and you will need to walk from there, but where the taxi drops you off, it will still be closer than if you start off your walk from the center.
It’s only 45 minutes to go and another 45 to go back. If you wish to get a taxi it’s only 2 USD. 45 minutes walk is not so bad but the road to the entrance is everything but charming and you might find some strained dogs that are not particularly friendly. I did it, but I wasn’t really excited about it.
Once you get to the entrance, you will have another 10 minutes walk in the woods to the waterfall and that’s refreshing.
I went on a Saturday and it was quite busy but I am sure if you go on a weekday you might be on your own. I felt quite safe although I was alone, but, as I said, there were quite a few tourists.
If you walk past the mirador (the viewpoint), it’s a steep 5 minutes walk that will take you above the waterfall where some small caves are. That was a little crowded when I was there and I didn’t touch the water but it might be fun to get in if there is no crowd.
The entrance is free and you will find a few local restaurants if you wish to get something to eat or drink.
It’s a short trip that you can do in half a day taking it easy.
VISIT THE MOJANDA LAKE AND WHILE YOU ARE THERE CLIMB THE FUYA FUYA AND THE WATERFALLS OF TAXOPAMBA
Ok, I need to make a confession here. But first I will tell you how to get there, then I will humiliate myself. 🙂
The Mojanda Lake is a spectacular lake surrounded by soft green mountains slopes, located about 40 minutes drive from Otavalo. You will need to get a taxi that would take you there and tell the driver at what time you want to be picked up.
The road is a trip in itself, with spectacular views on the valleys. However it is also quite a bad road to drive, so not every taxi drivers will be happy to take you, and with a good reason. I asked at the hostels where I stayed and they contacted a driver with a pickup car, a great idea.
Once you get there, there is absolutely nothing other than a spectacular view, and a map to understand where you are and a few walking paths.
There you can decide if you wish to climb the Fuya Fuya Mountain or take other roads that take you halfway around the lake and then on to another 2 lakes.
The Fuya Fuya trail must be quite easy and although steep, is short, you can tell by looking at the peak.
Some people bring their tents and camp there which must be wonderful, if you are in a company or you are not afraid to be alone in nature in the darkness (like me).
I arrived there with all the intention to hike the Fuya Fuya I was told it was easy and with no risk to get lost. Ok, I thought, I can do this.
Not a chance.
When I arrived there, I saw that the spectacular place was surrounded by absolutely nothing, especially not a place where I could find refuge in case of extreme cold, or somebody to ask any sort of information, besides, the cold, and I didn’t see any clear path to the top of Fuya Fuya.
I started to question if I should go or not. In the back of my mind, I know already that it was a no. But I wanted to give my proud self the benefit of the doubt while I was finding more solid excuses to give up.
And of course, I found them. What if I finish earlier than the pickup time and I freeze there waiting for my ride to come? what if I get lost? what if I twist my ankle and nobody will be able to see me and help me? What if, What if? and a series of other excuses.
I thought about my cozy little cafe and my laptop waiting for me to write my adventures and edit my pictures, work, and projects and I wanted to be back asap.
So I told the driver to wait for me just half an hour. I went for a walk around the lake and take some shots of the spectacular views and off we left.
He was kind and stopped a couple of times to let me take some shots of the spectacular views and then I was ready to get back to Otavalo but not without checking out the waterfalls of Taxopamba, or so I thought.
Those waterfalls are located at about 6 km from Otavalo, when I asked the guy and from the road down to the waterfall it would have been about 30 minutes walk. Not bad, but he wanted to charge me an extra 10 USD to wait for me.
I decided it was too much but in reality, I just decided that was not a good day for touring around.
All I was thinking was my laptop. Crazy, I know.
There are days like that. What can I say?
HIKE AROUND THE CUICOCHA LAKE
I am writing these things to do in Otavalo in chronological order. In fact, it is the first time I am writing a post in real time. But this one activity should be right on top of the list.
I mean if you only have one day in Otavalo, this is what you should do. In fact, it was such an amazing place and I tell you all about it in my post on how to hike around the Cuicocha lake, for me one of the prettiest lakes in South America.
The Cuicocha Lake is located only 30 minutes from Otavalo and the best part of it is that it’s a very safe hike that you can do on your own.
I did it and hiked all around the lake, 14 km. It’s a long hike but not difficult. And the path is well marked. There is no chance to get lost.
It was a great achievement because I am scared to be in nature alone, but everybody told me it was an easy one and there is not a chance to miss the trail.
So I did it, and I couldn’t have been happier. The views that you get from the path are just breathtaking.
What to bring:
- You need to make sure you bring enough water with you, cause you will need it. I had only 1 liter, and it was really not enough.
- Good shoes, better if hiking shoes, but gym shoes could work.
- Something to eat if you get hungry along the way.
- Sunscreen (I got burned)
For more detailed information on how to get there and how to organize your trip, check out the full post on Cuicocha lake.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF HIKING THE VOLCANO IMBABURA
This is the only tour that requires a certified guide. I did it with EcuadorFace. I don’t have an affiliate relationship with them but the tourist office suggested I should contact them.
I did, they organized my private tour to the Volcano Imbabura as I told them I would walk slow. The private tour costed only 25usd extra. A total of 100 USD.
The guide picked me up at 4 am and off we went.
The hike was challenging for me, especially for some steep parts right by a cliff. And considering that I normally stumble on an asphalted road, I was scared. But everything went well and although I didn’t make it to the highest peak, I was happy with my 4200mt of altitude and the spectacular views.
It took us 4 hours to reach the top and about 3 to get back.
Everything went just fine, and the guide was very knowledgeable. The only couple of negative notes was that we had to wait for 1 hour for our private transfer back despite the guide notified the office of our arrival time. Also, I was supposed to get a lunch box, but I got just a couple of snacks.
Other than that I felt quite safe with the guide and that was the most important thing.
I hope you are now inspire to spend more time in Otavalo and do all the amazing things around this interesting town.
Choose where to stay in Otavalo on this interactive map
FOR FURTHER READING
- The Andean Condor: Ecuador National Animal
- Does it Snow in Ecuador?: Places to Visit and Things to Do in Ecuador in Winter
- Ecuador National Flower: The Flower of the Andes (Chuquiraga jussieui)
- A detailed guide to Mindo Cloud Forest Ecuador
- 20 Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador 
Planning a trip soon? Here are My Recommended
- TRAVEL INSURANCE – Safety Wing or TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER
- BOOK FLIGHTS – Expedia, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and always remember to compare
- BOOK TOURS – GetYourGuide or Viator. Some of their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- HOTELS & HOMES – Booking.com – Expedia – VRBO
- CAR RENTALS: Discover Car Rentals