Ibarra, with its choked streets and colonial charm weathered to a weary gray, is neither the provincial backwater it once was, nor a thriving draw for tourism. With commerce picking up, it’s unclear whether it will embrace its cobbled foundations or pave over them. The fast-growing capital of Imababura province lies just 22km northeast of Otavalo. To properly enjoy the architectural beauty of la ciudad blanca (the white city), take an evening walk or ride through its peaceful well-lit streets in order to admire the narrow wooden balconies, sculpted facades and palm-lined parks. In the daytime it is far too hectic and gritty to get the same effect.
Ibarra offers diversity atypical of a highland town, with students, mestizos, indigenous groups and Afro-Ecuadorians. The mild climate is ideal for hoofing it around the ice-cream shops and green plazas. Ibarra occupies a crossroads pointing to the coast, Otavalo, the tropical valley of Chota and the páramo villages to the northeast.
Hotels fill up quickly during the last week of September for Ibarra’s annual fiesta, but it is a fun time with lots of live music and activities.