Big markets and big heart in Otavalo, Ecuador
Gorgeous Otavalo is a town most travellers visit for one of South America’s largest artisans craft markets, but it has so much more to offer. I stayed here for two weeks to study Spanish and loved getting to know this beautiful town and its people.
Set in a valley surrounded by mountains and volcanos, this pretty village has a small colonial centre and a big heart.
About 70 per cent of the population are indigenous and the women continue to wear the beautiful traditional dress. On Saturdays, the population of the town swells as indigenous craft makers from the neighbouring communities descend for the market. Almost every street is crowded with stalls but they are selling much of the same items.
A favourite for me was to eat lunch in the local food market where for $2 I received soup followed by some of the best pork I have ever eaten.
I stayed with a family who were simply lovely and made me feel welcome and shared the history and culture of their town. Eduardo and Amalia, who own a shop in the food markets, took me on a lovely night tour of the town providing an insight into the region’s history. Later, we joined the several thousand locals in the school gymnasium to listen to an indigenous band play live.
Otavalo is surrounded by Australian Eucalyptus trees but it is the Lechero Tree that is most famous for apparently having magical healing powers. The walk to the Lechero tree also takes you close to the Condor Park (Parque Condor) where captive birds have found sanctuary. They are brought out to fly at 3.30pm each day but the condor flies only at the weekends.
Lost City compatriot / Providencia life saver, Pralay, joined me in Otavalo for the weekend and we hike around the stunning dormant volcano crater lake of Laguna Cuicocha. High mountain peaks rising behind the lake provide a stunning vista.
I also visited Lago de Mojando, which true to its name, was very wet. With fellow students Tess and Alison, we attempted to walk a path around the lake only to find the map’s definition of path was a little unusual and we ended up bashing our way through very muddy swamp land for several hours. We managed to make it and then hiked up the nearby mountain for a beautiful vista.
Spanish School: Ailola. Quality of teachers vary. Ask for Isabel.
Accommodation: Hostel Chasqui, basic but clean with hot water and a nice roof top area with views over the town, $12 for a private room with bathroom. Rooms vary. Ask for a courtyard room or one with a balcony.
La Luna Hostel is set four kilometres out of town on the way to Lago de Mojando and is a nice weekend getaway in a tranquil environment with pretty views, hammocks and open fires.
Great food: El Mercado
Great coffee: La Cosecha Cafe on Plaza De Poncho
Free wifi can be found Plaza de Simon Boliver.