Famed for its Saturday artisans and animal markets, Otavalo fills up at weekends with vendors from far and wide including a few from across the border in Columbia.
It has been a slog to get here. An hour on a bus through Quito to the Northern bus terminal and another two hours on a bus to Otavalo. We are staying high in the mountains above town so we take the easy way and grab a taxi on the Plaza del Ponchos and head off on the $4 , 4 kms ride to La Luna our lodge overlooking Otavalo.
Its a small, pretty place, set in its own gardens with lots of animals all around. The views from the property are breathtaking, as is the silence. It seems very quiet after a month in Quito.
Our room is in a bungalow away from the main house. Small but nice with beamed ceilings and its the unexpected bonus of a log fire. We have become used to some very cold nights in Ecuador!
On the Friday before the market we get a lift up to Lagos Mojanda. Ten kilometres along a cobbled, probably Inca road, up into the mountains.We bid goodbye to our driver who will (hopefully!) return to pick us up in 5 hours. This should be enough time to hike around both the lake and Cerro Negro, the highest peaks in the area. The lake is at an altitude of 3700m, Cerro Negro 4300m. Even though we are acclimatised, we soon notice the difference in altitude from Quito.
The peak of the mountain is shrouded in cloud so we decide not to climb to the Cerro Negro simply because there would be nothing to see. Also, the pathway to the top seemed almost vertical!
Instead we hike around the lake, more or less on our own. Only later do we find out that this place is apparently known for armed robberies! It is an incredible walk and relatively flat and an easy around the lake and so, so quiet! As we climb higher up and around Cerro Negro, the effects of the altitude do become more noticeable and it is quite hard work at this height.
We finally reach the Mirador on the ridge, close to the summit, which is still in cloud. We stop for lunch and chat with another hiker walking the same route in the opposite (and it seems easier!) direction.
The views on this walk are amazing and it really is so peaceful. It is now very cold because of the altitude and the incessant wind so, having walked around most of Lago Mojanda and all of Cerro Negro, we finally head back down to our starting point. Fingers crossed, our taxi driver will be there to meet us!
On our way back to our meeting point we stumble upon a large Andean fox playing on the track. Huge compared to our English foxes.
Thankfully the taxi arrives just as we do and we head back down to the Hostal and a very cold beer.
The Animal Market.
We decide to walk the 4 kms back into the town. it is downhill after all!
Our first stop this morning is the animal market market on the outskirts of the town.
It is pretty chaotic, with people and animals everywhere. The pigs are being auctioned off and, judging by the squealing, don’t seem too happy about their imminent fate! The are right to be concerned as we will later see those that have gone, before roasted whole and served up by the plate in the market!
The people have come down from their farms in the mountains to sell Guinea pigs, chickens, cows, horses etc.
To exercise our Spanish skills we chat with a few vendors to find the going rate for the various livestock before we setting off for Plaza del Ponchos, the main square in town.
The Artesania market
The market now extends from the Plaza along several block in each direction. The streets are jammed with people. Here we encounter our first attempted pickpocketing. Four fat Cholita women, looking very sweet in their colourful indigena costumes, sandbag us from all sides. Hands firmly on our valuables we survive the attempt unscathed..
The goods on sale are of pretty high quality, particularly the knitwear and leather goods but it does seem to be the same stuff on every other stall. It is all very, very colourful especially the indigena ladies all dressed in the Saturday finery.
The artesania markets have not lived up to the hype and are not really for us, so we head off to the food and produce markets which make no allowances for tourist except of course for the obligatory overcharging.
Food and Produce Market
The stalls here are piled high with pyramids of the freshest fruit and vegetables. Every stall holder is shouting …… un dollar, un dollar! Getting hungry after an early start we settle down at one of the many counters in the “restaurant” sporting a whole roast hog.
The aroma is just too good to pass by. A generous portion of roast pork, accompanied by 4 types of corn, salad, potatoes fried in the pork juices topped off with the crispy pork skin. Coronary inducing maybe, but very tasty!
The true beauty of Otavalo is to be found in the surrounding countryside and it would be a shame just to come here just for the market although the food and animal markets are definitely worth a look.
We first visited Otavalo, Ecuador on Thursday, May 23, 2013. We returned again in June 2016 as we made our way north into Colombia.