Riding the Rails
This recently restored 'Tren de la Libertad' route links Ibarra with the much lower village of Salinas, which feels like a ghost town – tumbleweeds wouldn't be out of place. Only 30km, the round-trip excursion takes six hours because the train chugs along slowly and in Salinas you're given time to visit the mildly interesting salt museum and watch an Afro-Ecuadorian dance troupe performing for passengers. A handful of private security officers on motorcycles follow along the entire way to ensure the train doesn't hit any cars, trucks or slow-moving livestock – it feels like you're part of a presidential motorcade. Tren Ecuador operates out of the renovated station in Ibarra. Departures are at 11:30am Thursday through Sunday.
The line between Otavalo and Ibarra began running in 2017 (8am Friday to Sunday), with an immediate snag: winter flooding and landslides moved the operation from Otavalo to nearby San Roque.
While you’ll find a couple of decent budget options in town, the nicer accommodations are near the Panamericana west of Ibarra. They’re often booked in advance, particularly on weekends and during the last two weeks of September during Ibarra’s lively annual fiesta. If camping's your thing, we discovered a German-run campground, Finca Sommerwind, on the edges of Laguna Yuanacacha; it's well equipped for longer stays, with electric and water supply.
There are a surprising number of nice cafes in the center, and an interesting selection on Plaza Francisco Calderón, on Calle Sucre. You can find a few 24-hour chifas (Chinese restaurants) south of Flores between Olmedo and Sucre.
Ibarra also seems to be home to the most handmade ice-cream shops – the famous helado de paila ('bucket' ice cream) – in all of Ecuador.
Drinking & Nightlife
Plaza Francisco Calderón is a cool hangout, and cafes stay open into the early evening hours. There's even a bit of live music and cinema as you get closer to the weekend.