The best way to go up to the Otavalo market is by bus. Otavalo town, in the north of Ecuador, not only has an indigenous market but is also surrounded by volcanoes. It’s a full day trip and you can take your time shopping. Definitely worth it with all the haggling you need to do. There is so much to shop and you will sure want to bring some alpaca scarf back.
But the bus was not the right option for us. We only had a limited time for the whole country so we had booked a driver and arranged for a tour beforehand. Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders was a professional agency which did all the planning for us. Our driver José Luis was the perfect guide, knowledgeable, patient and willing to change the itinerary (you can book him directly via firstname.lastname@example.org).
It’s a two-hour drive up north and after a really early pick-up we had two photo stops and bizcochos before arriving at the market.
The Otavalo market has its biggest day on Saturday but is busy every day. The local indigenous people sell textiles and other handicraft products. We were there on a Monday and there was enough choice. When you walk around I am sure you will find a lot that will catch your eye.
After some successful shopping which in the end turned out to be for my traveling partner (who would have thought that I could be allergic to alpaca?) we moved on to the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve. A short walk brought us to a scenic crater lake called Cuicocha (means guinea pigs) which at the end has a visitor centre. It also has the most amazing legend.
A long time ago a local king had a daughter and wanted to marry her off. So he put her therefore on one of the islands within the lake and made all the young men swim for her hand in marriage. Luckily the guy she loved made it across and they lived happily ever after. Each year the locals remember this with a swimming competition. I love the happily ever after ending. Great story, I am just not sure if it is true.
Near the reserve, hence the name, it the town of Cotacachi which is famous for its leather goods. The main street, all the way down to a small square, is basically one large leather store. From shoes, to bags, to belts, to saddles, here you can find everything you can imagine in leather. If you drift a bit to the sides there is also a nice church.
The area is famous for trout, originally introduced in Ecuador from Canada, and roses. Going south we followed the Pan-American Highway and saw green houses left and right. The best quality roses are for export to the US. The rest is sold in bulk on the side of the road. Women in Ecuador generally don’t accept roses for Valentine’s Day because they are the cheapest flowers available. Interesting, no?
Finally we arrived at the Hacienda Papagayo south of Quito. Here we would stay for the night and prepare mentally for the hike on the Cotopaxi the next day. The hacienda had a couple of animals and we even managed a selfie with a llama. Yours, Pollybert