Ecuador: Quito, Otavalo, and Cuenca (2016)

In summer 2016 I spent 11 days in the highlands of Ecuador visiting Quito, Otavalo, and Cuenca after spending three weeks in Colombia.

Itinerary

DayDaytimeSleep
1Flight to Quito via BogotáQuito
2QuitoQuito
3Bus to OtavaloOtavalo
4Bus to QuitoQuito
5QuitoQuito
6QuitoQuito
7Flight to CuencaCuenca
8CuencaCuenca
9CuencaCuenca
10CuencaCuenca
11Flight to Quito, then flight back to US

Timing

Sunny day in Quito. View from top of the cathedral.

Sunny day in Quito. View from top of the cathedral.

June and July are good months to visit the Ecuadorian highlands, since it’s mostly sunny with little rain.

Transportation

Getting There and Away: I flew to Quito from Bogotá with the budget airline Viva Colombia. Using Viva Colombia went smoothly and saved me hundreds of dollars over using other Latin American carriers. See more about Viva Colombia here.

I flew TAME, Ecuador’s national airline, roundtrip between Quito and Cuenca. This was a cheap return flight at only US$100, but I was not impressed with TAME. My return flight from Cuenca was canceled without the airline notifying me, a fact I only discovered a couple of days before my flight when I tried to log in to see my itinerary and got an error. TAME doesn’t seem to answer their phones, so it was a stressful scramble to find an office open on Sundays to get my flight rebooked.

Uber is unfortunately not yet available in Ecuador, although there are other taxi services you can request via smartphone. The Claro cell plan I had bought in Colombia did not roam in Ecuador, so I just took official taxis on the street (identified by the green license numbers on the windshield).

I found taxis in Ecuador to be a mixed bag. Most drivers were incredibly helpful and friendly, but I encountered one with a meter that obviously had been altered to run faster. When I complained he first denied any problem with the meter and then eventually turned it off, settling on a price.

Accommodation

View from Airbnb, Baños, Cuenca

View from Airbnb, Baños, Cuenca

I stayed in Airbnbs throughout Ecuador and had a great experience.

SIM card and apps

The Claro plan I bought in Colombia did not have roaming enabled in Ecuador, despite Claro being a major provider there. When I asked, it turned out there was some paperwork I needed to fill out before leaving Colombia to enable roaming. (I had asked at a Claro store in Colombia and no one had mentioned this.) Still, there was enough free Wi-Fi in Quito and Cuenca to manage.

As in most Latin American countries, I recommend installing WhatsApp since it’s commonly used for messaging.

Quito

In Quito I stayed at an Airbnb in La Mariscal, the tourist area where most accommodation is located, a short taxi ride from the center.

View from top of Quito cathedral

View from top of Quito cathedral

Protest in support of disappeared activists in front of the government palace, Plaza Grande, Quito

Protest in support of disappeared activists in front of the government palace, Plaza Grande, Quito

Police monitoring the protest

Police monitoring the protest

Armadillo gargoyles, Quito basilica. The gargoyles of the basilica are all native Ecuadorian animals.

Armadillo gargoyles, Quito basilica. The gargoyles of the basilica are all native Ecuadorian animals.

View from the basilica

View from the basilica

Capilla del Hombre, tribute museum to the most important Ecuadorian visual artist of all time, Oswaldo Guayasamín. The Capilla del Hombre houses an eternal flame advocating for peace and human rights, and the Tree of Life, where the remains of the artist are buried.

Capilla del Hombre, tribute museum to the most important Ecuadorian visual artist of all time, Oswaldo Guayasamín. The Capilla del Hombre houses an eternal flame advocating for peace and human rights, and the Tree of Life, where the remains of the artist are buried.

Templo de San Francisco, Quito

Templo de San Francisco, Quito

WWII planes make the best playgrounds: Parque La Carolina, Quito

WWII planes make the best playgrounds: Parque La Carolina, Quito

Colombian refugee selling delicious agua de coco, Parque la Carolina

Colombian refugee selling delicious agua de coco, Parque la Carolina

Ecuavóley, Parque La Carolina

Ecuavóley, Parque La Carolina

In both hemispheres at once! Mitad Del Mundo

In both hemispheres at once! Mitad Del Mundo

Otavalo

Market, Otavalo

Market, Otavalo

I spent a Friday night at an Airbnb in Otavalo in order to get up early for the famous Saturday market. For hundreds of years, Otavalo has hosted one of the most important markets in the Andes. Otavalo is world-famous for its indigenous population, the Otavalos, many of whom travel around the world to sell their famous handicrafts or play in Andean folk music groups. The Otavalos are considered the economically most successful indigenous group of Latin America.

On Saturdays, most of the streets of town are filled with market stalls selling everything from food to traditional indigenous dress. There are actually several markets in Otavalo. The animal market, a short walk out of town, starts in the early morning and starts wrapping up around 10am. The animal market is not for the faint of heart, but provides a fascinating glimpse into local culture.

Least interesting of all to me was the touristy artisan market in the market square. I’m not much of a shopper, but for someone interested in buying blankets, sweaters, or other souvenirs it would be a useful stop.

Buying traditional indigenous dress, Otavalo market

Buying traditional indigenous dress, Otavalo market

Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Box of chicks! Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Box of chicks! Feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Small animal section, feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Small animal section, feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Chicken vendor, feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

Chicken vendor, feria de animales (animal market), Otavalo

The market takes over most of the main streets of Otavalo on Saturdays.

The market takes over most of the main streets of Otavalo on Saturdays.

Food market, Otavalo

Food market, Otavalo

Food market, Otavalo

Food market, Otavalo

Food market, Otavalo

Food market, Otavalo

Probably a lot of the pigs I saw at the market will end up like this. :(

Probably a lot of the pigs I saw at the market will end up like this. 🙁

Spices, Otavalo market

Spices, Otavalo market

Food market, Otavalo

Food market, Otavalo

Cuenca

Cuenca is a lovely city deservedly popular with expats. It’s worth staying a few days to check it out.

Plaza de las Flores, Cuenca

Plaza de las Flores, Cuenca

View over historic center of Cuenca

View over historic center of Cuenca

Walking along the river, Cuenca

Walking along the river, Cuenca

4 Comments on “Ecuador: Quito, Otavalo, and Cuenca (2016)

  1. Oh a trip to either Ecuador or Argentina is SO high on my list. Would love to take my daughter there and let her learn Spanish while I brush up on mine…

    • You’d love it! Ecuador has a nice clear accent and a tradition of excellent Spanish schools. Argentina has a fairly difficult accent but its great culture makes up for it. 🙂

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