8 Fun Things To Do In Otavalo As A Backpacker (Ecuador)

Famous for its sprawling indigenous market, Otavalo is also a perfect base for the popular hike around the stunning crater lake, Laguna Cuicocha. Continuing reading for the best things to do in Otavalo along with a useful city guide on where to stay and eat.

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1. Hike To Peguche Waterfall

  • Duration: 2-3 hours if walking there and back, 1 hour if you take a taxi or public transport
  • Cost: Free but donations are welcome at the waterfall

Peguche Waterfall is one of the main tourist attractions in Otavalo and easy to find from town.

 

It’s an 18 m cascade located within the protected forest of ‘Bosque Protector Cascada de Peguche’. We recommend walking along the well-maintained trails leading to the falls as it is a great way to take in the beautiful surroundings of the Andean foothills.

 

There is a voluntary entrance fee and all proceeds go to the conservation of the surrounding areas and local community.

How To Get There

The waterfall is a 45-minute walk from the town centre or you can take public transportation.

 

Buses leave every 20 minutes from Parque Central Simon Bolivar or you can flag a taxi anywhere in town ($2 one way).

Google Maps

2. Visit The Largest Indigenous Market In South America

  • Timings: Every day but the busiest days are Wednesday and Saturday when the animal market joins
  • Duration: 1-2 hours wandering around

If there’s one market to visit during your time in Ecuador, it should be this one.

 

Otavalo’s market is the oldest and largest Indian handicrafts market in all South America. It spreads out from the main square for a couple of blocks in each direction and sells everything from blankets and ponchos to jewellery, instruments, leather goods, spices and more – all made by the talented indigenous craftspeople who live in the region.

 

On quiet days, the market only goes as far as the central plaza but Wednesday and Saturdays are the busiest days. For a wilder experience, try to get there on Saturday for the additional animal market and get lost in the madness.

 

The animal market dates to pre-Inca times when jungle animals were brought up from the Amazon to trade with highland products and include a huge variety of animals to eat or buy such as guinea pigs, goats, and birds!

3. Trek Around The Beautiful Crater Lake - Laguna Cuicocha

  • Duration: Full day (4-5 hours hiking)
  • Cost: Free apart from public transport costs

Laguna Cuicocha is a beautiful crater lake that is perfect for a full day hiking adventure.

 

Laguna Cuicocha, which translates to Lake of Guinea Pigs, was given this name due to the shape of the two islands that can be seen in the middle of the lake.

 

The lake was created around 3,000 years ago when the volcano erupted, with the two islands in the middle forming from the cooling lava. The crater eventually filled up with rainwater creating the spectacular lake you see today.

 

A circular trail goes around the lake and you can hike around the entire thing for amazing views of the islands, lake, and Volcano Cotacachi.

How To Get There

Take the bus from the central bus terminal in town to Cotacachi.

 

From here you will then need to get a taxi to the Laguna Cuicocha Visitor centre which should cost you around $3-6 (one way) depending on your haggling skills. Ask the taxi driver to meet you where he drops you off as there won’t be any taxis waiting around to take you back.

 

We did this a little differently though – the owner of our hostel (Hostal La Rosa) offered to take us to the Laguna and back for $25.

 

After a little math we worked out a round trip by ourselves would cost around $14 total. So, ask yourself if it’s worth the extra $10 for the convenience of being taxied all the way there and back to avoid taking buses and taxis. We were shattered after this hike and knowing that we didn’t have to mess around with public transport on the way home was a nice feeling.

 

For more information on what to pack, the best route to take and what to expect, read the full guide below:

 

 

Google Maps

4. See Ecuador's Endemic Bird Species At Parque Condor

  • Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM, Wednesdays to Sundays
  • Price: $4.50 entrance fee + taxis ($4-5 each way)

At Parque Condor you can get an up-close and personal view of bird species endemic to Ecuador such as the Andean condor, as well as eagles, owls, falcons, and hawks.  

 

Most people aren’t fans of captive animals, but the foundation helps rehabilitates these birds that have either been rescued from illegal captivity or were found injured in the wild. So, your visit is all for a good cause.

 

Parque Condor hosts flight demonstrations at 11:30 AM and 3:30 PM so make sure to plan your visit around these times. As but as a heads up, the show will be mostly in Spanish.

