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9 best things to do in Otavalo, Ecuador

If you’re interested in visiting a town full of indigenous tradition and culture, I recommend visiting Otavalo (Ecuador), one of the best places to visit near Quito. This town is located a few kilometers north of Quito. There you’ll be able to visit the Kichwa Otavalo community and the local market, which is one of the most renowned indigenous markets in the world. There are also many beautiful places to visit from Otavalo such as lakes, mountains and waterfalls.

In this article you’ll find information on how to get to Otavalo, the best things to do in Otavalo, places to visit close by and the best places to stay. Otavalo is waiting for you with open arms to discover all its secrets.

Table of contents

How to get to Otavalo

Otavalo is located about 95 km north of Quito. If you’re visiting Ecuador with a personal vehicle, you’ll get to Otavalo in approximately 2 hours. You can book your rental car in Discover Cars.

You can also take a bus from Quito to Otavalo or you can get on a bus at Carcelén Terminal Bus Station. The terminal is located in the north of the city. There are buses to Otavalo every 20 minutes and the journey costs around $2.70.

This day tour to Otavalo and Cotacachi is also available from Quito. It is a bit more expensive but very convenient. The 10-hour tour includes hotel pickup and drop-off, cake tasting in Cayambe and several stops to visit different places.

Things to do in Otavalo and surroundings

There are so many beautiful places to visit in and from this town. Below, you can find information on the best things to do in Otavalo.

1. Plaza de Ponchos: Crafts market in Otavalo

Crafts market in Otavalo
Otavalo Market

“Plaza de Ponchos” is definitely the most papular place in town. The Otavalo Handicraft Market is held here every day of the year and it is considered one of the most important indigenous markets in the world.

You can find a lot of handcrafted products such as hats, blankets, backpacks, instruments, jewelry and ponchos. If you want to purchase a nice souvenir from your trip to Ecuador, this is the place to buy it.

We bought a couple of beautiful blankets at a very good price. The market is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The market is busier on Saturdays because more artisans go to sell their products.

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2. Peguche Watefall, must see place in Otavalo

peguche waterfall otavalo
Peguche Waterfall

Visiting Peguche Waterfall is one of the best things to do in Otavalo. The waterfall is 30 meters high and 6 meters wide. Peguche Waterfall is located just outside of town. I was very impressed to find this natural wonder so close to town.

You can get to the waterfall by car and it only takes about 5 minutes to get there from Otavalo. You can also walk from Otavalo to the Waterfall (35 minute walk). Taxis, tours and buses are also available at the terminal in Otavalo. Once you’ve arrived at the parking lot, you’ll have to walk for about 15 minutes to get to the waterfall.

On the way to the waterfall, you’ll go through a path with souvenir shops and restaurants. At the end of this road there is a booth where you’ll be asked to pay a $1 entrance fee. After you’ve walked pass the entrance booth, keep following the path which will take you to the waterfall. On the path to the waterfall, you’ll be able see trees, different trails and camping areas. It is really beautiful.

Once you’re near the waterfall, you’ll see 2 paths. The path on the left will take you to a beautiful viewpoint where you can see the waterfall from high ground. The other path will take you across a beautiful wooden bridge and a viewing area. If you get close enough you’ll definitely get wet.

3. San Pablo Lake

things to do in otavalo
San Pablo Lake

Another natural wonder that you’ll be able to visit from Otavalo is San Pablo Lake which is located at the base of Imbabura Mountain.

I recommend visiting Cachiviro Otavalo Pier, a place that is visited very frequently by locals. At the pier you’ll be able to get on a boat ride or rent a kayak to explore the lake on your own. You can also have a drink in one of the cafes or just buy drinks and snacks in one of the small shops that you will find there and sit on a bench to enjoy the view.

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4. Simon Bolivar Park

Amongst the best things to do in Otavalo, I definitely have to include visiting Simon Bolivar Park also known as “Parque Central” (Central Park). This park is also one of the main squares in town. You can visit San Luis Church which is located near the park.

This church was once a small chapel and was renovated in 1676. The church was destroyed in 1868 by an earthquake. Later, in 1880 they began renovating the building, which took 10 years. The square is ideal for sitting on park benches and relaxing.

5. Visit Cuicocha Lake, one of the best things to do in Otavalo

cuicocha lake
Cuicocha Lake

A trip to Cuicocha Lake is definitely one of the best activities in Otavalo. If I were forced to choose only one place to visit from Otavalo, I’d choose to visit this lake. It is located about 17 km from Otavalo which is about a half an hour by car. The road is fine. If you do not have your own vehicle, you can go by taxi.

Once you’ve arrived, you have several options. You can hire a boat trip that takes you to the islets or go on a hike that loops the entire lagoon. Of course, you should know that it takes a lot of time and energy. The entire loop takes between 3 and 5 hours, depending on your pace and the amount of stops you make.

If you are going to do this hike, be sure to bring enough snacks and drinks. There are several viewpoints throughout the hike, you can always return without completing the entire loop.

