Ibarra is a small city in northern Ecuador, not too far from the tourist hub of Otavalo. It’s nickname is the White City because of its several whitewashed colonial buildings. It’s not a touristy place at all but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a quick stop.
A good place to start is Parque Pedro Moncayo. This huge square with big leafy trees and tall palms is surrounded by several interesting colonial buildings.
The cathedral is one of those buildings.
Not too far away is Parque La Merced. It’s another square full of trees and flowers with the Iglesia de La Merced as its main feature.
A short walk north is Parque Boyacá. In the center of a roundabout is a small monument to Simón Bolívar.
The small but beautiful Iglesia de Santo Domingo sits on Parque Boyacá.
To the northeast of town is Laguna Yahuarcocha. This recreational lake is very peaceful nowadays, but in the early 1500s it was the scene of a great massacre by the conquering Incas. Several local tribes were battling to prevent an Inca conquest, and Inca leader Huayna Capac had all males over 12 slaughtered, their bodies dumped into the lake, turning the entire lake red from their blood. We didn’t visit the lake, but we drove by it on the bus ride.
For ice cream lovers, it’s impossible to go to Ibarra without trying helados de paila. This local treat has been produced in Ibarra by the indigenous population since Inca times. It is made by using snow or ice shavings and a large copper pan, stirring natural fruit juices into the pan to freeze.
The best place to try helados de paila is the famous Heladería Rosalía Suárez. In 1896, young Rosalía Suárez developed a special recipe using natural fruit juices, ice from Volcán Imbabura, and egg whites, stirred in a copper bowl with a wooden spoon. Her descendants carry on the tradition but with normal ice, as the ice from the volcano has since disappeared.
For food and entertainment, Plaza Francisco Calderón seems like the place to go.
We went for an early dinner at around 4pm. The plaza was quite empty but a rock-themed Mexican restaurant, El Coyote, was open.
Getting Mexican food anywhere outside of Mexico and the US usually ends up a disaster, but this was some decent stuff. Not perfect, but good. I had a burrito and Marisol had a tortilla soup. We split a plate of nachos. The meal was US$20.
Ibarra’s bus terminal is located a few minutes from the city center. A taxi ride to and from town should cost no more than US$1. There are frequent buses to Quito (3 hours) and Otavalo (40 minutes). For buses going north to Tulcán, you might have to wait at a large traffic circle about 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal.