otavalo: two haciendas & the sprawling saturday market

The Haciendas

Friday, August 12, 2022: After leaving through the southern entrance of Cotopaxi National Park, we headed north, hoping to bypass Quito and make it to Otavalo. We got stuck in numerous traffic quagmires around Sangolqui. Once we got on the highway to the airport, it was smooth sailing. But 282N was the worst as we crawled along for well over an hour. It was a holiday weekend for 8 de Agosto and the road was a nightmare.

Hacienda Cusín

We finally arrived at 1:17 at Hacienda Cusín. We had made a reservation for a 2:30 lunch but they weren’t at all crowded so we were able to eat right away. The hacienda dining room was gorgeous, so rich and sumptuous, but the food was neither creative nor very tasty.

We had a quail eggs cocktail, a mixed salad and some bland stir-fry vegetables.  Mike and I shared traditional green plantain soup with fresh corn and cassava. Mike had a grilled pork chop dressed with wild fruit sauce. We topped off our lunch with avocado ice cream.

According to the Hacienda’s website:

Purchased at an auction from Philip III, King of Spain by the prominent Luna family in 1602 (around the same time that Cervantes wrote Don Quixote), the original sheep farm comprised of two valleys and all the land between them and the lake – some 100,000 acres/50,000 hectares.

In the early 19th century, when Alexander Von Humboldt made his Ecuador explorations and Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands, Hacienda Cusín, named after the mountain at the head of the valley, was the country home of a successful farming family. The often more than two-day horse-ride from Quito encouraged visiting family and friends to extend their visits. Cusín became an informal hotel, a home, just as it is today.

You can read more about the history of the hacienda here: Hacienda Cusín History.  Apparently the sheep farm was reduced to a small farm by the 1964 Land Reforms. Cusín then became a 12-room hotel.  A distressed property by 1990, Cusín was sold and extensive restorations began. Cusín’s main house today represents a 19th-century successful farming family.

After lunch, we spent quite a while strolling around the grounds and the buildings of the hacienda. The decor was gorgeous: painted wooden religious figures, Christ on the cross, vestments hung on the walls, a fabulous wrought iron staircase, colorful tiles on the walls, Tigua-style folk paintings in the library, lush gardens, a rose-filled fountain in the monastery courtyard, an amazing green multi-tiered fireplace, murals painted on walls inside and out, more religious vestments, and painted window wells. All enchanting.

We wandered to the stable and met the one white horse in the pasture. He snorted when he came eagerly to the fence and we didn’t offer him any snacks.

Las Palmeras Inn

We finally left after I bought a scarf and we drove into Otavalo where we had a hard time finding Las Palmeras Inn, also a former hacienda. It was way up a hill on a bumpy potholed road tucked away in a rather decrepit neighborhood. We had met Cesar, the owner of both Hacienda Cusín and Las Palmeras, at Cusín, then we ran into him again at Las Palmeras. We introduced ourselves to the three resident llamas and two dogs, one of which, Quiera, was super cute and friendly.

According to the hacienda’s website, Las Palmeras Inn is a 150-year-old hacienda that represents the traditional vintage Andean house with cozy fire logs, adobe walls, wooden beams and tile roofs, along with palm trees in the garden.  It is tucked in the Quichinche Valley, surrounded by lush mountains. Nearby are Imbabura Volcano (4,630m/15,190 ft) and Cotacachi (4,944m/16,220 ft).

Our room got cold as soon as the sun started sinking, so we went to check out the garden at Cesar’s suggestion. The garden was abundant with herbs and vegetables. We walked all over the property and admired the many homes and cottages. Cesar’s home is on the property.

In a courtyard, we found a mural of Saint Isidore, the patron saint of farmers, peasants, day laborers and agriculture in general, as well as bricklayers. The dining rooms were beautifully elegant, but the place was a bit more laid back than Hacienda Cusín. In one dining room was a dome with a flying angel holding a guinea pig. I also fell in love with a painting of three women’s backs and their braided hair facing the viewer. The painting is similar to a Diego Rivera print I have at home.

We didn’t go off the property in the evening but ate in the dining room.  We had the typical Ecuadorian meal, but I don’t remember what we had.

The staff came to light the fire in the fireplace, which wasn’t nearly as warm and toasty as the woodstove we had at Hacienda Los Mortiños. It was freezing, so we bundled up under the blankets, along with the hot water bottles we found in our beds, and tried to keep warm all night. Mike tended the fire as best he could but it wasn’t putting out much heat anyway, so we just stayed in bed as much as possible.

Steps: 6,636; Miles: 2.79.

The Otavalo Saturday Market

Saturday, August 13: We woke up to sunshine and hopes of a warmer day. After enjoying a delicious breakfast at Las Palmeras, we strolled around the grounds a bit more and ran into Cesar.  He walked around with us for a bit. He pointed out the volcanoes surrounding Otavalo, Cotacachi and Imbabura. He was very proud of his two haciendas and what they preserve of traditional Ecuadorian culture.

We caught a taxi to the Otavalo market because we figured parking would be difficult. It is one of the most important markets in the Andes. It is apparently the largest market in Ecuador and the largest market of its kind in South America.

