Otavalo & North

Ecuador boutique travel - Otavalo tours & north Andes trips

Live cultures and natural wonders

The north Andes of Ecuador and the town of Otavalo are perhaps one of the most fascinating destinations in all of South America. The indigenous communities and their market allow for cultural immersion. The surrounding landscapes are composed of mountain peaks and the Andes corridor with great opportunities for easy mountain climbing, trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding and white water rafting. There are also cloud forests and hot springs nearby.

Otavalo and the artisan market

Otavalo is a largely indigenous town in Imbabura Province, Ecuador, well known for its Saturday market. The town, which is in a valley, is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura, Cotacachi, and Mojanda volcanoes.

The Indians of Otavalo are famous for the weaving of textiles, which has a 4000 year history. The town has an expansive market, and, although main market day is Saturday, in the Plaza del Poncho there are wares available for tourists throughout the week. There are several hotels in colonial buildings and a number of restaurants.

As Otavalo is famous for its textiles, many of the nearby villages and towns are famous for their own particular crafts. Cotacachi, the center of Ecuador's leather industry, is known for its polished calf skins. In San Antonio, where the local specialty is wood carving, the main street prominantly displays carved statues, picture frames, and furniture.

Ibarra the white city

The charming colonial town of Ibarra, 22km northeast of Otavalo, is the provincial capital of Imbabura. The city is only a 2 hour drive from Quito. Many of Ibarra's houses are built in the colonial style and their red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls have given Ibarra the nickname of " The White City".

In Ibarra there are well-preserved parks such as Moncayo Park and La Merced Park. Art exhibitions are displayed in the Catholic University, the Universidad del Norte, the Culture House, and the Colegio de Arquitectos. There are also several museums with archaeological, numismatic, philatelic, and paleontological displays, among others. Ibarra itself has a mild, humid climate, and is set in the midst of orchards and gardens.

Ibarra has a unique blend of students, mestizos, highland Indians and Afro-Ecuadorians from the nearby Valle del Chota, a combination that gives the city an exciting multicultural edge. When you're through relaxing in its leafy plazas, take a stroll around the train station and market area which is always abuzz with interesting activity.

Market day, a bustling local affair, is Saturday, Ibarra has manufactures of cotton and woollen fabrics, hats, sandals (alpargates), sacks and rope from cabuya fibre, laces, sugar and various kinds of distilled spirits and cordials made from the sugar-cane grown in the vicinity.

Afterwards, the local men play pelota de guante, a strange Ecuadorian paddleball game played with a small, soft ball and large, spiked paddies that look like medieval torture implements.

San Clemente community tourism

Located thirty minutes from Ibarra on the slopes of the Imbabura volcano. This is an indigenous community of the Kichwas - Karankis tribe which has developed ecotourism and community tourism as an alternative source of income and preservation of their cultural and natural heritage. Lodging in native homes, food, native guides, aclimatization to the altitude, ascent of the Imbabura volcano, horseback rides to Lake Cubilche, visits to artisan workshops, participation in sporting events, sharing in family life and cultural events.

Condor Park

In Pucará de Curiloma, at an altitude of 2.800 m / 9.350 ft, close to the waterfall of Peguche, and overlooking the lake San Pablo and the city of Otavalo, lies Parque Cóndor. It comprises 17 hectares and can be reached after just a 10-minute drive off the northern leg of the Pan-American Highway.

Its purpose is to protect, to rescue, to rehabilitate and reintroduce vultures (especially the Andean Condor), owls and other birds of prey in their habitat. Also, the park aims to teach people how important environmental impacts are, placing them in their social and cultural contexts by using these birds as an example, since they constitute important environmental indicators and are relevant symbols in the Andean culture.

Parque Cóndor is a site for children aged 5 to 95, who can enjoy walks while admiring the view from above over the entire Valle del Amanecer (Valley of Dawn). You can take your best bird pictures at close range, admire condors, vultures, falcons, eagles, and owls.

