Top 10 things to do in Ibarra, Ecuador

Parks in Ibarra. Carolina Loza Leon
Parks in Ibarra. Carolina Loza Leon
Photo of Carolina Loza Leon
14 August 2017

Ibarra, or the white city, as it is for the walls in the historic district, is approximately 75 kilometers from Quito. Reachable by bus from Ecuador’s capital, it’s a perfect day trip or a weekend getaway. The warm weather is unbeatable, and it’s on the way to several lakes, which makes it an ideal destination for urban travelers and those who enjoy the countryside. Here are some of the top activities to do in the city.

Breakfast at Olor a Café

Olor a Café is a safe haven in the city’s business district. A coffee shop with tall bookshelves, wood counters and a friendly staff, Olor a Café is one of the best places in Ibarra to get your sightseeing day started and sit by the window to enjoy a glimpse of the park. Make sure to check out the library, which is full of traditional literature.

Olor a Café, Ibarra, Ecuador

Parks in Ibarra | © Carolina Loza Leon

Visit Centro Cultural El Cuartel

During the wars for independence, Ibarra became a military hub. Located in Northern Ecuador, the city was key in defending Quito, Ecuador’s capital and the last stronghold before reaching Colombia. The Centro Cultural El Cuartel was a military barracks that was destroyed in an Earthquake after the wars. The historical building was restored and reopened as a museum in 2016. It now houses local and national and highlights Ibarra’s importance to the country.

Walk Around Old Town

The people of Ibarra take great pride in the many cathedrals, basilicas and churches in the city. Each of them has unique architecture and religious art, such as the wood carvings of historical value from colonial times. Take a walk in the early evenings to take in the scenery and the calm, quieter streets. It’s one of the highlights of Ibarra’s old town.

Dinner at La Botica

Located in a beautiful, old building, La Botica Café is a great place to have dinner on the balcony overlooking the city. You can’t go wrong inside, either, as the décor is beautiful. Try the plantain dishes—they’re among the most popular, as is the cheesecake.

La Botica, Bolivar 7-92 y Pedro Moncayo, Ibarra, Imbabura, +593 99 710 2458

Ride Tren de la Libertad

Part of a government initiative to bring rail back to the city, Tren de la Libertad is one of the best around. The unique journey starts in Ibarra and ends in Salinas, an area with a rich heritage that is part of the Chota Valley. Crossing steep canyons, the trip offers some of Ecuador’s most beautiful sites in one day, including a glimpse of the rich Afro-Ecuadorian heritage preserved in the area.

San Antonio Wood Carvings

The town of San Antonio de Ibarra, 3.5 miles from southern Ibarra, is lined with galleries where carvers turn wood into sculptures, furniture, antiques and decorations. The town is charming and quiet, and the main plaza is an ideal spot to sit and people watch.

Visit San Miguel Arcángel

This monument, built for patron saint of the city, Arcángel Miguel, is a great place to admire the views and take in the Yahuarcocha Lake. It’s a natural lookout spot, and you can also see nearby towns, such as San Antonio and Cotacachi, among others.

San Miguel Arcángel, Ibarra, Ecuador

Buy Zuleta Embroidery

Zuleta embroidery is an initiative that promotes the fair-trade needlework handicrafts of Indigenous and mestizo women. The embroidery is known throughout Ecuador for the exquisite detail that embellish purses, handkerchiefs and hats. The products are sold in stores throughout the city, including at the Hacienda Zuelta weekend market. If you’re not around during the weekend, contact the hotel, and they’ll be happy to help.

Hacienda Zuelta, Ibarra, Ecuador, +593 62 662 232-06 2662


This Lake of glacial origin is 1.5 miles from Ibarra and can be reached by bus. Its name means “lake of blood” in Kichwa, a Quechua language, which it has been called since the ancient battle between Incas and Caranquis. The Yahuarcocha is full of legends and is surrounded by a racetrack.

Yahuarcocha Lake, Ibarra, Ecuador

Eat Traditional Ice Cream Helados de Paila Rosalía Suárez

This traditional Ecuadorian ice cream is made on a round pan with ice and fruit, and the Rosalía Suárez ice cream parlor in Old Town is one of the best. Naranjilla and taxo are two of the most popular flavors.

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