Otavalo, Ecuador

This is the last in our blog series for Ecuador. To read from the start of our Ecuador travel journal click here

We spent a fun week in picturesque, sleepy indigenous town Otavalo, drinking a lot of rum and eating all the foods with our old travel buddy from Chile, Amelie. We also did a couple of pretty hikes there in the surrounding countryside, and checked out the famous Saturday market.

We lucked out in finding an almost deserted crazy-cheap hostel ran by a super chill Senora, where we could drink on the hostel rooftop, cook big brunches in the little kitchen, and play our party tunes in the evening, without any care. It quickly started to feel like home. We also met a cool long-term hostel resident, American traveller and music fan Mark in his 60s, who sometimes joined in with our drinking fun, and he and Sam spent a few evenings playing guitar and harmonica together (and whilst drunk, I even joined in on vocals which was surprisingly fun!)

We nursed hungover days searching the town for cheap tasty eats, from local typicas to big juicy American burgers (from brilliant American ex-pat restaurant Sloppy Joe’s), Sam had a second try at guinea pig (apparently much better oven-cooked!) and tried chicken feet, we found favourite eateries like a super cheap Mexican with $2.50 lunch deals, and so, SO may good bakeries.

Our 2nd anniversary fell in our time there, and we celebrated with a delicious fruity sponge cake we found for a crazy $1.50!

We also did some nice hikes – including one that Amelie and I took to nearby Pechuge waterfall, which took us through an indigenous village of families dyeing fabrics in the river, past hot springs, woodland, and an ancient sundial. After losing our way within 10 minutes of hiking, the cute kids of the village ran up from the river to help us back on track, and we subsequently trekked with the most adorable Ecuadorian couple, taking photos for each other en route.

Life around Otovalo was a dreamy mix of cute little towns and beautiful mountains (and dinosaur topiary!) and it was super easy to hike on trails, roads and railway tracks..

Another trek was the tough but rewarding 5+ hour trek around Laguna Cuicocha which took us around the edge of a stunning crater lake, through high altitude, up steep dusty climbs, through burning sun, strong winds, and a country road at the end. Hungover and frankly totally winded by the hike, I decided at this point to quit smoking (again!) Let’s see how that goes…!

The most famous thing to do in Otavalo – we also checked out the Saturday market, which was cool if a bit full-on, as we walked the streets around Plaza de Poncho looking at hammocks, bags, traditional clothes, ponchos and all manner of crafty goods. I bought a bright pink soft baby alpaca scarf for a bargain $6, and we did plenty of window shopping – though found the prices were hiked up a lot vs. the midweek prices. Bloody gringo influx!

Prior to the craft market we also checked out the morning cattle market, where we saw all the animals – from pigs to cows to guinea pigs to rabbits and kittens, being herded around and caged up for purchase. I had to turn off the European alarm bells ringing in my head about the treatment of these animals, as a) we have so much factory farming in Europe and b) this is just normal life out here! It was an interesting local experience, despite some wincing (and a strong urge to buy all the cute puppies and kittens and rescue the guinea pigs from imminent slaughter!)

Overall we found Otavalo to be an easy place to wile away a week due to it’s super friendly indigenous population, the beautiful surrounding scenery, the mad cheap prices and great local flavour. The street food was the most abundant and tasty that we’d seen anywhere in Ecuador, the markets bursting with exotic fruits and veggies, and local folk music travelled on the air. Even the bin men’s truck had its own folk song jingle! I’d really recommend it for independent travellers looking for somewhere to unwind and enjoy the slower pace of highland life.

Next we took the bus over the border to our final South American country, Columbia!