Chachimbiro hot springs

Located 50 minutes (45 km/27 miles) northwest of Otavalo and Ibarra, and is between 2.400-3.100 m / 8.000-10.300 ft and has a total of 14 hectares (35 acres) for the implementation of various sub-projects. Geologically, Chachimbiro is on the flanks of the Cotocachi Volcano in the Interandean valley in a zone of transition with access to other life zones, temperate wet forests further west and paramo at higher altitude. The main feature of this location is its excellent hot-springs of volcanic origin.  

Mystic Tourism at Illuman

Traditional medicine, or, as known in tourism terminology, Mystic Tourism, which is born of the cultural and ancestral practices of ethnic groups who see their traditional medicine as means to cure physical and spiritual illnesses. Also known as shamanism, these practices and bodies of knowledge have been passed from generation to generation. With the goal of realizing the potential of the indigenous culture and as a means to rescue their values, in the sector Ilumán and by initiative of the Asociación de Yacchacs de San Juan de Ilumán (Association of Iluman Shamans) has taken the initiative to begin a project to attract visitors to their area. Ilumán, 10 minutes from Otavalo has created  a “Shaman’s House” or Yacchac Huasi in Quechua. This is a strategic site for the demonstration of their ancestral techniques.

Cuicocha crater lake

Known also as the “Lake of the Gods” it is located 12 km Southwest of Cotacachi at 3.068 m / 10.250 ft. It was the maximum sanctuary for the religious cult of the local inhabitants, and it is one of the few provincial crater-lakes.

Cuicocha lake has a scenic lookout point, this is located on the high part of the crater rim around Lake Cuicocha, and from here the panoramic view gives over almost all of the Imbabura Valley: Lago San Pablo, Otavalo, the Mojanda peaks and Atuntaqui.
The lake sports two islands, Teodoro Wolf and Yerovi, separated by the Ensueño canal. This lake is apt for sea-kayaking, powerboat cruises and even high altitude scuba. The lake also has a loop trail, Gorky Campusano, apt for a 4-5 hour fairly strenuous hike.

Peguche weavers and waterfalls

This community is known for its shawls and tapestries. Together with neighboring Agato it remains the only place where they use the backstrap weaving technique.
The Peguche waterfall is found in the prosperous indigenous community of the same name, in this waterfall they have the ceremonial purification ceremonies that begin the Inti Raymi festival. It is surrounded by an interesting and fragrant forest with a mix of eucalyptus and native vegetation. It is a lovely spot for a hike or a picnic.

Chota Valley - Afro-Ecuadorian cultures and traditions

Situated 34 km North of Ibarra and habitated in large part by Afro-Ecuadorians who have many of their own interesting traditions in music and dance. This valley is irrigated by the Chota River which makes the farmland fertile and apt for the cultivation of tropical fruit and the alleviation of rheumatic and arthritic disorders.

The banda mocha is a town band kept alive by the men of the local community. Their specialty consists in interpreting music with natural instruments such as jug bass, whistles made from orange leaves, homemade goatskin drums and so on. The women dance along balancing bottles on their heads showing off their posture and skill.

La Florida Protected Forest

This is primary Andean forest festooned with orchids, ferns, epiphytes and all manner of wildflower, and it is refuge to species threatened with extinction such as the Spectacled Bear, the Condor and others.

Mojanda Lakes

Just 17 km South of Otavalo, these three lakes, Huarmicocha (female lake), Caricocha (male lake) and Yanacocha (black lake), occupy the crater of an extinct volcano and offer abundant trout fishing. The surrounding paramo is covered in bunch grasses and the many ravines and patches of forest are home to many orchids and wild flowers. It is an ideal site for camping.

Nearby is Fuya Fuya volcano which also offers spectacular views and possibilities to summit without technical skills.

El Angel ecological reserve

Ecuador is blessed by this majestic nature reserve located 11km from the town of El Angel. It is located along the volcano chiles, surrounded by several lagoons: El voladero, Potrerillos, carrera vieja and el churo.

