Ecuador, So Much More Than the Galapagos! A Visit to Otavalo

Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches

Approximately two hours north of Quito lies Otavalo, world-famous for its indigenous population, and for the Mercado Artesanal, where locals sell their handicrafts. It’s South America’s largest outdoor market, and you will find a wide range of weavings, jewelry, clothes, wood and stone carvings, paintings, and more. Although Saturday is the main market day, and the whole town is filled with stalls, there is plenty open at Plaza de Ponchos on any given day. I went on a Wednesday, and, believe me, there was A LOT to see (and buy). Ecuador uses the US dollar as the official currency, but small bills are what’s taken (nothing larger than $20). 
After visiting the market, we went to lunch at Hacienda Pinsaqui, built in 1790. Lunch is the major meal of the day in Ecuador–usually soup, a full main plate of meat, vegetables, bread, rice, and dessert. Most restaurants close by 7 pm and dinner is not a big deal. At Pinsaqui, we enjoyed a lovely meal in an historic setting. The Hacienda contains more than three centuries of history. At one point, it was the largest in the area, essentially enslaving 1000 indigenous workers who created products for export to the US. Another time, it sheltered Simón Bolívar who prepared here for the Battle of Ibarra (1823) against the Spanish. 
Our Otavalo day also included two more highlights:
  • A visit to the traditional weaving studio of Miguel Andrago. If you are looking for handmade, traditional weaving, go directly to this home and workshop just 10 minutes outside of Otavalo. The Andrago family (four generations working together) is preserving backstrap weaving without the use of electricity or chemicals (all natural dyes), trying to save "this vanishing art." They do not sell their beautiful items at the Otavalo market, only at their studio. My daughter was so intrigued that she asked if she could come back and learn their techniques: Of course! For only $35 US, she can spend a day there. 
  • Peguche Waterfall is situated in a small park close to Otavalo. It is considered a sacred place in Kichwa religion, where purification is held before the Inti Raymi celebrations each June. We enjoyed the short hike to the Falls, and getting as close as possible, feeling the mist. 
Thanks to Brandi at Kensington Tours for the introduction to Hacienda Pinsaqui and Miguel Andrago. Tomorrow, onto the mountains, and the famous active volcano, Cotopaxi.