6. Mojanda Lakes

places to visit in otavalo, ecuador
Mojanda Lakes

An amazing place to visit from Otavalo is Mojanda Lakes. In order to visit these lakes from Otavalo you have to take a road called “vía a Mojanda”, a path that leaves from Otavalo. Be careful because the GPS may indicate a different route.

The road we took to get to the lake isn’t suitable for normal vehicles as it’s very bumpy and full of stones. However, if you are extra careful it might be possible for you. I am not sure if the other road is in better condition or not. Another option is to hire a 4×4 truck from Otavalo which can take you to the lake. The truck costs $15 one-way or $30 roundtrip.

Lagunas de Mojanda are made up of three lakes: Karikucha, Yanakucha and Warmikucha. Near the lakes you’ll also see Fuya Fuya Mountain which is 4,263 meters above sea level. You can go on many hikes and even climb the Fuya Fuya. Hiring a guide is a great idea if you are going to do this hike. There is a parking lot and local bars at the lake.

7. Cayambe-Coca National Park

One more thing I recommend if visiting Otavalo (Ecuador) is visiting Cayambe-Coca National Park. We visited the southern part of the park which was accessible from the town of Papallacta. If you are in Otavalo, you’ll have to access through the town of Cayambe and visit a different part of the park.

In Cayambe-Coca National Park you will find huge meadows, lagoons, mountain formations and a great variety of fauna and flora. You’ll also have a beautiful view of Cayambe volcano, which is 5,790 meters above sea level. From the town of Cayambe, you can visit the Cayambe Refuge and Oyacachi.

8. El Lechero Viewpoint

A place where you can enjoy a beautiful landscape with the San Pablo Lagoon and the surrounding mountains is El Lechero. On top of this hill there was a beautiful sacred tree for the indigenous communities. Sadly, it was destroyed by strong winds. Even so, it is still worth going to this viewpoint, especially at sunset, as the views are beautiful and there is still a magical atmosphere.

9. Taxopamba Waterfall

Although it is less popular than Peguche Waterfall, visiting the Taxopamba Waterfall is also a great idea if you like outdoor activities. It is located about 6 km from the center of Otavalo. The waterfall is formed by two falls, one is 15 meters long and the other one is 10 meters long.

This location is also attractive because of its dense vegetation, which you must walk through to get to the waterfall.

Where to stay in Otavalo, Ecuador

I recommend staying at least one night in Otavalo as there are many beautiful places to visit in and from this town. If you’re traveling through Ecuador for weeks, I even recommend staying 2 or 3 nights here.

Below, I’ll recommend several hotels in this area. One of the hotels on the list is the hotel I decided to book. I highly recommend it.

Our hotel in Otavalo

We stayed at Hostal Curiñan which is a charming hotel within a kilometer of the city center. There are steep hills near the hotel therefore, if you aren’t visiting Otavalo with a car, get ready to have sore legs. The hotel is 15 minutes away from the center of town by foot. If you have a car, it is a great option since the hotel has free parking.

The staff is very nice and hospitable. The rooms are spacious. Wifi and hot water are also available in the rooms. The decor inside the rooms is very traditional which is quite nice. There is a terrace on the roof which offers incredible views of Otavalo. Breakfast is included. I highly recommend this hotel.

Hotel in the city center

If you want to stay in the city center, I recommend El Andariego, which is located near Plaza de Ponchos and Simón Bolívar Park. The hotel offers single, double and triple rooms. The place has a terrace, a kitchen and a shared lounge. There is also a restaurant.

It is a perfect option if you do not have your own vehicle because it is located in the center of the city. Parking is available for additional cost.

A great hotel to stay in Otavalo

Intiyaya is a great option if you want to be surrounded by nature. It is located 3 km from the center of Otavalo and 5 minute away from the entrance to Peguche Waterfall. The hotel is decorated in an ethnic style.

They have double rooms, deluxe rooms, standard and superior studios, quadruple rooms and a chalet. There is also a shared common area, kitchen, yard dining area and an art gallery. Breakfast is also included.

Luxury hotel in Otavalo

Hotel Medina del Lago is probably the best and most luxurious hotel in Otavalo. It is a 5-star hotel located on the other side of San Pablo lagoon. It’s 25 minutes away from Otavalo (by car). If you are searching for a place to relax in, look no further. This hotel will definitely give you the peace and tranquility you’re looking for. This hotel has a garden, terrace, indoor pool, fitness center and restaurant.

If you are traveling with children, the little ones will also love that it has a playground. Breakfast is included. I recommend it especially if you are traveling with a car.

Map: Otavalo, Ecuador

In the following map, I have marked all the tourist places in Otavalo mentioned in this article, so you can see the location of all of them quickly. I have also marked the recommended hotels, with their respective links to Booking.

Check my Ecuador travel guide to keep planning your trip to this country.

I hope that this post about the best things to do in Otavalo (Ecuador) has been informative and has helped you organize your trip. If you have any questions or want to tell me how your trip to this region was, you can leave a comment or send me an email. Till next time, travelers!

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↠ Check out Booking’s offers, a platform I always use, as I always find very good options thanks to its search engine with filters.

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↠ If you still need to buy flights for your trip, there is no better search engine than Skyscanner (although I always recommend booking the flight on the company’s website).

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