Before we went to the Galapagos Islands, we started in Otavalo, about a 1.5-2hr drive from Quito.
The drive…not sure what those Ecuadorians are doing (or whether the roads in DC have permanently maimed my judgment), but the roads were fantastic. Not a pothole to be seen.
Otavalo is beautiful. We didn't know this, but one of Ecuador's biggest exports is roses, so there are greenhouses everywhere. It's also a bit chilly at 9,500-11,000 feet–so if you are heading to the Galapagos with a suitcase of warm clothes, a fleece or other layer is definitely a must for Otavalo.
In the morning, we headed to the local market and just walked around. Lots of fruits, homegoods, and of course livestock. Didn't really seem like there was a whole lot of buying or selling, but there were plenty of pigs, cows, and sheep/goats to go around.
(And livestock are still stubborn, no matter the country.)
We also went to the more touristy craft market in the afternoon. DH and I weren't really looking for anything (DH in particularly was not looking for anything), but we did pick up a really pretty necklace for me. If you are looking to shop, this is the place to do it. There are literally a hundred stalls with very similar goods. Lots of weaving, some carvings of animals from the Galapagos, t-shirts, jewelry, etc. They are willing to bargain within reason, and very respectful. There is no chasing you down the aisle, and no aggressive selling or hassling. In fact, the market is incredibly quiet. So if you are a browser and not a buyer, this is definitely a great market to stroll around.
While most of our group was looking for things to take home, DH and I started hunting for beer. We had seen an advertisement for Club with cacao, and the store with the advertisement had been out of the beer. This continued to be a theme–lots of ads, no beer. Fortunately, the parking lot was right beside a grocery store, and surprise surprise, Cacao Club! It was really delicious.
As we were standing there awkwardly with our beer, our guide says "you know there is no law in Ecuador about drinking…you can drink that wherever you like!" Most of the group was shopping just frantically because we didn't have "enough" time to shop, so I think they were amused to see us standing there, casually drinking our beer when it was time to go. By that time, a few of the other less enthusiastic shoppers in our group had already asked where we had gotten the beer and followed our lead!
It was really nice to see another part of Ecuador, and I'm glad that we spent 2 nights in Otavalo before going to the Galapagos, particularly because we didn't have time to go to Quito (which, we heard from those who did, was a beautiful city).
One of the biggest draws of the Otavalo region is also the beautiful volcanoes and crater lakes which dot the landscape…which will be the subject of Part 2!