Ibarra - a day in the white city

Maria 2


Ibarra is located about three hours north of Quito in the Andes. The capital of the Ecuadorian province of Imbabura was completely destroyed in 1868 and then rebuilt. The pretty old town was mostly kept in white, which is why Ibarra was given the additional name “white city”.

How to get to Ibarra?

From Quito, there are numerous buses departing daily from both the north terminal of Carcelén and the south terminal of Quitumbe to the white city. The trip costs around 4 USD and takes about three hours, but from Quitumbe it takes a little longer. The trip leads through the small city Cayambe. It is located at the foot of the volcano of the same name. Cayambe is the third highest volcano in Ecuador with 5.790 meters. In Cayambe most likely locals get on the bus and offer so-called Biscochoz for sale. You should definitely take this opportunity to buy a bag of these delicious baked goods for one dollar. Because they are the speciality of Cayambe they are only available there in the original!

“You can learn more about Ecuadorian specialties in our blog article about Ecuadorian food.”

The journey continues past Otavalo. If you have planned enough time for your trip to the north of Ecuador, you should definitely also visit Otavalo. The city, its market and its fantastic lagoons in the surrounding are an absolute must on your trip to Ecuador!

The market of Ibarra

market ibarra

Once you arrive in Ibarra, the path leads you through the shopping centre connected to the bus terminal. Like this, you get directly onto the street where the big market of Ibarra begins. Be careful in the market streets surrounding the terminal! Because of the numerous people who arrive here with all their luggage and thoughtlessly admire the countless goods on the market, it’s a paradise for pickpockets! However, the further you move from the terminal towards the old town, the less crowded it gets, the nicer the streets get and the more lively and relaxed the atmosphere becomes.

What does Ibarra's white old town have to offer?

In the old town, the numerous white houses are lined up in a nice architecture. A few colourful ones also mix in. The street Simón Bolivar is, so to speak, the main street for strolling. By following it, one gets to the park Pedro Moncayo. Colourful flowers, cheerful playing children, benches for relaxing and small artists can be found here. The park is surrounded by numerous buildings worth seeing. Some of it are the district government, the cathedral of Ibarra, next to it a small chapel and the of the ministry of finance.

By turning into one of the streets beside the government building, one gets to another park, the Parque La Merced. Although the park also looks very nice, I would rather advise against longer stays there. Instead, one should rather visit the numerous sales stands at the edge of the park. They offer many sweet specialties of the country at affordable prices. Here you can buy for example sweet Habas, a special kind of beans that can be prepared as a sweet. Also, following the José Joaquín Olmedo street that borders the park, there are numerous sweet shops to the right and left, such as the Ana de Núñez brand. Here you are sure to find it difficult to choose just one of the delicacies.

sweets shop ecuador

Back in Simón Bolivar street, you can continue to follow it until you reach the small church square of the Iglesia De Santo Domingo. On the ground floor of the houses on this street there are always small shops, cafés, bakeries and pastry shops as well as restaurants where you can get to know the typical Ecuadorian cuisine for a few dollars.

My café recommendation for Ibarra: the Café Kris Ken Dan

In the beautiful and cozy little patio of the Kris Ken Dan café you can relax away from the noise of the street. Here you can enjoy a delicious breakfast in peace and quiet, such as Empanadas de Verde (plantain empanadas filled with cheese) or Bolónes de Verde (banana balls with different fillings). Ecuadorian coffee is particularly tasty here. It comes either from Loja in the extreme south of the country or from the province of Imbabura itself. The café is located on the Simón Bolivar towards the south (towards the bus terminal).

The Laguna de Yahuarcocha: the blood lake of Ibarra

yahuarcocha lake ibarra, ecuador

On the road Vicente Rocafuerte or at the bus terminal you can take the bus to Milagro. Like this, you also reach the Yahuarcocha lagoon. You can get off about two kilometres north on the wide but little frequented road that runs directly along the lagoon of Yahuarcocha. On the shore of the lagoon you can then go for a short walk It is also possible to have a picnic here or even go by bike, as the cycle path is well developed here.

cycle path yahuarcocha

The “Blood Lake” received its name because the Inca Emperor Huayna Capac had numerous men resisting him killed and thrown into the lake as a result of a battle in the 15th and 16th centuries. This caused the water to turn red. During my visit I could not see a red colouring in the water, but therefore, the lake and the surrounding mountain landscape shone in the most different and most beautiful green tones!

The tourist train from Otavalo to Salinas

The Ecuadorian railway line from Otavalo in the direction of Salinas / San Lorenzo is nowadays only used by tourists. If you don’t want to take the line from Otavalo, you can get on late at the old train station in Ibarra. It is located near the current bus terminal. But the journey is not cheap, so locals prefer the bus. The train station is easy to find by simply following the rails at the market of Ibarra. You want to experience Ecuador by train? Then also check out the tour by Tren Crucero!

vias train to salinas in front of the market of ibarra

A trip to Ibarra can be perfectly combined with a stay in Otavalo, a visit to the lagoons of Mojanda and a visit to the impressive nature reserve El Ángel and the village of the same name.

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