Bike travel, commuting and more


Ecuador I: From Tulcán to Otavalo

Clothes seller Otavalo

Traditional clothes seller in Otavalo

Into a new country

Leaving our hotel in Tulcan
Leaving our Tulcan hotel

Rubén back in Ipiales had warned us that Ecuador had great roads, with plenty of room for cyclists, but the climb into Ibarra was a tough one. Susanne did not need to hear more, so the decision to take yet another bus was quickly made. Luckily Tulcán has a very well served bus station with destinations nearly anywhere.

Bus station in Tulcan
Bus station in Tulcan

After checking different recommendations we decided to go to Otavalo. We would avoid the climb to Ibarra and Ibarra itself, which seemed to be just a big city, and Otavalo is famous for its great market, specially on Saturdays, which would be tomorrow! So Otavalo it was.

The trip is not a long one, 150 km in about 3 hours, (which would mean 5 days cycling for us!) but we got delayed at the beginning by a police control. The guys seemed to be specially interested on our bikes, but in a positive way. The first 2/3 of the trip is easy going, mostly flat or downhill, but the last bit is a long climb to Ibarra. The road is big but with heavy traffic and it was raining, so we were happy in our bus. Before Ibarra there’s a very nice lake, Laguna Yahuarcocha, but Ibarra itself didn’t seem very inspiring, although it’s on a great location next to Volcan Imbabura.

Ibarra from the road
View of Ibarra from the bus

The bus was continuing to Quito, so they dropped us at the entrance of Otavalo and not on the bus station, so we had to build the bikes on the side of the highway and continue on.

Otavalo bus stop outside the city
Quick building back of the bikes and luggage. We are becoming experts at this stage

The hotel we had chosen had some uncomfortable stairs and was not that cheap, so we decided to go for lunch first, and review our options. Asking in the restaurant, the guy recommended Hostal Maria, just around the corner, which happened to be a great option. It had an innen patio for the bikes, a great location, good price and a big room. We still had to go up two floors, but you can’t have it all.

Inner patio in Hostal Maria
The hotel had a side business selling colorful blankets

We enjoyed Otavalo. Very safe, loads of cheap restaurants to choose from, also Western options for anyone missing pizza or pasta, cinema,… For a change, the city has wide footpaths and the cars seem to be under control and are not the owners of the streets.

The Otavalo Market

Next day, Saturday, was the big market day. Already at around 5:30 in the morning we could hear the sellers preparing their stalls, vans coming and going bringing the goods, and already some customers looking for an early deal.

Otavalo market getting ready
View from our room at 7 am
Plaza de Ponchos in Otavalo
Plaza de Ponchos is a maze of stalls selling woolen stuff

The market sells mainly 3 things:

  • the usual stuff you find in many markets: fake sport runners, perfumes, mobile phone accesories, plastic toys,… and many, many cotton colorful blankets. They were mostly on the outer side of the market
  • food market: all kinds of vegetables, mostly local but also some imported, at very good prices. In many cases, the food is pre-packed to achieve “round prices” so you get X tomatoes for 1 dollar, or just one pomegranate, or 5 avocados, and so on.
  • the proper “indigenous” market, with their colorful lama wool blankets, jackets, pullovers, hats, etc. They occupied the central area, in a square, Plaza de Ponchos.
Selling fruit with the family
Not only was she carrying the heavy fruit for sale, but on the back she had her baby

Apart from that, there were numerous sellers of food, snacks, drinks, ice cream… Ecuatorians seem to be like the Chinese. They never have big meals, but they seem to be constantly eating something.

Quail eggs for sale
People seemed to love quail eggs. They were served boiled and peeled

Since we are carrying everything ourselves, we could not buy any souvenirs or presents, so we just bought some fruits (apart from the juice you hardly get any fruit in restaurants) and some presents for the kids.

Avocado buying in Otavalo
Buying avocados, ripe to eat on the day
Fruit in the Otavalo market
Got some apples and kiwis here

Thomas picked a handmade wool puppet, and Simon wanted beads and wire to build his own bracelets and necklaces, as he used to do in Kindergarten, to hand out as presents.

Picking a wool puppet in Otavalo
Thomas picking his wool puppet, with Simon advice
Wooden beads in Otavalo
The choice was overwhelming but Simon picked well some colorful wooden beads
Necklace building in Otavalo
Competing with the artisans outside making necklaces

The market is not only famous for the wares being sold, but also because most people, both sellers and buyers, are indigenous to the area, and quite proud of it. The women wear some really pretty dresses with a long dark skirt (black or dark blue), espadrilles shoes, a white blouse with different colorful details, and a black scarf over it. They look really smart on them, much better than the rest of us with our “casual” wear, and it seems quite comfortable too.

Simple but elegant
Traditional clothing in Otavalo
Another smart example

We stayed 2 days in Otavalo, and our plan is to continue cycling towards Quito.

1 Comment

  1. Katherine

    Ahora si…officially in Ecuador🇪🇨 👏👏. Lo caracteristico de cada ciudad es la plaza colonial y sus Iglesias . Unas mas hermosas que otras. La laguna yaguarcocha, como esa muchas otras que ver en el camino. Y estoy de acuerdo con Susanne, solo de pensar en pedalear cuesta arriba la montaña …y bien arriba, con paramo..siga recto recto caserito! (No se como porque siemore se bordea montaña jejej)…uh-uh.. bus contigo!. Ahora Quito …mmm esta en un valle…asi que ahi sera..baje reecto reecto caserito! Toda una adventura, que con esos paisajes de la sierra ecuatoriana lo van a disfrutar un monton! Ah y Coman ayuyas y queso de hoja en mi nombre!

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