Ecuador is a continent in miniature where you will easily find snow capped volcanoes, beaches, rivers, jungle, primary forests, artesania and interesting architecture. The road network is great and in very good condition, the Ecuadorians are friendly and fuel and food is affordable. Unfortunately our trip was interrupted by an unexpected event but we are ready to continue our adventure!
Crossing the border was easy and hassle free. Without much planning ahead and not knowing what we would encounter we decided to go to Gruta de la Paz for our first night in Ecuador. The guide books said it was 5 km away from the town of La Paz and that the road was steep but in good condition. Actually it was two times longer and the road was quite narrow. Our advice, don’t go there in busy times, like weekends and pilgrim season. We totally recommend it as an overnight camping spot. You have nice views, it is peaceful and safe, and next morning you can take advantage of the inexpensive hot spring by the river. The Gruta itself is a kitschy religious shrine with the image of the Virgin de la Paz surrounded by hundreds of stalactites and flowers. It is up to you to believe in miracles!
This Crater Lake is 15 km from Cotacachi and is part of the Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas. It is having two islands which are closed for biological studies. There is an 8 km path that goes around the lake which provides you fantastic views over the nearby volcanoes and the Otavalo. Go early in the morning as it gets cloudy in the afternoon. At the entrance ask permission to camp by the casita (turn right after the entrance), you will get stunning views over the lake and the valley. Be careful as it can be sunny and warm and the next minute the temperature drops and it gets very windy, so don’t forget to take warm clothes with you if you are hiking around the lake. Recommended camping spot!
We visited this picturesque town on Saturday, which is market day. You will encounter four different markets and the streets are filled with vendors. We must say we were a little bit disappointed; the best part of our visit was the street atmosphere and the food market (we bought lots of fruits and veggies for just $5USD). The artesania found in Plaza de Los Ponchos can be found at any flee market around the world. The local ladies wear colorful hand weave blouses but before taking any picture you should buy something first. Otavalo is your typical gringo touristic town, you can enjoy a stroll but there are plenty of other things to do in the natural surroundings so half day visit should be enough.
This is a very popular spot but it is surprisingly underdeveloped and somehow tacky. We were told that due to the financial crisis and following the decline of the tourist industry, a lot of places in the area went out of business. We visited both the official complex and the private run Museo Solar Iti-Nan. Both give Equator certificates to visitors but we preferred the latter as it offers a fun-house experience with water and energy demonstrations. We stayed overnight at the backyard of one of the local restaurants that offer the local favourite grilled cuy (guinea pig), not sure if we were allowed to use their shower/toilet facilities but thanks anyway!
Mindo is a little town surrounded by preserved cloud forest (Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo). There is also an oil pipeline built right through the heart of the reserve (signs can be seen along the way everywhere…so terrible!). Thanks to this pipeline a fantastic road has been built between Quito and Mindo. This area counts more than 500 different kind of birds and butterflies, not sure how this road and heavy traffic will affect the reserve though. We recommend taking this new road to Mindo and then returning following the old gravel road which is called Ruta Ecológica. If you are looking for peace and tranquillity and you are a queen bird watcher this is your place. Parking in the public plaza is ok but you will have no privacy as it is “the” meeting point. We stayed in the gardens of the Yellow House
Quito is one of the best preserved colonial cities in South America. The old town area can be easily explored by foot. The fine gold-carving inside La Compania church is outstanding (no photos allowed). Having a stroll around the plazas is a great way to admire the colonial architecture and flavour the local life. There are good views from the clock tower in La Basilica but its stairs are not suitable for vertigo sufferers! Our highlight was riding the Teleferico, this cable car climbs up to 4,050 m. Thanks to the clear blue sky we could see the whole Quito area and the Cotopaxi, Cayambe and Antisana volcanoes, one the best vistas ever!! If at 7am the sky is blue and clear rush to the Teleferico which opens at 8am, normally by 10am the volcanoes are gone as it gets cloudy. We stayed in La Casona de Mario. Lovely hostel with family atmosphere, garden, good value. Recommended.
