Living in Otavalo, Ecuador

The clouds hang, obscuring the top of the extinct Imbabura volcano’s 15,000-foot-high peak. Lago del San Pablo, a lake created when an ancient lava flow blocked the river Jatunyacu, glistens serenely to the south.

On the other side of the valley, the rocky volcán Cotacachi rests solemnly in the distance, sun dancing in bright patches along her green slopes. Local legend tells that the two volcanoes are lovers, and when there is snow on Cotacachi’s peak, it means that Imbabura has visited her in the night. The valley between them cradles Otavalo, a city about 34 miles north of Quito, Ecuador.

The streets are paved with gray bricks, laid like wide crosses in an interlocking pattern. Almost every building in town and the surrounding hillsides is painted some shade of off-white or soft yellow. The brownish-red tile roofs are the result of lingering Spanish architectural influence from the colonial era.

Lamps along the Calle Sucre are adorned with stained-glass birds and colorful metalwork sculptures. At night, you’ll often see lovers walking hand-in-hand beneath the hanging blankets of lights or embracing affectionately next to the illuminated palm trees in the Plaza Bolivar.

On Saturdays, the massive market overflows from the Plaza de Ponchos and colorful textiles and crafts fill tents along streets in a third of the city. Otavaleños are famous for their weavings, everything from blankets and bags to sweaters and gloves.

Still, escape feels just a block or two away—mostly because it is. Otavalo provides a unique living opportunity, combining the best of both worlds.

The true marvel here is the high-Andean farmland—a patchwork quilt of fields that tucks itself into every nook and cranny of the valley. The city life is present, but feels toned down because of the rich indigenous culture and easy lifestyle.

There’s no sense of overwhelming metropolis here.

If you dream of moving overseas and starting a farm but are not ready to give up the convenient amenities of city-living… or if you long to live a city life without the stress and noise of the hustle and bustle… the compromise exists here.

Fresh fruit and vegetables of all shapes, sizes, and colors can be found at the Mercado Copacabana in the eastern part of town. Spend $10 and you could easily find you have too much to carry, especially around the holidays when mangoes and oranges can run 15 for $1.

And, being that it’s close to the equator, the weather is fairly consistent year round. Daytime highs average in the mid-70s F with lows at night sometimes dipping in the 40s F.

Property prices vary depending on size and location. A comfortably-sized two-bedroom house in the city sells for around $35,000. Homes on the surrounding hillsides tend to be more expensive, usually around $50,000, but they are also bigger with up to a half acre of land.

There are many larger houses perched in the foothills between Otavalo and Cotacachi that have additional guest housing on the property. Many of these buildings were converted to B&Bs in response to the increase in tourism to the area. These properties have an asking price of around $100,000.

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