What to see in Ecuador

Otavalo

Tourist attractions Otavalo

One of the best places in Ecuador to experience indigenous culture, Otavalo is located approximately two hours drive north of Quito. Situated in the Andes, at an altitude of 2535 meters above sea level, this highland town is a popular tourist attraction thanks to its diverse population of indigenous people and famous Saturday Market.

Otavalo is nestled between the peaks of three towering volcanoes: Imbabura, Cotacachi and Majoanda, and the surrounding scenery are incredibly pretty, but it is the towns long history of textile weaving that has ensured that a trip to Otavalo is a highlight of any Ecuador tour.

In fact, Otavaleños have been known for their accomplished weaving traditions since pre-colonial times, and although they originally favoured cotton, with the arrival of the Incas and their alpacas in the 15th-century this community of weavers became well known for their colorful woollen creations.

If you travel to Otavalo you'll see locals in typical dress and a handful of Spanish-era colonial buildings. Nevertheless, the real value of visiting Otavalo is to encounter traditional culture and get to know one of the most famous and prosperous indigenous communities of the Andes.

Things to see in Otavalo

If you travel to Otavalo, the chances are you’re here to experience the hustle and bustle of its Saturday Market. Indeed, the market held here on Saturday is enormous, covering almost a third of the entire town, but if you visit on any other day you’ll still find a good number of local stalls selling an array of goods. Nevertheless, the Saturday Market is one of the best things to see in Otavalo. If you’re looking to buy good quality, handmade goods this is the place to go! Of course, the colorful and intricate textiles, made by the Otavalo locals, are among the most sought after souvenirs, but craftspeople from across the region travel to this Saturday Market to sell their wares so you’ll also find tagua nut jewellery, musical instruments, leather goods, traditional clothing and spices for sale here. 

To dig deeper into the local culture, the Museo Viviente Otavalo is the best place to visit in Otavalo. This historic museum is housed within a former factory, which, after its closure, was taken over by the local people and transformed into a living museum and community space for the indigenous communities of Otavalo. Here, you can take a guided tour to learn all about the story of Andean indigenous cultures and see craftspeople skillfully creating handicrafts in their workshops.

Just a few miles north of the town centre, you’ll find Peguche Waterfall, surrounded by pristine forests. Measuring 59 feet tall and 20 feet wide, this beautiful waterfall is most famous as a sacred ritual site. Every year on the summer solstice, known as Inti Raymi, locals come here to bathe in the refreshing waters of the Peguche cascade before performing elaborate traditional dances. If you can coincide your trip to Otalavo with this special time of year, you’ll be treated to a unique cultural spectacle!

Finally, back in the town itself one of the best things to do in Otavalo to get to know everyday life in this highland town is to spend a laid-back afternoon at Parque Central. A popular meeting place, this well-kept park is surrounded by some of the most important historical buildings in the city, including the City Hall, Church of San Luis and the old clocktower.

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