Located 2 hours north of Quito, is the Imbabura Province. The region offers a unique blend of natural history, dramatic mountain scenery, taste treats, local culture, and handicrafts… lots of handicrafts. Our route is north on the Pan American Highway, crossing the Equator at the city of Cayambe – on the foothills of the imposing (19,000 ft) Mt. Cayambe.
The province is known for the many local villages, each with its own handicraft or culinary specialty; Calderon (noted for its traditional bread dough figurines), the Guallabamba Valley (where seasonally you will have the opportunity of tasting the exotic fruit of the region – the chirimoya), Peguche (where the best weavings of the Otavalo Indians are actually made), Cotacachi (where you will find excellent leatherwork), and Cayambe (where they are famous for wonderfully flakey cheese biscuits)…
On the mountainsides overlooking Cotacachi and Otavalo there is a non-profit Condor Park. The Parque Cóndor is dedicated to the research, protection, rehabilitation and reintroduction of this emblematic bird. Other local birds of prey at the park include eagles, owls, hawks and vultures.
Ecuador is also known for its native markets, a tradition that predates even the Incas, to a time when agricultural products were first carried down from the Andean Highlands on the backs of llamas and traded for goods from the Amazon region, which were also transported to the "marketplace." Of these markets, none is more famous than the one at Otavalo, in the heart of the Imbabura Province. This handicraft market overflows the confines of the main square in town with everything from ponchos, blankets, scarves, sweaters, belts, tapestries, and rugs, to jewelry, paintings, wood carvings and beadwork. The marketplace is the largest on Saturdays, but active daily. Bargaining is the rule and transactions are in cash.
Ecuador’s most beautiful export is the varieties of award-winning roses which are grown year round. Today several growers in the High Andes have opened their greenhouses and plantations to visitors by reservation. A typical visit may last 60-90 minutes and take visitors through the entire process, from plant selection to growing methods, hybridization, cutting and packaging.
We offer five variations on the theme, depending on your interests…
ONE DAY TOUR OPTIONS
Enjoy a full day outside Quito, experiencing several small handicraft villages as well as the colorful Otavalo Market. Lunch at a local hacienda. This very thorough 1-day trip is probably the most popular of the tours. (daily: 7:30am-5pm)
A full day visit to the Imbabura Province, with the focus of the morning being the famous Otavalo Indian Market. Following lunch at a local hacienda it is time to slow the pace down a little. Options might include a nature walk to the local Peguche falls, or maybe a stroll through the rural villages and along the shores of Lago San Pablo. Savor the fresh air and quiet beauty of the high Andes this afternoon before returning to Quito. (daily: 7:30am-5pm)
Imbabura - the Markets of Otavalo
Enjoy the same countryside and scenery as the Imbabura Province tours, but with the touring focus more on the varied markets in Otavalo. In addition to the better known handicrafts market in Otavalo, the town is home to 2 additional marketplaces geared towards the local population. A traditional covered market features vendors of produce and foodstuffs. Also, every Saturday, all eyes are on the animal market on the outskirts of town – everything from llamas to sheep, cows to horses, pigs to chickens, is available. Following lunch in a local hacienda enjoy a relaxing visit to a neighboring village before returning to Quito. (Saturday only; 6:30am departure)
Imbabura Roses & Handicrafts
Belonging to the same family for generations, the Hacienda la Compañia estate, in the village of Cayambe, dates from the colonial era. While the main house "only" dates from 1919, there are older barns and a Jesuit Chapel on the grounds. Built in French neoclassical style, the house is a living museum to the family history and history of farm life in the early twentieth century. Decorations include thousands of fresh roses daily. With the growth of Ecuador's rose export industry in the early 1990's the family created the Rosadex flower plantation; known for award winning rose production.
Following your morning visit to the plantation continue on to the central Otavalo handicraft market, followed by lunch in a local hacienda. Round out the afternoon with further exploration of the area before returning to Quito. $20 entrance fee to the rose plantation not included. (Monday-Saturday: 7:30am-4pm)
Imbabura – Taking Flight
Experience the excitement of the largest handicraft market in Ecuador – Otavalo – together with the thrills of viewing some of Ecuador’s emblematic raptors up close. An 11am flight demonstration sees several of the birds soaring far across the valleys below the center.
Following lunch at a local hacienda we might have time for a visit to one of the neighboring handicraft villages. Return to Quito late afternoon. If you are taking a 2-day tour of the province there is also a late afternoon flight demonstration. $10 entrance fee to Condor Park not included. (Wednesday-Sunday: 7:30am-4pm)
Two Day Tours
What is better than one day in the Imbabura Province? Two days! Savor the experience of the Ecuadorian countryside with a night in a charming local hacienda, picking the adventure up again the next day. Customize your tour by starting with any of the 5 one-day Imbabura tours, plus an overnight in comfort at local hacienda or hosteria. Continue with a second day of exploration to suite your tastes, and how much you might like to see vs. how independent you might like to be… Or make it 3 days...
Imbabura Province (2 days; semi-independent)
Two different 1-day fully-escorted tours of the Imbabura province, plus an independent stay at one of the lovely local haciendas in between. Mid-afternoon rather than returning to Quito with your driver and guide they will drop you off at your hacienda for the night. Enjoy a free late afternoon and evening. The following day your driver and guide will return at roughly 9am to resume touring, taking you back to Quito at the end of the day. Includes overnight accommodations, lunch, breakfast and lunch (dinner not included).
Imbabura Province (2 days; fully escorted)
Our favorite. This is a fully-escorted two day tour, experiencing the area to the fullest, while also at a more relaxed pace. Dinner and overnight at your choice of local haciendas. Your private driver and guide will also spend the night giving you more time to explore the province, lingering later on the first day, and starting earlier on the second day. Depending on your interests other possible village visits might include San Antonio de Ibarra (known for its artistic woodcarvings) and Iluman (traditional style felt hats). Includes all meals from lunch on the first day through lunch on the second day. Return to Quito late afternoon on the second day.
Imbabura Province (2 days; tour & relaxation)
Start with any of the five 1-day Imbabura tours, exploring with your private driver and guide, plus an independent stay at one of the lovely local haciendas that evening (while your driver and guide return to Quito). Enjoy a free second day in the area to spend any way you wish – hiking, biking, horseback riding, shopping, returning to a favorite village by taxi, or just relaxing at the hacienda. Late afternoon on the second day a car and driver will transfer you directly back to Quito. Includes overnight accommodations, lunch, and breakfast (dinner, as well as lunch on the second day, not included).
Hacienda Cusin • Totally renovated in recent years, this wonderfully atmospheric hacienda’s main buildings date from the early 1600’s. Many of the guest rooms, suites and garden cottages have fireplaces, and all have private baths. The grounds are beautiful (nicer than many botanical gardens) and the food always gets rave reviews. Enjoy the working flavor of the hacienda by hiring a cowboy and horses to explore the surrounding hills (bikes are also available). Lago San Pablo is a short walk away.
La Mirage Garden Hotel & Spa • This former hacienda is today an deluxe boutique hotel featuring 23 rooms and suites, located on the outskirts of Cotacachi. The spa is luxurious and the gardens are a sensory delight. La Mirage is known for its elegant fusion of traditions, cuisines, décor and services from Ecuador and further afield.