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12 Best things to do in Otavalo, Ecuador in 2023

Nestled in the heart of the Andes Mountains, the picturesque town of Otavalo in Ecuador offers an unforgettable blend of indigenous culture, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant marketplaces. One of my favorite spots during my 5 month solo backpacking trip trough South Amerika!

Otavalo indigenous market

With a rich history dating back to pre-Columbian times, Otavalo has managed to retain its traditional charm while also embracing modern influences. Here are the 12 best things to do in Otavalo.


1. Wander through the biggest market of South America

No visit to Otavalo is complete without exploring its famous indigenous market. Bursting with colorful textiles, handcrafted jewelry, and artisanal goods, the market provides an authentic glimpse into the local culture and craftsmanship.


Saturdays are particularly special, as Otavalo hosts the largest market in South America on this day, where you can immerse yourself in a sensory wonderland of sights, sounds, and scents. The market starts early in the morning on the main square of Otavalo at Plaza de Ponchos.

Biggest market South America in Otavalo

When visiting the market you will see a lot of indigenous people.

Anchored in traditions that have transcended generations, these communities proudly wear their identity through traditional clothing and the language of Kichwa.

Indigenous market Otavalo

Against the backdrop of modernity, these resilient individuals continue to honor their roots, donning intricate woven garments and vibrant textiles that mirror their ancestral ties. Which you can all buy and see at the Otavalo Indiginous Market.


2. Take a Hot Air Balloon ride over San Pabllo

Experience the beauty of Lago San Pablo and the surrounding volcanoes from an entirely new perspective – the sky!


Ready for a thrilling hot air balloon ride above Otavalo that will take you on an awe-inspiring journey next to impressive mountains, lakes, and volcanoes?


As you gently ascend, the serene expanse of the lake unfolds below, and you'll be treated to breathtaking birds-eye views of the picturesque Imbabura Volcano.


The panorama stretches out in all directions, offering a sense of freedom and wonder that can only be found in the sky.


3. Discover Peguche Waterfall

Among the best things to do in Otavalo is to visit the Peguche Waterfall. A short hike from the town center takes you to the stunning Waterfall, a serene natural wonder surrounded by beautiful vegetation. Cascading gracefully from a height of approximately 18 meters (59 feet), this waterfall is more than just a picturesque sight; it's a perfect spot for a refreshing dip or a tranquil picnic.

Peguche Waterfall

Beyond its aesthetic charm, the Peguche Waterfall holds deep spiritual significance for the local indigenous communities. Regarded as a sacred site, it has been a place of reverence for generations.


The waterfall's pool, formed by the water's gentle plunge, offers a refreshing respite for those willing to dip their toes into its invigorating waters.

Peguche Waterfall Otavalo

4. Explore Laguna Cuicocha (Crater Lake)

Embark on a scenic hike around Cuicocha, a volcanic crater lake of 3km situated amidst the Andean peaks. The hike offers panoramic views and the opportunity to explore the unique flora and fauna of the highlands.


Laguna de Cuicocha Hike: This is the most popular and accessible trail around Cuicocha. The trail takes you along the rim of the crater, offering panoramic views of the lake's deep blue waters, the two central islands within the lake, and the surrounding lush landscape.


  • The complete loop is approximately 14 kilometers (8.7 miles)

  • Takes about 3 to 5 hours to complete

  • The trail is well-maintained, but it can be steep in some sections. The path starts at 3000 meters above sea level and climbs to 3512 meters at its highest point.

  • Good fitness is necessary

Laguna Cuicocha Otavalo

Laguna Cuicocha lies in Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas but there is no entrance fee to do the hike around this crater.


Tips for Hiking Around Cuicocha:

  • Wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots for the uneven terrain.

  • Dress in layers as the weather can change quickly in the highlands.

  • Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.

  • Consider hiring a local guide for a more enriching experience and to ensure you don't miss any highlights.

  • Respect any trail rules and regulations to help preserve the area's natural beauty.