How To Get There

The centre is perched on the steep hillside of Pucara Alto, 5km from town. From Otavalo, you need to take a taxi as there are no buses going there.

 

It should cost $4-5 each way and you can ask the centre to order you a taxi once you are ready to head back to town.

 

You can also walk there if you want some exercise, it’s about 4km from town and combines well with a visit to El Lechero viewpoint.

Google Maps

5. Climb El Lechero For Great Views Of San Pablo Lake

  • Cost: Free ($4-5 to get there in a taxi)
  • Duration: Spend half an hour taking in the beautiful views at the top.

The tree at the top of the El Lechero viewpoint is considered sacred by the locals. The indigenous Otavaleños often come here to perform spiritual ceremonies and the tree is thought to have healing powers.

 

El Lechero offers magnificent views of San Pablo lake, Cotacachi Volcano, and Imbabura volcano.

 

It’s a nice escape from the city to enjoy the nature of the Andean highlands. The surrounding lakes, mountains and volcanos make for some breath-taking scenery.

How To Get There

It’s in the same direction as if you were walking towards Parque Condor.

 

The walk is steep and will take around an hour or you can take a taxi. The taxi will cost around $4-5 but ask the driver to wait if you aren’t going to stay long as you won’t be able to find a taxi to take you back.

 

Combine El Lechero with Parque Condor (either walking or by taxi) as these are both close to each other and you will save money on transport.

Google Maps

6. Check Out Laguna De San Pablo

Laguna de San Pablo is the huge lake you will see on the drive towards Otavalo (from Quito).

 

San Pablo is a small village on its shores on the opposite side of the lake. While the village itself is small and quiet, you can find hotels and lodges offering boat tours and other water activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, and motorboats tours of the lake.

 

Try Hostiera Jatun Cocha or Cabanas del Lago for nice stays on the lake if you would prefer to stay there instead of in town.

 

A great restaurant and hotel to check out in the town is Hacienda Cusin.

 

Another great place to stay and eat is Puerto Lago. This hotel has a floating restaurant on the lake with amazing views of Imbabura Volcano. If you are planning to stay overnight, ask for the room with lake view!

How To Get There

You can walk down to San Pablo from the El Lechero viewpoint to get to the edge of the lake.

 

If you want to go to Puerto Lago then best to take a taxi as it is further out along the Pan American highway and not walkable.

 

To get to the village, you will need to take a taxi as it is on the other side of the lake.

Google Maps

7. Hike Imbabura Volcano Or Mojanda Lake

Imbabura is a long-extinct volcano sat on the edge of the breathtaking Lago San Pablo. The gentle slopes make this a good beginners acclimatisation climb in Ecuador for those who plan to tackle the higher peaks in Ecuador such as Cotopaxi.

 

The climb will take you through tall grasses, pine forests and lush vegetation all the way up the mountain until its peak, making it one of the more pleasing hikes on the eyes.  

 

Equator Face Travel offer guided tours from $50 that leave from Otavalo.

 

You also have the choice of hiking Mojanda Lake as well, another high-altitude lagoon. Both are great options, but we would recommend Laguna Cuicocha over both as it is easily done without a guide and it’s free.

 

8. Visit The Pie Shop

If you are looking for some western comfort food, then try ‘The Pie Shop’.

 

Head there after visiting Laguna Cuicocha for the perfect treat after a long day of hiking.  

 

The Trip Advisor reviews are great and tourists and locals both say that this is some of the best pie they’ve tasted.

 

Is Otavalo Worth Visiting?

Otavalo is worth visiting if you have the time to spare in Ecuador.

 

It’s a great place to get your first taste of the Andean countryside and to test out your hiking ability at higher altitudes with great beginner treks such as Laguna Cuicocha.

 

Otavalo is often offered as a day trip from Quito by hostels and tour companies, but this small indigenous town deserves more of your time. The tours are often overpriced, and you will save a lot of money visiting by yourself.

 

There’s more than enough here to fill two or three days but as we mentioned, only if you can spare it. If you are short on time in Ecuador (two weeks or less) then it’s best to stick to the highlights such as Cotopaxi, Baños and Montañita.

How Many Days Do You Need In Otavalo?

2 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Otavalo.

 

You can arrive on day 1 and make the short hike to Waterfall Peguche before coming back to shop at the famous indigenous market.

