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Otavalo, Ibarra and Cotacachi

More of a weekend away really, although only a couple of hours from Quito by car. On route from Quito, do stop at Cayambe for Bizcochos y Queso with coffee. For the more adventurous, you can travel bewtween Quito and Otavalo via the cloud forest, but you will need six hours to spare and a four wheel drive!
As well as the ever colourful market at Otavalo (start very early on Saturday or go the night before), there are timber carvings for sale at St Antonio de Ibarra and excellent cheap but quality leather goods at Cotocachi. I would particularly recommend viewing the work of Luis Potosi in the central square of San Antonio, and also José Cotacachi at Peguche on the outskirts of Otavalo (the latter is difficult to find, so get directions first)
Near Otavalo, view the stunning patchwork fields of Imbabura, Susana's favourite mountain. At the foot of the mountain lies the Lago San Pablo where you can find a couple of cabaña hotels with very good restaurants and boat hire.
Beyond Otavalo by short taxi journey there are the waterfalls of Peguche and some relaxing walks in the surrounding woods. If you are interested in buying hangings of above-average quality, you should ask for the way to the workshop of José Cotacachi, located just behind the church in the central square (it is not obvious -you will need to ask).
For more information on Otavalo, Cotocachi and Ibarra try
From Cotacachi, you can drive on to Lago Cuicocha (3,068m above sea level). This lake and reserve is set inside the crater of an old volcano, and a motorboat trip round the lake gives an opportunity to see the local flora and fauna in the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.
Whilst staying the the area, if you can afford it, we would recommend eating, or indeed staying at the Hosteria La Mirage, a spa hotel near Cotacachi. We have also stayed at Mesòn de las Flores, a beautiful courtyard hotel in the centre of Cotacachi which provides excellent accomodation and food, or if you want to stay in Otavalo, then the Hotel Ali Shungu is very comfortable and located only a few blocks from the market at Plaza de Ponchos. Click here for more hotels in the region, or for hostels in Otavalo.
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Mindo & Ecolodges
Chocó Cloud Forest Bioregion, approximately 2 hours north west from Quito -Eco tourism is ever more popular and you can have an interesting day or two in the cloud forest staying at one of the ecolodges around Mindo. The huge variety of fauna in the region include armadillo, deer, sahino pig, cuy de monte, skunk, squirrel, agouti, guanta, ocelot, lion, snakes, amphibians, butterflies and some 500 species of bird including sparrow hawk, hummingbirds, cock of the rock and toucan. As well as providing home for the animals, the regions beautiful rivers and waterfalls also provide a setting for water sports including rafting and kayaking. Follow this link for hostels in Mindo.
Mitad del Mundo and Pululahua
A short drive north from Quito is Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World). This is the place where some French scientists measured the Equator in the 18th Century. You can have your picture taken with one foot on each hemisphere! There is a small anthropological museum and planetarium here and a somewhat touristic (new) Andean style village where you can buy souvenirs and see traditional performances.
DSCF1324Nearby you will find the crater of Pululahua -if you are lucky enough to have a cloud free day, arriving at the top is like looking down into Arthur Conan Doyle's lost world -we have wanted to make the steep descent but never managed to get around to it. If you are going to, I suggest get a friend to drive you or arrive by taxi (the parking space can be a bit remote) and arrange to be picked up again at the bottom. For some good images have a look at :
  • -website of Rock Festival that takes place inside the crater of the Pululahua Volcano -some good images and background information.
  • Reckless Adventurer -website of Glenn Strouhal, which includes an acount of a six month stay in Ecuador and some excellent images of climbing trips to a number of volcanos.
Santo Domingo de los Colorados
En route west to the coast is the small town of Santo Domingo. This forms a good place for a stop to explore tropical forests, rivers, and waterfalls although the town itself has limited facilities for the tourist. The temperature here is warmer with extensive cultivation of banana, sugar cane, and African palm. Roads from here lead off to the coast, including Guayaquil, Manabí and Esmeraldas provinces. Follow this link for more on the coastal provinces.
Pasochoa National Park -administered by Fundacion Natura the 1000 acre park is located some 20 miles south east of Quito -a stunning walk in verdant forest set in the crater of the extinct volcano -home to around 120 species of birds, a number of mammals and plants including the Ecuadorean conifer podocarpus, the Andean laurel, orchids, lichens and epiphytic species. Hikes vary in difficulty at altitudes up to 3,200m. Entry near the village of Amaguaña. Pasochoa has a souvenir shop, a museum, and a campsite.
Cotopaxi -often visible on Quito's skyline, Cotopaxi is supposedly the world's highest active volcano. For the less adventurous, you can drive up to the snowline, although a climb to the summit requires a lot more organisation and stamina. I find the National Park less interesting than others, although there is no escaping the iconic nature of the classic volcano cone shape.
Papallacta and the Road to El Oriente
The road east to Tena and Misahualli passes Papallacta, a small village at 3300m altitude and famed for its hot springs, Termas de Papallacta. At around 70km from Quito, this is a very popular destination for a day trip, or a stopping off point point en route to El Oriente -the magnificent jungle at the start of the Amazon basin.
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Photos of the Termas de Papallacta -cabins and swimming baths around the thermal hot springs at the entrance of the ecological reserve Cayambe-Coca about 40 miles north east of Quito.
Other links
Pichincha -information about the region from the Ministry of Tourism.
Northern Andes -further afield to Tungurahua, Baños and Ambato

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Otavalo Market

Possibly the best known Indian Market in the world, the Saturday market at Otavalo, offers a huge range of goods for sale -wall hangings, jewellery, Panama hats, ponchos, hammocks, musical instruments, carvings are all to be found.

The market opens very early on Saturday morning, with goods on sale until the afternoon. Be prepared to haggle for some bargains.

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