From Quitsato to Otavalo - the most beautiful destinations in the province of Imbabura


The way to quitsato

Last weekend it was time for a new adventure in Ecuador. Otavalo is one of the must-sees here, so we decided to go there. However, since the city is a little more than two hours away from Quito, we were eager to explore other places in the Imbabura region. We started at just before 8:00 am and arrived a good 1.5 hours later at our first stop in Quitsato. There is a sundial, which is located like the “Mitad del Mundo” directly at the equator. The entrance fee is three dollars and since you can see the clock over the small border wall in principle just as well as when you enter the area, we decided to save the money and invest in something better.

otavalo market

A typical Ecuadorian breakfast

In fact, directly across the street there is a place called “La Vasija,” which makes the traditional bizcochos (“biscuit cookies”) that are the trademark of the region. There we were explained how the delicious specialty is baked and, above all, how to eat them. Typically, you first put some caramel on it and then take a piece of mozzarella wrapped in leaves, roll it up and put it on the cookie as well. From our point of view, it may seem like a somewhat strange combination at first glance, but in fact it tastes really delicious, so we bought 9 more cookies as a “souvenir” for only a dollar. 

What is also offered there is a breakfast, which is also very affordable for three dollars. It consists of a coffee or cocoa drink, a juice (usually “jugo de mora”, which means blackberry juice), the same delicious cookies with caramel that were offered before and soft-boiled eggs, fried or scrambled eggs as you like. This breakfast is really recommendable because it is not only very unusual and delicious, but if you take a guided bus tour like I did, you also get to talk to your fellow travelers and make great new contacts

otavalo market

Next stop: the cuicocha lagoon

Strengthened we could continue to the next stop, namely the “Laguna de Cuicocha”, which is located at the foot of the volcano “Cotacachi”. It is about 1h10 away from the sundial and the cookie factory and you should bring comfortable walking shoes and a rain jacket for the visit, because the weather can change quickly. After “Yambo” and “Quilotoa” already my third trip to a lagoon in Ecuador, but I am always happy because each of them, also due to the weather, has a different color and is therefore absolutely unique. On this day it was cloudy, and Cuicocha Lagoon appeared deep blue-gray. What makes it special is that it has two islands called “Wolf” and “Yerovi” in the middle. These are part of the nature reserve of Cotacachi-Cayapa and therefore may not be entered. Only with special permission do scientists occasionally visit the islands for research purposes.

To walk around the entire lagoon would take about six hours, so we decided to walk only a bit to the administrative offices along the way, from where you get another view of the lagoon with its islands. All in all, a beautiful place that successfully reflects the natural conditions of Ecuador and is definitely worth a visit. Afterwards we made a stop in the town of Cotacachi, which is mainly known for its leather goods and has some beautiful churches. We only stayed there for about 30 minutes, because then it was finally time to head for the famous Otavalo.

otavalo market

Arrival in Otavalo

There we parked on a large parking lot right next to the market. However, since it was already shortly before 3:00 p.m., we decided to eat something for lunch first. We especially recommend the restaurant “Mi Otavalito”, which offers very tasty, traditional dishes and is also a great option for vegetarians or people with other dietary styles. Also there you can have a great exchange and share travel experiences while enjoying your food.

Then, of course, it was time to see the market itself, which is located right outside the door of “Mi Otavalito”. We were told that this normally covers 45 city blocks in size, but has been downsized somewhat due to the pandemic. It still seemed incredibly huge to us, you could turn into about any street and hardly found an end. To buy there is everything that has to do in any form with Ecuador as a country. From small souvenirs and decorations like handmade llamas and Galápagos tortoises, to cloth pants, warming sweaters made of alpaca wool, pillowcases and tablecloths, dream catchers, slippers, wool blankets, wall decor, ponchos, … the selection of offerings never ends.

The market itself

What I particularly liked was the way of trading there. Personally, I don’t like it when products are “forced” on you, as is often the case in such markets, but it’s not like that at all in Otavalo. The vendors are all friendly, and if you show interest in their handmade goods, they explain what they are offering without making you feel pressured to buy anything. For this very reason, we felt like supporting these lovely people and purchased some products.

We were told in advance that in Otavalo you can also negotiate prices, and it’s like a kind of game back and forth between seller and buyer until you agree on a price that both sides are happy with. We found this very amusing and the merchants often accommodate you.

Around 4:30 pm it was time to leave for Quito, since it takes another 2h15 to get from Otavalo to Quito. We agreed that the area around Quitsato, Cuicocha and Otavalo should not be missed during a visit to Ecuador. These places can be combined perfectly due to their distance and due to the different stops, the balance between sitting in the bus and observing the landscape, exploring on foot and being spoiled with culinary delights is really more than perfect. The province of Imbabura is looking forward to your visit!

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