Otavalo is a small town, located in the north of Ecuador. Surrounded by a beautiful environment of mountains, volcanoes and lakes, but still an unknown place in Ecuador among tourists. However, the locals know where to find Otavalo, as Otavalo is known for its large market in the main square. Otavalo is colorful, versatile and calm. If you are a nature lover you can enjoy yourself here for a few days. If you come from Colombia or if you are going to Colombia, Otavalo is a good base. What is there to do in Otavalo and how do you get there and back?
The center and the local market
As a town, Otavalo is not the most special place in Ecuador. It is small and uncluttered, has a number of churches to visit and some nice places to eat and drink. You can get a nice cup of coffee, for example, at Yannuk and La Cosecha, and you can enjoy good food in the evening at La Taberna.
Every day in the main square Plaza de Ponchos/Mercado Artesenal Otavalo a market is organized with local products such as rugs, clothes, jewellery, souvenirs and accessories. You will especially find a lot of color and friendly people who are happy to help you. But on Wednesdays and especially Saturdays the market is even more extensive than on the other days and many people from outside come to Otavalo. Otavalo is quiet and a nice place to be. If you don’t have much time, you can also choose to take a day trip from Quito to Otavalo. See below how to get to Otavalo.
Good to know is that Otavalo is located at 2,532 meters altitude. If you want to go hiking in the area, keep in mind the risk of altitude sickness. Symptoms of this are a light-headed feeling, a little dizzy, an upset stomach or difficulty breathing. Getting used to the altitude for a day can often help to reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
Cuicocha Crater Lake
A popular and well-known crater lake, at 3,246 meters above sea level, is the Cuicoha crater lake. The lake is 3 kilometers in diameter and has two islands in the middle. Due to the shape of the largest island, the lake is also called ‘Guinea Lake’. At the lake you will find a restaurant where you can also take a boat trip, for $3.50 for an adult. But the highlight of the lake is the walk around the lake. It is a 12 kilometer hike, which takes between 5 and 6 hours. The trail is clearly marked and goes up and down, with some steep sections in between. Officially it is indicated to walk the circle counterclockwise, but if you start at “the exit”, you first walk the steepest and highest part. Although it can be a tough hike, the views are always phenomenal. You also have a beautiful view of the surroundings and the mountain landscapes in the distance. Take your time for the walk, because you are walking at altitude. You can also choose to walk part of the walk.
You can reach Lake Cuicocha by taking the bus from Terminal Otavalo to Quiroga. This ride takes approximately 30 minutes and costs $0.40. Then you take a taxi to Lake Cuicocha, because there is no bus that runs here. This ride costs $5 and takes about 20 minutes. If you have time left, you can choose to visit Cotacachi. A small village away. You can take the bus from Quiroga or you pay a dollar more and the taxi will take you there from Lake Cuicocha. Buses to Otavalo depart from the main square again.
Near the center, just over 3 kilometers from Otavalo, you will find the Peguche waterfall. An 18 meter high waterfall, surrounded by greenery and nature. The waterfall is located in a park that is free to visit, but there is an opportunity to make a donation. A wonderful half-day activity, for when you want to get out of the city and into nature.
You get to the Peguche waterfall by taking a taxi for a few dollars. You can also take the bus, which leaves approximately every 30 minutes from the Terminal de busses Otavalo. The bus takes about 15/20 minutes. You can also walk to the waterfall. From the center you walk to Avenuda Atahualpa and from there follow part of the track. The route is easy to follow on Maps.me. It will then take you about 45 minutes.
Volcano Fuya Fuya and Lake Mojanda
Volcano Fuya Fuya and Lake Mojanda are a little visited place around Otavalo, but a place worth visiting. The Fuya Fuya volcano is an inactive volcano that you can climb and therefore offers a view of Lake Mojanda and the surrounding area. It is quite a steep climb, because in 2 kilometers you climb about 500 meters. You start at 3,735 meters and the top is at 4,286 meters. Especially the last part is steep, but the views make up for it. It’s nice to keep the route, although it’s quite clear, on Maps.me. In addition, it is recommended to plan the hike in the morning. Take into account a total of 6 hours. To get there takes 1 hour, the hike 3 – 4 hours and then another hour back. The weather changes very quickly, but in the morning you have the best chance of clear weather. Because you are at altitude, it can cool down quite quickly. Keep this in mind with your clothing.
You get to Mojanda Lake and Fuya Fuya Mountain by taxi. There is no bus on this route, so taxi is the only way to go. The ride takes about 50 minutes and costs $35 to and fro. When you arrive at the lake, arrange a time with the taxi driver when he needs to pick you up again. Expect the hike to take about 2 hours to get to the top and 1 hour to go down.
How do you get there and back?
Otavalo is an ideal destination if you are traveling to or from Colombia. You arrive in Otavalo from the border, via Tulcán. The bus trip from Tulcán to Otavalo takes about 3 hours and costs $4.50. San Cristobal is, among other things, a bus company that operates on this route. There are plenty of buses per day from Tulcán to Otavalo/Quito. If you get tickets at the Tulcán bus station, you will probably also need to buy a ticket with a QR code. You need it to go to the departure hall. The QR code costs $0.25, you pay at a sign that says something with ‘Ingreso’ and you need 1 per family. Please note, the buses in Ecuador leave on time. The bus from Tulcán stops outside Otavalo, about 2 kilometers from the center, on the highway. You can take a local bus to the center ($0.30, 10 minutes), take a taxi or walk.
If you want to enter the region from Otavalo, you can go to the terminal Transportes Otavalo. If you want to go to Quiroga or Cotacachi, take the bus from there. Feel free to ask around which bus you need, probably the buses that are next to each other in a row. It takes about 30 minutes to both villages and each ride costs $0.40 each. You pay on the bus, during the ride.
If you want to go to Mindo from Otavalo, you travel via Quito. From Otavalo to Quito there is a bus every 15 minutes. You pay on the bus, during the ride. It costs $3 per person and takes you over 2 hours to get to Quito. You arrive at Terminal Carcelén bus station. For Mindo you have to change, to bus station la Ofelia.