Otavalo and the Northern Highlands
Otavalo’s market includes Andean handicrafts, while highland haciendas offer characterful accommodation plus outdoor activities and village visits.
Hacienda Zuleta is a paradise, so restful and interesting. My favourite "hotel" ever.
Just a two-hour drive from Ecuador's capital and you are in the scenic northern highlands and the town of Otavalo, where a visit to the well-known market is a must. The surrounding countryside with its hills and lakes lends itself to hiking, horse riding and mountain biking and visits to Andean villages where you get a feel for day-to-day life and culture. All this can be done while staying at a traditional hacienda.
- Otavalo market: It’s only a small town but its market attracts traders from miles around as it has done since pre-Inca times. There are two distinct aspects: food and animals are the mainstay of the local market while handicrafts such as woven clothes and hangings proffered by locals in traditional dress capture the attention of visitors in search of gifts and souvenirs. There is a market every day but Saturday’s is the largest. Apart from the market the main church has a surprisingly ornate interior and Parque Bolivar is a pleasant place to grab a few minutes peace and quiet.
- Hacienda hospitality: As a guest in a hacienda, you have the pleasure of enjoying a slice of rural Andean life. Many of these estates are still family-owned and are homes where you can observe the day-to-day life of a working farm, enjoy hearty home cooking and get to know your hosts. Your days can be as busy as you wish with visits to local villages, walks, bike trips and horse rides, returning to your comfortable hacienda home at the end of the day.
- Out & about: Celebrate the great outdoors and go hiking in the hills to discover beauty spots like the crater lake at Cuicocha complete with its twin islands and Cotacachi volcano as a backdrop, all to be admired from the perimeter walk. At 18m Peguche waterfall is impressive whatever the season and is considered sacred by the villagers. As well as hiking there are chances for exploring on horseback and by mountain bike, both wonderful ways to enjoy the Andean scenery and reap the benefits of healthy exercise.
- Andean culture: A day trip to some of the villages in the highlands offers an insight into local life and traditional crafts. At Peguche you can visit weavers’ workshops to witness the skills first-hand and in Agato you can see a now rare backstrap loom in use. Cotacachi is a leatherwork centre where you can buy all manner of leather goods and the villagers of San Antonio de Ibarra are specialists in wood carving. You should have plenty of time to see goods being made and maybe pick up a few souvenirs of your holiday.