This Reservation is part of the National System of Protected Areas. National and foreign tourists are allured by the presence of the frailejón, endemic plant of the region that reaches up to 7 m. of height, which grows in the moorlands in an extension of 15.715 Hec. The existence of flora as: straw, sigses and shrubs  serve as protection to the animals that inhabit this area such as deer, rabbits, rodents, birds, reptiles and a variety of trout in the lakes.

Polylepis Forest - Paper trees and fairytales

This forest is considered to be the only one of its type in the world as it is  millennial and primary composed of polylepis "paper" trees, it is located 13 km from the city of El Angel, 3.300 m.n.s.n. located in the zone of damping within the Ecological Reservation of El Angel. It is located in the area known as the canyon of the colored one. People of the area know these trees as paper role or coloured due to the redish coloration of its crust . Walking through the forest gives the impression of being within a fairy tale just waiting for magical creatures to appear.

Within this forest there is a small hotel that takes the same name of the forest, it offers accommodation services in small cabins with private bath, warm water, chimney, restaurant, bar, game room, sport fishing, ecological walks on foot or on horseback.

This singular place possess a flora and subtropical fauna preserved for centuries, those who visit it can admire its great biodiversity.

Festivals and Traditions of the Andes

Fiesta de la Jora

This is celebrated the second week of September and is an event based on the worship of the solar equinox.
Semana Santa - Holy Week (Easter)

This Christian religious festival where the indigenous actively participate in parades is held Wednesday, Thursday and the night of Good Friday. The most important procession is held on Good Friday at midday. Beyond the religious celebration, here holy week has the particular feature of organized bartering for the different grains and products necessary to produce the traditional dish, fanesca.
Finados – Day of the Dead
Every 2nd day of November, the country pays respect to its dead. Cotacachi has the tradition of children playing with tops in conjunction with this observance.
Inti Raymi Festival
This is celebrated in June and coincides with the summer solstice. It is an expression of the sun cult in which all the indigenous communities participate.
Fiesta del Yamor
This is celebrated the first week of September and draws visitors from around the country and the world who enjoy the many different activities and traditional cuisine along with the traditional drink Chicha de Yamor.
New Year’s Eve 
To say goodbye to the dying year the people of the area have the tradition of creating a joking last will and testament and burning a bonfire of dolls who represent prominent figures or even friends and different anecdotes from the year. The reading of this testament is done in public and kicks off the party where everyone participates.

Historic haciendas

Hacienda Zuleta

Just 16 km from Ibarra, this colonial home was the property of the ex-President of the Republic, Don Galo Plaza Lasso. It is now a productive hacienda in dairy, general grain crops and fish-farming. The construction has Roman, Greek and Doric influences and building was started in the 17th century. It boasts three internal courtyards. In 1916 Don Galo Plaza Lasso’s mother purchased the property and it remains in the family to this day.

The Hacienda boasts a Caranqui archeological site that dates to the 1250-1500 A.D. and here are approximately 300 tolas or mounds spreads out over the valley.

There is also Condor rehabilitation project where this majestic bird is protected and soon will be reintroduced. They breed Condors in captivity as well.

Hacienda Chorlavi

Located just 4 km from Ibarra, its name in Quichua means "Love Nest". Lulled by the cascading Río Amarillo, legend has it that it was the trysting spot for the princess Paccha and the Inca Huaynacapac.

Hacienda Pinsaqui

This centuries-old hacienda holds some of Ecuador’s history. The Pedemonte – Mosquera peace treaty between Ecuador and Colombia was signed here.

Hacienda San Jose

Originally property of the Jesuits, who with Afro-Ecuadorian slave labor produced great quantities of sugar cane. There are hot-springs found in the Hacienda of the same name and are of volcanic origin and have curative powers.

Hacienda Monasterio Cusin

Hacienda Cusin is a restored 17th century Andean estate at 8,500 feet, 90 minutes north of Quito and 20 minutes south from the famous market town of Otavalo. Hacienda Cusin was purchased in Spain in1602 by the prominent Luna family at an auction from Philip II, King of Spain. The estate was comprised of the two valleys of Gualavi and La Rinconada, and all the land between the valleys and the lake. The property amounted to approximately 100,000 acres, held until its division in 1945 and 1964