Otavalo & Northern Highlands

About

For hundreds of years, Otavalo has hosted one of the most important markets in the Andes.

Situated on North from Quito is an area of great natural beauty and cultural interest where the mountainous landscape guarded by Cotacachi, Imbabura, Yanahurco, Chiles and glacier-covered Cayambe peak, interspersed with stunning lakes. Imbabura and Carchi province; both rich in wildlife spread over its major Ecological Reserves, Cayambe Coca, Cotacachi Cayapas and El Angel. This is also a region renowned for its countless villages specialized in their own particular craft, textiles, hats, woodcarvings, bread figures or leather goods. And, of course, there is Otavalo village at 94 km from Quito, which hosts an outstanding every day textiles market, combined with other bustled squares and markets are the constant of this busy but charming trading town of mostly indigenous people.

Tabacundo village and Pedro Moncayo area are recognized as the capital town of roses due to over 400 hectares, 990 acres of flower fields, which 90% belongs to roses, covering the 25% of the country production. The next province Imbabura hosts the largest city, Ibarra that moves to the everyday rhythms of its working residents, a mix of Afro-Ecuadorians, indigenous and mestizos. Known as la ciudad blanca (the white city), Ibarra’s downtown streets are lined with finely detailed, whitewashed colonial architecture and then Tulcan, the farther north city offers an outstanding cemetery art of topiary taken to incredible beautiful extremes on cypress bushes trimmed into archways and fantastic figures on angels, animals and geometric figures.

Getting Around

For hundreds of years, Otavalo hosted one of the most important markets in the Andes. The market traditional stretches back to pre-Incan times, when traders would emerge from the jungle on foot, ready to conduct business.

The beautiful Awakening Valley. However, despite the mercantile focus, the vibe is friendly and relaxed. And you can always just look up and around at the surrounding mountains.

History & Culture

Early History

The history of the textiles goes back to Spanish colonial days when land around Quito was granted to various people, including one Rodrigo de Salazar who had the grant at Otavalo. He set up a weaving workshop, using the Otavaleño Indians, already skilled weavers, as the workforce. Over the years, with imported new techniques and tools from Spain, the weavers at Otavalo supplied most of the textiles used throughout South America. The downside of this economic success was that the Otavaleños were sometimes forced to labor at the looms in a system called Obraje. Today the Otavaleños have diversified their techniques with techniques from Scotland, and at Hacienda Zuleta created the Otavalo cashmere and created a world-wide market for their textile products. You can see some of the techniques in the demonstrations at the Obraje Weaving Museum.

Highlights

Mojanda Lakes and Fuya Fuya

Is located 30 minutes apart from Otavalo by car, a cobbled, winding road leads up to three stunningly beautiful lakes in the shadow of dark jagged mountains. Laguna Grande (also known as Caricocha), Laguna Negra (Huarmicocha), and Laguna Chiquita (Yanacocha) sit amid paramo at 3,700 meters elevation, some 1,200 meters above Otavalo. The peak of Fuya Fuya (4,263 meters) to the west is the highest point in the region and is a popular four-hour climb as acclimation practice for higher peaks.

 

San Pablo Lake

This is the largest lake in the province. Indigenous people fish early in the morning in their straw canoes, and also bathe and wash their clothes in this lake during the day. There are inns, farms and restaurants where you can spend a weekend or just a day full of entertainment around the lake. You can also take a boat ride around the lake, or enjoy other water sports such as sailing, water skiing, jet skiing, etc.

 

Condor Park

Just 3 miles away from Otavalo, the Condor Park was laid out. This thirty-acre park is managed by a foundation dedicated to the care and rescue of predatory birds such as hawks, eagles, vultures and owls.

This park is unique in many ways. It’s located on a hill known as the Pukara Alto, an energetic center since Pre-Columbian times, where ruins remain of a religious pre-Inca temple. The sights are amazing, 360 degrees around of mountains, lake, valleys and towns.

 

Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve

Northwest of Cotacachi town, stretches over 2,000 square kilometers from the cold Andean paramo over the western edge of the Andes and well into the humid tropical rainforests in Esmeralda’s province.

 

 

Cuicocha Lake

This stunning Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful and frequently visited in Ecuador. At the foot of Cotacachi Volcano, 3,070 meters up in the Andean paramo, the azure waters of 200-meter-deep Laguna Cuicocha shine brightly with twin volcanic cones at the center. It’s considered sacred by many locals, and every year at summer solstice people take purification baths here.

 

Ibarra, The White City

The fast- growing capital of Imbabura Province, Ibarra, lies just 22km northeast of Otavalo, with its choked streets and colonial charm weathered to a weary gray. To properly enjoy the architectural beauty of the white city which is the local name, take an evening walk or ride through its peaceful well-lit streets in order to admire the narrow wooden balconies, sculpted facades and palm-lined parks. Ibarra offers diversity atypical of a highland town, with students, mestizos, indigenous groups and Afro-Ecuadorians and occupies a crossroads pointing to the coast, Otavalo, the tropical valley of Chota and the paramo villages to the northeast.

 

El Ángel Ecological Reserve

The 15,715 hectares of this Ecological Reserve lie at 11,950 to 15,640 ft. The paramo in El Angel is covered by gigantic frailejones (Espeletia pycnophylla), a special plant that is only found in the high paramo ecosystem. Another plant species in the reserve are the Polylepis trees, which have many layers covering their trunks for insulation.

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