5. Visit Cotacachi

Known for its leather craftsmanship, the nearby town of Cotacachi offers a selection of high-quality leather goods, from bags to belts, all crafted by skilled local artisans.


When you are in the town of Cotacachi don't forget to taste the local dishes carne colorada (filet of pork cooked in red achiote sauce), and queso de hoja (soft cheese wrapped in a plant leaf).

Cotacachi Ecuador

6. Taste Traditional Cuisine

Another thing to do in Otavalo is to savor the flavors of Ecuadorian cuisine at local eateries, where you can try dishes like ceviche, llapingachos, and the hearty locro de papa (potato soup). Personally, I wasn't a big fan of Ecuadorian cuisine, but you need to try it to know what you like!

Traditional Ecuadorian cuisine

Dishes to try in Otavalo:

  • Fritada: Fritada is a hearty Ecuadorian dish that features succulent pieces of pork slow-cooked in a blend of spices, including cumin and achiote (annatto).

  • Llapingachos: These potato patties are made from mashed potatoes mixed with cheese and sometimes stuffed with ingredients like chorizo or vegetables.

  • Hornado: Hornado is a slow-roasted pork dish that is beloved throughout Ecuador. This was the favorite dish of my tour guide back in Quito.

  • Locro de Papa: Locro de papa is a hearty potato soup that is a comfort food staple in Ecuador.

Traditional Ecuadorian cuisine

Dish to try at your own risk

Cuy (Guinea Pig): A unique and iconic dish in Ecuador, cuy (guinea pig) is often served as a special delicacy. Roasted or fried to a crispy texture, cuy is typically seasoned with spices and herbs. I didn't try it because in Europe it is seen as a pet but you can find it easily in different restaurants.

Guinea Pig dish in Ecuador

7. Attend the Inti Raymi Festival

If you're lucky to be in Otavalo during the Inti Raymi Festival (June 24th), you'll witness a vibrant celebration of the summer solstice, replete with traditional dances, music, and rituals.


The Inti Raymi Festival, also known as the Festival of the Sun, is a significant cultural event that holds historical and spiritual significance for various indigenous communities in the Andean region, including Ecuador.

Indigenous woman Otavalo

The festival is a celebration of the summer solstice and the reawakening of nature, marking an important transition in the agricultural calendar.


For Ecuadorians, particularly those of indigenous descent, celebrating the Inti Raymi Festival is a way to maintain a connection with their ancestral roots and honor their cultural identity. It's a time to express gratitude for the Earth's bounty, seek blessings for the upcoming agricultural season, and strengthen the bonds of community. Read more about the Inti Raymi festival.

Inti Raymi Festival Otavalo
Photo taken from : La hora twitter

8. See the Biggest Birds at Condor Park

Visit the Parque de Condor to see majestic Andean condors up close and learn about efforts to conserve these magnificent birds.


At the heart of Condor Park's mission is the protection and rehabilitation of the Andean condor, a symbolic and endangered species emblematic of the region's biodiversity.

Condor park Otavalo

The park aims to raise awareness about the threats these birds face, including habitat loss, poaching, and the impact of pollutants. By providing a safe haven for these raptors and offering educational experiences, Condor Park seeks to engage both local and international audiences in the cause of preserving Ecuador's rich natural heritage.


Visitors have the unique opportunity to witness Andean condors up close and observe their natural behaviors within spacious aviaries that closely resemble their native habitat.


You can also see other birds in the park, there are a lot of different species that participate in the daily bird shows.

Bird show Otavalo Condor Park

9. Hike at San Pablo Lake

Take in the breathtaking views of San Pablo Lake, located just a few kilometers from Otavalo. Activities like kayaking and fishing are available for those seeking outdoor adventures.


But if you enjoy hiking, then I can recommend you the San Pablo Lake hike, which forms a beautiful loop around the lake.

  • Duration: Approximately 3-4 hours (varies based on pace and stops)

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Trail Type: Loop

  • Elevation Gain: Around 300 meters (984 feet)

San Pablo Lake

Trail Highlights

  • Scenic Views: Enjoy panoramic vistas of San Pablo Lake, surrounding mountains, and the Andean landscape.

