A trip to Otavalo doesn’t have to end when the market vendors pack up shop; there’s plenty to do outside of town, not least explore the many nearby weaving villages, which often each specialize in certain crafts. Local tour agencies combine visits to several villages, giving you a cross-section of the different techniques and traditions employed by each. Peguche, within walking distance northeast of Otavalo, has a cooperative that features weaving demonstrations and a secluded waterfall nearby, while the villages huddled around the reed shores of Lago de San Pablo, 3km southeast of Peguche, are also home to many weavers. The villages celebrate colourful fiestas, including the banner-waving processions of Los Pendoneros, held in San Rafael and San Roque on October 15. San Rafael hosts the costume ritual of El Coraza on August 19, in which one of the village’s wealthiest men appears in a feathered hat hung with so much gold chain and jewellery that his face is concealed. If you turn up at any of these fiestas, try to be discreet (or better yet, invited), as they can be rather private affairs. The festival of Pawkar Raimi held in Peguche and Agato (Feb & March), usually includes plenty of music-making and concerts open to all.
The Lagunas de Mojanda, three lakes surrounded by brooding, cloud-hung peaks south of town, are set in ideal country for hiking and horseriding, while another popular excursion is to Laguna Cuicocha, on the edge of the huge Cotacachi-Cayapas reserve, extending from the páramo down to tropical forests in the coastal Esmeraldas province. The lake is best reached from Cotacachi, 11km north of Otavalo, a smart little town famous for its market, leather goods and boutiques. Your best bet for leaving the crowds behind, though, is by taking a bus west to the remote Intag region, where small villages such as Apuela and Junín nestle in richly forested hills, and where you can soak in thermal springs at Nangulví and visit nearby pre-Inca ruins at Gualimán.
Otavalo, as of late 2010, will be the jumping-off point for a new road down to the coast, skirting the edge of previously very remote communities near the southern fringes of the Cotacachi-Cayapas reserve before joining the main highway to Esmeraldas at Quinindé. This will cut many hours off the journey for anyone heading to Atacames and neighbouring beach resorts, as well as several northwestern cloudforest reserves, including Los Cedros.