 

On your second day, keep the whole day free to hike the breath-taking crater lake Laguna Cuicocha.

To see how Otavalo fits into a longer Ecuador backpacking itinerary, check out either of the two posts below that suit your timeline:

 

 

Otavalo 2-Day Itinerary

Day 1 - City Day

  • 9.00 AM – Leave Quito
  • 11.00 AM – Arrive In Otavalo
  • 12.00 PM – Check-in / Lunch
  • 13.00 PM – Hike To Waterfall Peguche
  • 17:00 PM – Shop At The Indigenous Market
  • 18:00 PM – Dinner

Day 2 - Laguna Cuicocha

Full day hike. Leave at 9.00 AM.

 

Journey takes 45 minutes to an hour and the hike takes 4-5 hours.

 

Arrive back in town for early evening (5-6 PM)

Is An Otavalo Tour From Quito Worth It?

Here’s a quick example of why you might want to consider visiting Otavalo for a few days by yourself rather than booking a day tour, although we understand that choices are usually based on time rather than money.

 

 

The tours run from 07:00 AM, arriving back between 16:00-17:00 and will take you to the market, a brief stop at Laguna Cuicocha for photos, a lunch stop and a couple of other short stops along the way.

 

So, whilst you will get to see all the highlights of Otavalo, a minimum of 4 hours of your day on this tour will be spent on transport going there and back.

 

If you decide to visit Otavalo and stay there, then two nights in a hostel will cost anywhere from $20-30 along with a few extra costs to get yourself to the Laguna but that’s it. It seems the better option for us, so you aren’t paying to get ferried around in a minivan all day. This way, you can spend as much time as you want at the waterfall, market and Laguna Cuicocha which are all great experiences.

 

For more information on the best day tours from Quito and whether they are worth it, check out our guide below:

 

 

The Best Places To Eat In Otavalo

  • Yannuk Café – If you are looking for some western comforts then try Yannuk Café for a great brunch options
  • Café Pachamama – restaurant in town with a wide variety of options along with some great Ecuadorian dishes

We ate mostly at local places in Otavalo that offer the menu of the day deal (menu del dia) costing $2-3. You’ll eat soup, meat, beans, and rice and if you’re lucky you may get juice or tea.

 

Eating at local markets and restaurants is one of the best ways to stick to a backpacker budget when travelling. Read our full budget breakdown for Ecuador so you can plan your finances for one week or one month:

 

 

The Best Places To Stay In Otavalo

Your typical backpacker hostel hasn’t reached this region of Ecuador yet.  But because Otavalo is off the beaten track, prices for private rooms in hotels are easily affordable.

 

Most places with ‘hostel’ in the name are small family-run hotels and you should be able to find a private room for the same price as a dorm in Quito.

Hostal La Rosa – We stayed at Hostal La Rosa which was in the centre of town, a few blocks from the market and it cost us $17 (per night) for a twin room with breakfast included. We would recommend staying here as the owner runs a private taxi service which we booked to take us to the Laguna Cuicocha hike, making the day much easier.

 

 

  • Single room with private bathroom – $11
  • Twin or double with private bathroom – $17

 

Booking.com

Hotel Santa Fe Inn – nice location in the centre of town, with clean and comfortable rooms. Add breakfast for an additional $3.

 

 

  • Double Room with single bed or twin room – $16

 

Booking.com

How To Get To Otavalo From Quito

Getting to Otavalo from Quito is simple and takes about 2 hours by bus.

 

The bus leaves from the northern bus terminal in Quito, called Terminal de la Ofelia. It’s a bit of a journey outside the city and took us around 40 minutes to get there in a Uber (costing $8) or you could take a metro bus from the central terminal in town.

 

Once at the bus station, find one of the counters selling tickets to Otavalo and hop on the next bus. Buses in Ecuador are super cheap, and the ticket cost us no more than $2 each.

 

Bus timetables don’t seem to exist for these smaller journeys in Ecuador and buses will leave when they are ‘full enough’. You can just turn up to the station and shouldn’t have trouble finding a bus as they leave frequently.

For more on Quito including the best things to do and our favourite backpacker hostels to stay in:

 

 

 

Another great town to check out a couple of hours away from Quito is Mindo.

 

The Mindo Cloud Forest is perfect for adventure travellers who want to go rafting, bouldering or hiking in the jungle. For more on Mindo, check out the post below: