The upland town of Otavalo, 2,573m, is world-famous for its huge livestock, vegetable and textile market, organised by the prosperous Otavaleño Indians who attend dressed in their distinctive costumes. Surrounding the town there are snow-tipped volcanoes, lake-filled craters, rolling hills, cobbled lanes lined with silvery eucalyptus, and tiny, whitewashed adobe villages each specialising in a cottage industry such as weaving, dough-ball figurines and wood carvings. Busy Ibarra, 2,225m, is populated by indigenous mountain people and others of African origin. There are leather goods to inspect in Cotacachi, 2,440m, and for walkers, a delightful stone-flagged track to the rim of Cuicocha volcanic crater lake, 3,246m..
When to go
The northern highlands have an all year round spring-like climate with temperatures averaging 21°C. It can rain at any time in the year but most precipitation falls all year with Feb-Apr and Oct-Nov the wettest months. The main market day at Otavalo is Saturday when there are four different markets, including artisan and livestock. The towns and haciendas in the region can be busy at weekends and from Christmas to New Year.
Getting local currency
Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are banks in Otavalo but it’s best to take out money in advance in Quito where there are many ATMs.
GMT -5 hours.
The bird-filled cloud forest in the Mindo region, 37km; the Avenue of the Volcanoes, 136km.
It’s a drive of a couple of hours on a winding upland road (58km) from Quito to Otavalo.
Fiesta del Yamor: Otavalo and other towns, first two weeks of September. Music, dancing, fireworks, cockfights, bullfights, processions and boat races on Lago San Pablo.
Inti Raymi and San Juan: Around Otavalo, 24-29 Jun. Bullfights, regattas on the lake, costume parties.