The market’s history stretches back to pre-Incan times when traders emerged from the jungle on foot, ready to conduct business. Today, hordes of tourists from around the globe hunt for bargains alongside Ecuadorians.

Otavaleños are known for their exquisite weavings and have been exploited over the ages for their textile-making skills, by the Incas, the Spanish and eventually Ecuadorians. They are still exploited, but they are the wealthiest and most commercially successful indigena people in Ecuador, according to Lonely Planet Ecuador.  They are able to live in relative comfort.

The taxi dropped us at Plaza de Ponchos, the nucleus of the crafts market. Saturday is the official market day and we had planned to visit here accordingly.

In the colorful open air marketplace, vendors sell handmade traditional crafts and other imported goods. Artisan crafts include woolen goods such as rugs, tapestries, blankets, ponchos, sweaters, scarves, gloves and hats, embroidered white blouses, hammocks, carvings, beads, Tigua and other paintings, woven mats, and jewelry made from tagua nut (aka vegetable ivory). We found plenty of regular clothing, trinkets and colorful handbags and backpacks.

I bought several more small paintings, a scarf, a painted tray, and believe it or not, another hat. Here again, I experienced a failure to communicate.  I told the vendor, “Yo necesito un sombrero grande para mi caballo grande.” (I need a large hat for my big horse). I should have said “para mi cabeza grande” (my big head).  Worse yet, I kept repeating the same mistake, even when Mike and the lady were laughing their heads off at me. What an idiot I am with languages!!

We strolled on the outskirts of the market to a square with a bust of Rumiñawi: Pueblo Kichwa Otavalo. He was an Inca warrior born in the late 15th century in present-day Ecuador. He died on June 25, 1535. He was a general during the Inca Civil War. After the death of Emperor Atahualpa, he led the resistance in 1533 against the Spanish in the northern part of the Inca Empire (modern-day Ecuador).  According to tradition, he ordered the city’s treasure to be hidden and the city to be burned to prevent looting by the Spanish. Although captured and tortured, he never revealed the treasure. Since 1985, December 1 is celebrated as a day of commemoration of his acts.


Rumiñawi: Pueblo Kichwa Otavalo

After shopping for a long while, we hauled our loot back to Las Palmeras.  We enjoyed a drink on the front porch of the restaurant and relaxed a while.

Later, we took a taxi back into town to have dinner at a restaurant we’d seen earlier, Maytushka: Amazonian food.  Mike had a strong shot and I ordered Tilapia Asad and yuca. The tilapia was huge and full of large spiky bones and I nearly choked on one.  Mike ordered a Purungo sopa: (maytu caldo de galina criolla, yuca, arroz, limón y aji).

When we left the restaurant at 7:30-8:00, we felt on edge because it was dark and we had a hard time finding a taxi. Things seemed rather menacing as the town was shutting up all the market stalls. We hadn’t really gone out after dark much except in Cuenca, where we felt very safe, and in our Quito neighborhood. In Riobamba, we had the experience of being followed in a rather deserted area.

Steps: 10,395; Miles: 4.37.

The Journey Home

Sunday, August 14: We left Otavalo directly after breakfast, thinking we’d need to leave early because we’d encountered so much traffic on Friday due to the holiday weekend. However, today we didn’t encounter any traffic at all. The drive from Otavalo was on smooth new highways which were carved dramatically out of the mountains. The highway was modern and well-maintained compared to many other highways in Ecuador.

Because we misjudged the traffic, we got to the airport super early, at 10:30 a.m. We turned in our rental car and entered the airport so early we couldn’t even check our bags, so we were saddled with our luggage for an hour. I went wandering at the nearby gift shop to kill time. I bought Sarah a coffee mug and Alex some coffee.

Finally, around 11:30, we were able to check our bags and go to the gate.

Our flight was on American Airlines 2162 from Quito (2:58 pm) to Miami (8:17 pm). What a long and boring travel day.

On the plane, Mike spent a long time talking to his seatmates, a 30+ something couple from Quito who were going on a vacation to Orlando. The woman spoke a little English but most of the conversation was in Spanish. I think Mike had fun speaking so much in Spanish since I will rarely engage with him when he wants to practice at home. Even I was able to contribute some to the conversation.

At 8:17 p.m., we arrived in Miami and had to catch a shuttle to Sleep Inn Miami Airport. What a dump. We settled in there right away since we had to wake up early for our morning flight to Washington.

Steps: 6,092; Miles 2.58.

Monday, August 15: Our flight was American Airlines 491 from Miami at 6:24 a.m. to Reagan National in Washington (9:00 a.m.) We woke up at 4 a.m. and rolled out of bed, not bothering to shower or anything. Mike had arranged an Uber to pick us up since it was too early for the hotel shuttle. The driver was a bit late, sending me into panic mode. Finally we got on our flight and made it home safely. We took an Uber to the house, where Alex had cleaned up nicely and was there to welcome us. He was supposed to have moved to a townhouse in Alexandria while we were gone, but he was still waiting for a mattress to be delivered. I went for a walk on the Glade Trail and did laundry all day. Mike had to work as soon as we got home.

Sadly, our trip to Ecuador had come to an end.  We loved it, even the challenging parts, which always make a trip interesting and adventurous. 🙂

Steps: 13,648; Miles: 5.77.

Here is a short video of our time in Otavalo and to the airport.