El Colibrí de Kinti Wasi, Otavalo’s Hummingbird House

Kinti Wasi’s whimsical hummingbird

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Renowned for its bustling markets, Otavalo offers its visitors a nonpareil assortment of traditional garments, jewelries, knick-knacks and street-food. For those who step outside the overcrowded streets, though, a series of lesser-known attractions just awaits to be discovered. It is in the fringes of town that one can find an unusual hilltop edifice adorned with an oversized hummingbird’s head, overlooking the downtown area and the surrounding mountains.

Home to South America’s largest handicraft marketplace, the town of Otavalo in northern Ecuador is first and foremost famous for the artisanal prowess of its residents, most of whom are members of the Quichua people. Whether it is the Andean woolen attires with their intricate design, the bundles of dream catchers or the copious trinkets, the creativity of local Otavalians is well-reflected wherever one looks.


It is for this reason that Otavalo is often dubbed the “Intercultural Capital of Ecuador”, a hefty title for a city of only 41,700 inhabitants or so. In 2017, a cultural center entitled “Kinti Wasi” was inaugurated to the fanfare of siku music and folk performance, aiming to preserve the town’s centuries-old role as a powerhouse of craftsmanship.


Perching atop a rugged hill on the outskirts of Otavalo, the center features an auditorium for ancestral festivities, several workshops and an exhibition room, where indigenous-style paintings and sculptures are showcased. Nevertheless, it is the building’s incongruous exterior décor that truly makes this place a quirky attraction to gawk at.


Jutting out of the main façade is a sculpted head of a hummingbird, covered with hundreds of colorful mosaic tiles, hence its name “El Colibrí” (simply means “hummingbird” in Spanish). Together with its pair of wing-like glass walls on both sides, the giant bird seems poised to take off for a journey over the city’s picturesque churches and squares. To the east lies a large cross monument, originally erected in the 19th century as a tribute to region’s Catholic heritage.


Since Covid-19 swept through the country, Kinti Wasi has barely opened its doors, and so, you’d be forgiven for thinking this place is abandoned. Yet, even without exploring its art galleries, there are still good reasons to come here, most notably the nearby lookout which boasts expansive views of Otavalo’s city center on the backdrop of the mighty Cotacachi Volcano.