Our trip to Otavalo was a stop on a longer Northern Ecuador road trip. See our complete Northern Ecuador travel guide.
Otavalo is located 3 hours from Mindo and 90 minutes north of Quito. One thing we learned is that if your are not starting your northern Ecuador road trip in Quito, that Otavalo is the perfect central point for many of the places to visit.
Our first stop of the day was Cuicocha Lake within the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve. It is approximately a 45 minute drive from the center of Otavalo. You can drive straight to the rim of the crater for an amazing overlook suitable to people of all ages and abilities. There is also an option for a five hour hike around the rim of the volcanic crater, which we opted not to do, due to the lack of proper hiking equipment. It was a short stop to admire the view of two small islands within the lake and the overview of Otavalo in the other direction.
Note: We wanted to get an early start to our busy day and arrived at the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve at 7A.M. only to find out it opens at 8A.M. so we had to wait an hour for it to open and could have slept later.
Mercado de Otavalo
Otavalo Market is a great place where you can buy souvenirs, cloth or pretty much any handcraft you can imagine. They will try to charge you a little bit more than if you were a native, so always remember to ask for a discount.
In the evening when we arrived in Otavalo, we walked past the Mercado just as it was closing up, we figured we would head back the next day, as everyone told us we had to visit this specific market. By the end of the next day, we had already gone through so many artisan markets that we did not bother going back.
It might be a unique market when you compare it to the rest of the world, but surrounding artisan markets had all similar items for sale. If you happen to be in Otavalo on a Saturday, make sure to stop by, as Saturday holds a much larger form of the market.
The Cascadas de Peguche are located right on the edge of town from Otavalo. A quick trip by car or bus from our hostal. After parking our car we walked through an old gate to find a small artisan market, food vendors and a solar calendar!
The walk from the entrance to the waterfall takes around ten minutes along a cobblestone path through the forest, passing a large open area full of campers. The path crosses the river at the base of the waterfall, giving the perfect opportunity for pictures.
The steep stairs to the top of the waterfall might seem like a turnoff, but they are defiantly worth climbing. The route up one side of the cascade was closed when we visited due to two large trees fallen across the path, as you can see in the photo above.
At the top of the waterfall is a smaller cascade along with a pool area, where you can enter the shallow water. The river that feeds the waterfall foes back into a canyon, but we were not able to follow it as we were not wearing proper water shoes.
Upon leaving we found that the parking area we were in had become roped off and they were charging $1 to let our car out. We have no issues with paying to help support the infrastructure around the waterfall, but it seemed like a bit of a trap to us.
If you do not have your own car you could walk for about 40 minutes to the waterfall or take a taxi for approximately $2.00 USD. There is also a bus that goes to the waterfalls called Imbaburapac (it is a red bus) that leaves the bus station every 30 minutes. The bus fair is .25 cents.
The Laguna de San Pablo is also located right outside of Otavalo, but on the other side of the city from Las Cascadas de Peguche. It is stunning, and if you want, you can hire a boat to take out onto the lake. The calm water provides a wonderful reflective surface for photos of the surrounding landscape.
if you do not have a car you could ride a public bus such as Otavalo, Los Lagos and Imbaburapac. They will take you to the communities of San Pablo, Araque or Trojaloma where you can reach the lagoon. The bus fair is about .25 cents.
The Mirador el Lechero provides a nice viewpoint over the laguna and surrounding valley. A guide we spoke to at the laguna told us it was defiantly worth the drive. The only issue getting there is half the roads up the mountain are under construction, so in my opinion require a car suitable for four-wheeling.
There was only one sign the entire drive, so we had to stop and ask for directions from locals at every turn. The viewpoint was best before you reach the top of the mountain, as there is a patch of trees near the top that cover the view of the laguna.
At the top of the mountain there is also a sacred tree planted there, and while some of the barbed wire fencing surrounding it has been torn down, you should still stay out as a matter of respect.
If you are not driving you could hired a taxi or ask locals to take you there. It is about 10 minutos away from downtown Otavalo. The price for a ride there is approximately $3,50 USD. You could also walk and it is about an hour hike.
Cascada de Taxopamba
The Taxopamba waterfall is formed by 2 jumps, the first jump is 15 m, and the second jump is 10 m. Its water is crystal clear and it is calm. The path to the waterfalls is surrounded by natural vegetation.
To get to the waterfalls we headed towards the Mojandita lakes which is 20 minutes from Otavalo. We parked and then walked around 20 minutes to get to the waterfall.
If you do not have a car, you can hire a taxi to take you to the community of Mojandita. It can cost you about $3.00 USD.
The Lagunas de Mojanda are an hour drive into the mountains from the Laguna de San Pablo. Once you get on the right road there are no turns, so it is hard to go the wrong way!
There are three lagunas in total; La Laguna Grande, La Laguna Negra and La Laguna Pequeña. Only the large one is visible by car, the other two you must hike to. You can drive half way around the laguna, but it does require a four wheel drive car, and someone who knows how to do it. There are many points that have massive holes or are uncomfortably close to a ledge leading to the water.
The hike did not look to easy, in addition to the cold, rain and fog. Having visited other volcanic lakes on the trip, this stop should be put on your maybe list, unless you plan on hiking, as it is a bit out of the way.
There is no public transport to the lagoons, so you must hire a taxi to take you to the big lake and ask them to wait for you. It might cost approximately $15.00 USD.