  • Lakeside Path: Part of the trail follows the lakeshore, offering tranquil views and serene ambiance.

  • Diverse Terrain: Encounter a mix of well-maintained paths, occasional rocky sections, and gentle ascents.

  • Flora and Fauna: Experience the diversity of highland flora and the possibility of spotting local bird species.

  • Cultural Interaction: Pass by rural villages, possibly engaging with local indigenous communities.


Recommended Time to hike San Pablo Lake

Morning or early afternoon to make the most of the daylight and weather conditions.

San Pablo Lake

10. Take a Weaving class from Miguel Andrango

Miguel Andrango's weaving workshop, located at a small village on the side of Mount Imbabura just outside of Otavalo, opens its doors to curious souls seeking to learn the art of traditional Andean weaving.


Stepping into Miguel Andrango's workshop is akin to stepping into a time capsule, where the echoes of centuries-old weaving techniques are brought to life by skilled hands and a passion for preserving cultural traditions.


Under the guidance of Miguel Andrango himself, participants are introduced to the world of weaving. With a loom as your canvas and vibrant threads as your palette, you'll embark on a journey that unveils the stories, symbols, and techniques woven into every textile.

Weaving class Miguel Andrango
Photo from miguelandrango.weebly.com

11. Enjoy Horseback Riding

Experience the Andean landscape from a different perspective by embarking on a horseback riding adventure that takes you through rural villages, farmlands, and scenic vistas.

Horseback riding Otavalo

12. Visit Mercado 24 de Mayo for best local food

The bustling market of Mercado 24 de Mayo is not just a place to shop; it's an immersive experience that welcomes you to explore the authentic taste of Ecuadorian cuisine.


As you step into Mercado 24 de Mayo, your senses are immediately greeted by a vibrant tapestry of colors, sounds, and aromas. Stalls brim with an impressive array of fresh produce, traditional spices, and local delicacies, all contributing to the market's distinctive atmosphere.

Mercado 24 de Mayo Otavalo
Photo of notyouraverageamerican.com

From piping hot empanadas, stuffed with savory fillings that evoke the warmth of Ecuador's heritage, to steaming bowls of locro de papa, a potato and cheese soup that whispers secrets of ancient Andean recipes, the culinary offerings at Mercado 24 de Mayo are a feast for both the appetite and the imagination.


You will also find all the fruit of Ecuador here, so don't forget to have a taste!

Mercado 24 de Mayo Otavalo Ecuador

Staying at Otavalo

Looking to make the most of your time in Otavalo? Stay a bit longer in Otavalo before heading off to your next destination. From cozy guesthouses to modern hostels, Otavalo offers accommodations to suit every traveler's style.

Otaval in Ecuador

Check out Booking.com for a curated selection of stays, or if you're into the hostel vibe, HostelWorld has a range of budget-friendly options. Your Otavalo adventure starts with finding the right place to call home


This is the hostel I stayed at. The staff was so lovely, they made me a gluten-free breakfast, the rooms were clean, and we got a gigantic room with a private bathroom. But maybe most important when traveling through South America ... the showers had hot water, amazing!

The travaler hostel Otavalo

Other things to do in Otavalo

Are you currently in Quito and you want to visit the highlights mentioned above?This tour takes you to Otavalo, Cotacachi, and Cuicocha.

Otavalo lama

Incorporating a blend of nature, culture, and adventure, Otavalo promises an enriching and unforgettable journey. Whether you're exploring the bustling markets, hiking through the stunning landscapes, or engaging with the welcoming locals, every moment in Otavalo is an opportunity to create lasting memories of this vibrant Ecuadorian gem.


And remember, Saturdays bring the grandeur of South America's largest market to life, turning the town into a bustling hub of cultural exchange and vibrant commerce.


Keep on exploring & Fly Along


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Welcome to Fly Along

Hi I'm Emeline

I am a Belgian lady, traveling solo around the world and sharing my best tips with you! My dream is to become a full-time travel blogger. Read more about my journey to get there.

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