After a visit to Quito, the next must do on your itinerary is a trip to the Highlands and a visit to the famed Otavalo market. It is an easy two day trip, or you can take longer and enjoy the haciendas and all that they offer.
For an excellent guide, I recommend contacting Luis Alberto Cruzatty to be your guide. His phone is +593994888470 and email firstname.lastname@example.org. I used him for Quito and Otavalo and the Highlands and thought he was excellent. He drove me to Otavalo, showed me the market and the local sites and stayed at the Haciendas with me for two nights.
On the way to the Northern Highlands, stop at Cayambe for a Bizcocho and coffee or hot chocolate. This is a traditional cookie/biscuit made with cheese. You will feel like a local. If it is near November 1, or Day of the Dead, stop across the street and walk through the local cemetery where the flowers are incredible.
If on a Saturday or Sunday, make sure to make a quick stop at the Parque Yaznan also in Cayambe but on the southern side. Here you will find a very, very colorful park with families renting colorful paddle boats and the kids playing on the fun swings, rides etc. This is where you will see local life at its best.
San Antonio de Ibarra: This is a local town known for its wood carvings. You walk around the main square and walk through the many stores. The best known and the best quality is that of Luis Potosi at the Galeria de Arte Luis Potosi at Bolivar 615 y Luis Enrique Cevallos. He is a delightful man and you will love his sculptures and smaller pieces.
Cotacachi: You may see some American expats on the street of this small town known for its leather goods. You will find jackets, shoes, belts, purses and handbags and other leather products. I had my first cuy or guinea pig at a local restaurant, La Marqueza Restaurante, 10 de Agosto 12-65 y Bolivar, which was a fun, local spot for lunch.
Artesania el Gran Condor: Located on the outskirts of Otavalo is a very quality store selling Ecuadorian textiles that you can’t find in the Otavalo market. Nearby is Nanda Manachi which is a great spot to hear a demonstration of local musical instruments and to buy some items.