Alternative Otavalo – Ecuador

With the vast Saturday market obviously being the big draw, it’s still possible to enjoy a couple of days in authentic Otavalo avoiding the tourist crowds. During the week a smaller market still takes place in the main plaza during the week, there’s a lovely mix of old and new buildings, a great food market and loads of shops selling everything you need in a small, walkable area.

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Street lights of Otavalo

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Walking from Iluman to Otavalo

With the stall holders beginning to pack up when we arrived, the fading light was great for taking photos so we wandered around snapping some shots of the plazas, churches and awesome stained glass and metalwork street light decorations. If you’re in Otavalo make sure you look up as some of these are impressive when caught in the right light.

Otovalo, Ecuador.

Otavalo. Ecuador.
Street lights of Otavalo

As darkness set in so did our hunger pains, and upon heading back to the main plaza we discovered that when the souvenir stalls disappear, a half dozen or so food stalls pop up. Wandering along the small yellow tents, each serving up piping hot meals with a small table at the back and more seating out front, Matt opted for a filling plate of steaming hot chicken breast, rice, noodles and salad, topped with a fried egg and a little frankfurter on the side, setting him back only $2.50.  The street dogs join in the goings on, sitting beside the soft targets of gringos (who are most likely to throw them their scraps) and children (who are most likely to drop their food).

Otavalo, Ecuador.

Otavalo, Ecuador.

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Join the locals for a relaxed, cheap feed at the nightly food stalls during the week

Stopping in at Red Bar on the way home, a favourite hangout for young locals with a vibe so kitchy it could be anywhere in the western world, we ordered a couple of La Fortaleza beers on tap (try the red ale) and listened to a young American girl at the next table ask her parents if Obama can vote in the next presidential election (a legitimate question as he’s not eligible for another term in office…if anybody knows the answer let us know). Oh and if you’re coming from Colombia it’ll help to remember that tax and service is not included in most bars or restaurants menus, but it will be added to your bill.

Otavalo. Ecuador.

Otavalo. Ecuador.

Otavalo, Ecuador
Food market, Otavalo

If you want to step outside your comfort zone of a continental breakfast, head down to Otavalo’s food market, only a short stroll from the main plaza. Take a seat with the locals and order a plate of fried rice and noodle topped with tomato, carrot, a fried egg and a side serve of fried liver if you fancy (don’t worry if you don’t, even the locals sometimes opt out). Taking our cue from the locals we purchased a bag of avocados from the old lady behind us to add to our plate.

Pig for lunch at Otavalo market
Mmmmm, lunch, Otavalo food market

You can sit and watch kids eat before school and men eat before work, whilst whole pigs are gradually served piece by piece leaving only the head intact, complete with tomato in mouth. Do be wary of the fruit and vegetable stalls as the majority of them will try to rip you off with a bit of a smirk on their face. Exhibit A below, we purchased the first bunch of bananas for 50c, and the second for $1. Obviously this was done purely for research….we didn’t actually get ripped off…much…

How to get ripped off at the market...first bunch for 50c, second bunch for $1...choose your stall wisely! Otavalo
A small lesson in how to get ripped off at Otavalo food market

For a real espresso coffee fix head to the Daily Grind on the corner of Plaza Bolivar, where you can watch the world go by until you get enough buzz to face a day full or bargaining. They also have a great range of Ecuadorian chocolate to tempt you.

Good Coffe at the Daily Grind.  Otovalo, Ecuador.
Morning coffee fix at Daily Grind

If it’s a snack you’re after Otavalo has some of the best chevichocho’s we tasted our entire time in Ecuador…a mixture of large corn, beans, salsa and onion topped with crunchy fried plantains, very tasty and only $1 for a filling portion.

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Chevichocho’s, the best in Ecuador

Crowded markets not your thing? You can easily catch a cheap local bus to the expat laden leather goods town of Cotacachi. With Matt searching for a replacement travel bag, we found the quality excellent however there was a lack of the more European style that he was looking for so left empty handed. The town is also known for it’s large number of retired expats, and we found a few places offering almuerzos (set lunch) at really inflated prices, approaching one who wanted USD$8 before finding another down the road with rustic wooden floorboards for just $2.

Cotacachi, Ecuador.

Whilst we struggled to find it, we’d been told the free Museo de las Culturas, housed in a small old colonial building not far from the Cathedral, is worth a look in. The Cathedral itself is worth a peek but we didn’t find it anything special, though the palm tree lined plaza out front is a nice place for a picnic.

Cotacachi, Ecuador.
Cotacachi, famous for it’s leathergoods stores

Another short excursion is to fork out 25c for a local bus to the small town of Iluman, known for felt hats and spiritual healers (there’s reportedly over 100 shamans in the area). From here you can walk the couple of hours back to Otavalo, where we passed a small rustic shop with a man hand making felt hats which were out front drying in the sun.

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Traditional hat maker in Iluman

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Newly made felt hats drying in the sun, Iluman

A little further on we passed a small farm house where a middle aged couple were sitting on their porch shelling dried beans. Stopping for a chat we were soon invited to take their picture and download it to their PC for them, after which we sat down to lend a hand with the beans.

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Shelling beans with a local husband and wife just outside Iluman, near Otavalo

Continuing on we reach the village of Peguche where we stumbled across a traditional musical instrument store before continuing on towards nearby Peguche Falls. Realising too late that we’d been given some dodgy directions from a taxi driver who was annoyed we wouldn’t take up his overpriced offer for a ride, we missed the afternoon bird of prey flights at the nearby Parque Condor. Instead we had to settle for a quick stop at the falls before making our way back to Otavalo before sunset.

Otavalo, Ecuador.

Otavalo, Ecuador.

Otavalo, Ecuador.
Traditional instrument store, Peguche

Information online was scarce for this walk however Hostel Maria where we stayed had a pretty useless map on offer. We found the best way was to simply ask the locals. Other than the taxi drivers, don’t ask them unless you want a ride! There’s plenty of other hikes around town, including longer, tougher hikes in the surrounding volcanos, so don’t just come for the market, give this place a go and hopefully you’ll find there are plenty of other charms to keep you here.

Peguche Falls, outside Otavalo

More photos on Flickr peeps!


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