Looking for the best things to do in Otavalo, Ecuador?
Nestled amid the lush, green volcanic Andes of northern Ecuador, Otavalo offers a variety of outdoor activities for nature lovers. But that’s not all.
It also boasts a rich indigenous culture, delicious food, and South America’s largest outdoor indigenous artisan market. In this article, we’ll be looking at the 22 best things to do in Otavalo, Ecuador in 2022.
Best Things To Do In Otavalo 2022
We truly loved our trip to Otavalo and wish we could have stayed longer. There is so much to do in and around this quaint town, but here are the 22 activities we enjoyed the most.
1. The Otavalo Market at Plaza de Ponchos
Otavalo is best known for its textile industry. The local indigenous Otavaleños are expert clothing makers, see for yourself at the famous Plaza de Ponchos. This enormous town square is the site of the largest indigenous artisan market in South America.
It’s filled to the brim with vendors selling handmade pants, shirts, blankets, shawls, scarves, ponchos, and more. Aside from clothes, you can also find art, ornaments, fresh produce, and even Andean musical instruments!
It’s open every day from 7 am to 6 pm, but the busiest days are Saturday and Wednesday. Expect to haggle on the prices for everything, as all quoted prices will include what some jokingly refer to as the “gringo tax.”
2. Visit the Peguche Waterfalls
Just 3 kilometers from Plaza de Ponchos, you will find a nature preserve with trails that wind through a forest of eucalyptus trees and lead to the beautiful Peguche waterfalls. The main waterfall is 30 meters (98 feet) tall. Above it, there’s another 6-meter-tall (20 feet) waterfall.
At the upper waterfall, there’s a short tunnel you can crawl through to come to a cave. (Not for the claustrophobic, and best to avoid if you have back or knee problems.) The park also has a pool and a campground ($1 USD/person for tent camping, $5/person to rent a cabin that sleeps four).
Outside the entrance, there’s a small marketplace and some restaurants. You can get there either by foot (it’s a 40-minute walk), or by taxi or bus (approx. 5 minutes). You can catch the bus at the bus terminal on Avenida Atahualpa.
👉 BONUS: Find the “Hidden” Earthen Sculptures
From the main road, there are several paths to Peguche. One is a dirt trail that goes behind a vehicle impound lot. If you take it, you’ll pass by some very cool sculptures that were carved out of the earthen mounds along the trail.
This map shows their location, as well as two possible routes from Plaza de Ponchos to Peguche:
3. See Rescued Birds of Prey at Parque Cóndor
Located a short distance from the center of Otavalo is Parque Cóndor. It’s a rescue site for birds of prey such as the Andean Condor, Ecuador’s national symbol.
The site offers a beautiful 360° view of the Imbabura volcano and the Cotacachi volcano, among others.
There are free flight demonstrations at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (in Spanish). All of the birds at the facility were rescued from abusive or illegal owners, they were never taken directly from nature.
Park hours are 9:30 am to 5 pm Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children (free for children under 2). To get there from Otavalo, I recommend taking a taxi ($4 or $5 from the center).
4. El Lechero Scenic Viewpoint
At the top of this hill, there was a very large and ancient tree known as “el Lechero”. This tree was sacred to the local indigenous people. Sadly, in early 2020, the tree was mostly destroyed by strong winds.
However, the hilltop still provides a majestic view of Lake San Pablo, Otavalo, and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes. It’s worth visiting and can be a stop on your way to or from Parque Cóndor.
The best way to get there is by taxi. It should cost around $4, but if you’re going to Parque Cóndor, you can negotiate a deal for both sites.
5. Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología
The archeological museum at the Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología showcases a large number of artifacts of archeological and ethnographic interest.
There are ceramics and other remains of the cultures that inhabited the northern Ecuadorian mountains. These items date from pre-Columbian times (some even pre-Christian) up through the ages of conquests by the Incas and later the Spanish.
The museum is located at the University of Otavalo, a short 10-minute walk from the Plaza de Ponchos. Admission is just $1.
6. The Otavalango Living Museum
In 2011, twenty Otavalo Kichwa families took ownership of the San Pedro factory. They became the first indigenous owners of a textile factory which for 200 years had exploited indigenous labor. They then converted it into a museum.
But rather than displaying only ancient artifacts (which it does have), this “living museum” also showcases elements of the Otavalo Kichwa people’s folklore, such as music, ceremonies, and clothesmaking. So be sure to pay a visit to learn about the local indigenous culture.=
The museum is only 5 minutes from the city center by taxi ($1.50), and admission is $5 for adults. For more information, photos, and videos, visit the English-language version of their website.
7. Simon Bolivar Park
A trip to any Spanish colonial town is never complete without a visit to the main square. Otavalo’s square is just a few blocks from the Plaza de Ponchos. Here you can visit Otavalo’s oldest church, a beautiful red-brick building.
It’s a great spot for people-watching. You could grab a coffee, hot chocolate, or beer at Daily Grind, the plaza-facing coffee shop at the corner to the right of the church.
Take a seat at the cafe itself or on one of the plaza’s benches and watch the locals and tourists as they pass.
8. People Watching
Part of Otavalo’s charm is its locals, the otavaleños. The indigenous culture here is very much alive. The town is full of men and women wearing exquisite traditional clothes: blouses, shawls, skirts, jewelry, ponchos, hats, and more.
Whether wandering aimlessly through the streets and enjoying the quaint architecture or sipping drinks at a cafe or restaurant, you’re sure to admire the otavaleños all around you.
9. Street Art/Graffiti
Another aspect of Otavalo that I find particularly charming is the amount of street art and murals that you’ll find in random places. It’s not only in the city center, either. It’s all around.
As you walk through the city, keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful murals you’ll be sure to encounter.
10. Free Otavalo Walking Tour
If you’d like to learn about the places you’re seeing as you meander around town, consider taking a walking tour.
There’s a free tour offered by a company called Aya Huma that lasts 2 hours and takes you through different neighborhoods, showing you art, architecture, and marketplaces. It teaches you about the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of Otavalo.
Although the tour is free, if you enjoy it, please do give your guide a donation to show your appreciation.
11. Cuicocha Lake
The most popular lake to explore in the area is Cuicocha Lake, a large crater lake with two islands in the middle.
A 14-km trail runs the length of the crater’s rim. It’s about a 5-hour hike with no need for a guide, and you’ll be in constant awe of the beautiful scenery.
By the parking lot, there are restaurants and shops, and you can even take a boat ride onto the lake. However, if you plan on hiking the full trail, be sure to bring food and plenty of water with you. Also, bring sunblock and rain gear in case the weather turns on you.
To get there, take a bus from the Otavalo bus terminal to Quiroga. Tell the bus driver to let you off where you can catch a taxi to Cuicocha Lake.
The whole journey should take less than an hour, and if you’re doing the full hike, arrange for your driver to pick you up in 5 or 6 hours.
12. Hike Mojanda Lakes and Fuya Fuya Mountain
Nearly an hour’s drive south of Otavalo, high in the páramo (an ecosystem unique to parts of Central and South America), are the Mojanda Lakes. These three beautiful volcanic crater lakes are all quite large.
Nearby is the inactive volcano Fuya Fuya. A steep trail takes you to the top for impressive views of the surrounding lakes and volcanoes. You can spend hours walking around the main lake and Fuya Fuya, or even days exploring all three lakes—after you adjust to the altitude!
To get there, take a taxi from Otavalo or ask at your hotel about hiring a 4×4. It should cost you around $30 roundtrip and you’ll want to tell them when to pick you up.
However, this area is remote, easy to get lost in, and very cold, so I recommend booking a tour—and dressing warmly.
13. Lake San Pablo
The nearest, and largest, of the several lakes in the Otavalo area is Lake San Pablo. This huge lake lies at the base of the Imbabura volcano, offering one of the best views of the mountain.
You can take a 15-20 minute taxi ride from Otavalo to Puerto Lago, a hotel with a restaurant overlooking the lake. It’s a great place to take in the scenery of the lake and Imbabura while you enjoy food or drinks.
You could also take a taxi to the Cachiviro Otavalo pier, slightly farther away than the hotel. From there, you can take a boat ride on the lake or rent a kayak. There are also small cafes and shops you can check out.
14. Hike Imbabura
The Imbabura province where Otavalo is located takes its name from this great inactive volcano. The indigenous Otavalo people consider it their protector.
It’s considered the perfect hike for acclimatizing before scaling Ecuador’s taller peaks. As with Mojanda Lakes and Fuya Fuya Mountain, I highly recommend booking a tour with Equator Face rather than going alone.
15. Breakfast at Sabor Vazco
Otavalo’s food scene is worth a mention on its own, so the next few items on the list are dedicated to it. For breakfast, be sure to visit one of the two locations of Sabor Vazco. One of them is a block from Plaza de Ponchos.
It’s slightly more expensive than some other restaurants. But when you see the enormous mountain of food on your table, you’ll understand why.
Pro-tip: Order the Desayuno Vazco. For $6, you’ll get a cappuccino, orange juice, an omelet, a fruit and yogurt parfait with granola, and a pretty big cheese sandwich, with butter and jelly on the side. Eat everything but the sandwich, wrap it up and bring it on one of your hikes with you.
16. Lunch at El Auténtico Yamor
You cannot leave Otavalo without trying its traditional food. For that, there’s one place to go: El Auténtico Yamor. It’s named for the traditional Otavalan chicha del Yamor, a drink made from 7 types of corn, cooked for 12 hours, and then lightly fermented in oak barrels.
The original owner, Yolanda Cabrera, passed away in 2021 after more than four decades of preparing the drink and traditional food. She catered to locals and even ex-presidents and celebrities of Ecuador! Her daughter, Ana Albuja, now continues the tradition.
The restaurant opens at 12:30 pm, making it a great place for lunch. A cup of chicha costs $0.50, and the plates of food cost $2.50, $3, or $4. They all have the same items (fried pork, corn, and potato-based dishes, empanadas, and salad), but different portion sizes are available.
17. Dinner at Quinde Bistro
Quinde Bistro is a 5th-floor rooftop restaurant overlooking the Plaza de Ponchos. It offers delicious local and international food, as well as the best view of the market in the whole plaza.
It’s a great spot to come for dinner and drinks as you watch the marketplace below wind down for the evening, and the sky slowly darkens over the mountains. If you’re lucky you might catch a live performance of local Andean music too!
Try the locro, a creamy soup made with potatoes and cheese. It’s an Ecuadorian tradition and a delightful one at that!
18. Enjoy Ecuadorian Chocolate at Yumbo’s
I’m a chocolate fiend. Fortunately, Ecuador is known for high-quality chocolate. If you too are a lover of this Mesoamerican “food of the gods,” then you need to make a stop at Yumbo’s.
This chocolate shop and cafe belongs to an artisanal chocolate producer based in Mindo, Ecuador. They also have stores in Quito and Cotacachi, but the newest one is in Otavalo.
You can sample their delicious chocolates. You can also purchase chocolate bars or drink hot chocolate, coffee, or wine. They even serve food, both savory and sweet.
19. Festival del Yamor
If you’re in town during the first two weeks of September, you’re in for a treat: the Festival del Yamor.
It’s a celebration honoring the seven types of corn used to make the chicha del Yamor mentioned above. It’s also a show of devotion to Otavalo’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary.
The festival is a joyous time of music, dancing in the streets, and the sharing of local traditions. There are numerous events, such as concerts, fireworks displays, beauty pageants, and many more.
20. Inti Raymi Festival
During late June, usually beginning with the solstice, Otavalo comes alive as it celebrates the Inti Raymi festival. One of the biggest and most important festivals for Andean cultures, Inti Raymi celebrates the sun and gives thanks to the earth for the recent harvest.
Much like the Festival del Yamor, this festival is celebrated with lots of music, dancing, and events, including the “Taking of the Chapel.” The dancers, musicians, and other townspeople fill the streets as they head to “take over” the San Juan Church Plaza with their song and dance.
It’s a remarkable celebration to witness. Just remember to be respectful if you’re there. This celebration is not commercial, it’s still very much sacred to the people.
21. Take a Day Trip to Las Lajas Sanctuary Colombia
If the Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia isn’t already on your travel bucket list, it needs to be. This neo-Gothic church built into a deep river canyon is widely considered to be among the world’s most beautiful churches, both for the temple itself and its natural setting.
From Otavalo, it’s only a 3-hour bus ride to Tulcán and a short taxi drive to the border. After crossing the border, take another taxi to the church.
It’s actually more accessible from Ecuador than from most of the usual tourist cities in Colombia, and it’s free to enter!
Be sure to read my complete Las Lajas Sanctuary travel guide. You’ll see just how easily you can make a day trip there. And either on your way there or on the way back, you should make a stop at the next site on our list, the Tulcán Cemetery.
22. Tulcán Cemetery (Ecuador)
On the Ecuadorian side of the border, in the city of Tulcán, is a cemetery unlike any other. What makes it unique? A former caretaker, José María Azael Franco, one day decided to shape its tall cypress trees into various forms.
Today, there are numerous large topiaries of Incan, Ecuadorian, and other art styles, as well as animal figures. These figures loom large everywhere you look, brightening up what would otherwise be a somber environment.
You can get there easily by taking a bus from the Otavalo bus terminal to Tulcán ($5). From there, it’s just a short taxi ride to the cemetery. A visit here pairs well with the Las Lajas Sanctuary mentioned above to make a day trip you’ll never forget!
Brush Up On Your Spanish
In Otavalo, as is the case in most cities and towns in Ecuador, you won’t find too many people who speak English. So it’s a good idea to start polishing your Spanish. Use an app or pay for private classes if you need to.
If you’ve got no Spanish ability and no time to learn, don’t worry! You can get by with Google Translate on your phone. At hostels and restaurants, if you feel panicky, there will be tourists around who likely speak at least some Spanish.
But at the very least, you can help yourself by learning some basic phrases. Why not start with different ways to say “nice to meet you” in Spanish?
How Many Days Do You Need In Otavalo?
If you wanted to do all of the activities on this list, I would say to give yourself 7 days. Maybe even 8 or 9 if, like me, you find it stressful to do 10,000 things in one day.
Regardless, many of these activities can indeed be planned for the same day, even at a relaxed pace.
I would say that a 4-day trip to Otavalo is enough if you’re not doing everything on the list. (But allow me to stress one more time the importance of making a day trip to Las Lajas Sanctuary in Colombia!)
How To Get Around Otavalo
Otavalo is a small city, and much of what you’ll be doing is in and around the city center, so the primary way to get around is on foot.
For longer trips, or if you’re tired of walking, you can catch taxis or buses around the city. Both are plentiful.
For even longer trips, you’ll take intercity buses from the Otavalo bus terminal.
Where To Stay In Otavalo
Being such a popular tourist destination, Otavalo has many wonderful places to stay for all budget levels.
My wife and I stayed in an Airbnb. It was a cozy cabin that we had all to ourselves. It was fully furnished in the traditional rustic fashion, with a fireplace, terrace, and amazing views over the Andes. Our host was very welcoming and friendly, too.
If you want to treat yourself to more upscale accommodation, I recommend Hotel Otavalo. This hotel is located near Otavalo’s city center, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lake below.
👉 Budget-Friendly Option: AirBnb – Cosy Cabin
👉 Mid-Range Option: Hotel Otavalo
The Wrap-Up: Things To Do In Otavalo 2022
If you’re going to be in Otavalo, rest assured you won’t be bored. Although you may have only heard about the famous Saturday market, there are countless activities both in the city center and surrounding areas.
So now that you’re armed with this list of 22 amazing things to do in Otavalo in 2022, you’re ready to plan your itinerary. And get excited, because you’re sure to have an unforgettable vacation.
Huge thank you to Scott Bihorel Yañez for writing this post for us. Although we have been to Otavalo and LOVED every second, Scott is the expert! Thanks, Scott!