Otavalo is an indigenous town two hours North of Quito which is famous for its markets. Once you manage to navigate Quito’s bus system to get to the terminal in the North, it’s pretty easy to get to Otavalo and it only costs $2 each way. We set off at 7am from our house, missed two buses, got a little bit lost, chose the wrong bus terminal and then arrived to find a long queue for the bus which took about 20 minutes to get through (we Brits took this in our stride). Tickets bought, we got onto an incredibly comfortable bus with great music and the occasional person boarding to sell ice cream, and set off on the beautiful journey to Otavalo through the mountains.
Our delay meant we missed the animal market, but the main market was still in full swing. Stalls line the streets and the squares selling beautiful fabrics, jewellery, wool, clothes, bags, shoes, books and some wonderful tourist tat that I just had to take a look at because some of it was so dreadful. Every stall we passed the owner would greet us with the “Hola ¿a la orden?”, “Hello, can I help you?”. We bought a couple of things, I, as usual, failed at haggling. However the real delight was just to wander around and take it all in. There’s such a variety of things on offer and I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the market as much as the quiet of the side streets around it.
Like Quito, the town is in the mountains and there are beautiful views. We headed to a small town called San Pablo where there’s a lake at the foot of the volcano Imbabura, which was a wonderful setting. We went to a small café on the lake where we had a drink and the boys rented a pedalo boat while I sat and took it all in. We then headed home in the late afternoon, although apparently we could have also gone to Cotacachi, a town nearby with a leather market. Next time! I want to go back in September when there’s a local festival.
Mindo is two hours Northwest of Quito. One of the volunteers at my company wanted to go and so I said I’d go with her. We hired a guide, which was a first for me, who showed us around.
Mindo is in the cloud forest and is famous for its biodiversity and its adventure activities (including tubing down the river, which sadly we did not have time for). The journey there was wonderful, first we stopped off at the Pululahua Volcano crater, which has people living in it even though the volcano is still active! I couldn’t believe it. Then we followed the mountain road, marvelling as the relatively sparse vegetation soon became lush green forest. Trees are covered in ferns and other plants until everything becomes this big green tangle. We stopped off in a town along the road for a guanabana juice, my new favourite thing.
Our first stop in Mindo was the butterfly farm, where I conveniently remembered that I am afraid of butterflies, especially when they are bigger than my fist (most of them had eye marks on their wings, terrifying! It’s like they’re watching you!) David, our guide, could not stop laughing at me. As everyone else delighted in having butterflies landing on their heads and eating from their hands, I found a nice little corner by a fountain where the smaller, prettier and less scary butterflies hung out. There I stayed until it was time to go, cowering away.
Outside we saw hummingbirds, for which the area is famous (also orchids, but it wasn’t the season). Ecuador is home to about 40% of the world’s hummingbird species, which is pretty incredible for a country of such a small size. We tried desperately to get photos but this proved to be very difficult, so instead we just stayed and watched them for a while.
Next on the agenda was walking through the forest to the waterfalls. First, though, we had to cross the valley in an aerial tram, which was absolutely amazing! I loved it. David hung onto the outside because he didn’t want to wait in the queue for the next one. I definitely could not have done that! There was a huge drop. Once out of the tram we walking for about an hour through beautiful trees and plants with leaves bigger than my head until we reached the waterfall. We went to one of the further and less popular ones, meaning we could appreciate the surroundings with few interruptions.
When we made it back from the waterfall it was well past lunchtime and stomachs were seriously rumbling, so we tucked into a meal of fish, rice and soup (What a surprise!) before heading back to Quito. Even though we got stuck in traffic, the journey home was even better than the way there because as the evening fell so did the clouds, which slowly descended over the forest and gave us fantastic views. It all looked very magical.