This is a very difficult entry to write, there is so much pain and emotion in this episode. It feels so strange to even refer to it as an "episode." Axel was run down by a truck driver in Misahualli . We think this guy was drunk as the visibility was perfect and he was zigzagging while approaching the bridge until he finally hit Axel and then run away! The whole village came to the rescue and in less than 15 minutes the ambulance was there to take him to the nearest hospital in Tena. We cannot be more thankful, everyone was so helpful and professional and when it was clear Axel needed specialised treatment they organised immediately his transfer to one of the best hospitals in Ecuador, Hospital de los Valles. Nevertheless Oriente is a must when visiting Ecuador, it is relatively accessible if you want to explore the Ecuadorian jungle or enjoy sports adventure like rafting. Also be sure to visit the butterfly farm at Hamadryade Lodge. Unfortunately the same morning we were about to go rafting in the Napo river some crazy drunk a**hole decided to change the course of our trip…
Cumbaya is located east of Quito, in the Tumbaco Valle and for the last two months we are calling this town home. Cumbayá used to be a rural parish but in the past years has turned into a posh suburban town filled with gated communities, international schools and our hospital (Hospital de los Valles). The highlight of this town is the hiking trail in Ruta Ecológica Chaquiñán, it starts 200 Mts up the road from the old town plaza and the path stretches over 20 km along old railroad tracks from Cumbayá to Puembo. That’s where we go for our daily fitness routine! Another special place for us is La Piscina de Alicia where we have found a great indoor swimming pool run by the lovely Argentinean lady Alicia. And last but not least we would like to thank the Samaniego family who have given us so much during these difficult times; we will have a very special and unforgettable memory of their generosity in our hearts.
This trip is recommended in every guide and we liked it a lot but the weather is crazy and can change any time. We arrived at the Quilotoa crater and it was freezing cold, foggy and it rained all night long. Fortunately next morning 6.30am the sun came up behind the clouds and we had the best view possible over the Crater Lake and the surrounding volcanoes. Then we followed the road to Chugchilán looking forward to have lunch in the Black Sheep Inn but no one was there, it seems like the owner got tired and left the place. The scenery in this area is beautiful and the people who live there are hard working friendly indigenous farmers, it is amazing to see the heights of their crops. Even though we went around the loop by car it is worth to spend couple of days hiking as it will give you the opportunity to experience closely the local Andean atmosphere.
As we came closer to Cotopaxi National Park we felt a little bit disappointed as the volcano was surrounded by clouds and not much could be seen. . Once inside the park we drove the poorly maintained gravel road for 30 km and went up to 4500 m until the deep pot holes didn’t allow us to go any further. But fortunately our effort was honored with a clear blue sky all afternoon long. Cotopaxi is such a beautifully shaped volcano, it’s like magic and at night you can watch all the stars and constellations! Again the weather conditions can change rapidly and even if the sun is shining take warm clothes with you; we had a very cold night, with rain and heavy wind. If going to this park we strongly recommend 4x4 vehicles otherwise you will not get far up and you could also damage your car.
The road to Baños follows the Rio Pastaza and is just around the corner from the active volcano Tungurahua. Unfortunately it was very cloudy while we were there and couldn’t see anything. This is a very lively town surrounded by waterfalls and nature. Don’t miss the popular thermals Baños de la Virgen, we arrived there at 6.30am and the place was already packed but still comfortable to use. Nice and relaxed family atmosphere. We also visited Rio Verde which is nearby, good road, nice surroundings with good opportunity for bungee jumping and fun canopies along the river and waterfalls.
Due to the bad weather we didn’t plan to go there but we decided to give it a try in the last minute. We are so glad we diverted our route and changed our minds. From far away the volcano was surrounded by clouds but just one hour before sunset the wind took them away almost completely and we enjoyed the most spectacular view. In clear days you can see the valley down to Riombamba and the páramos of Carihuairazo. To drive to Chimborazo you need to take the Guaranda route, Pinipe road has been closed for a while due to nearby volcano activity.
We enjoyed the drive from Chimborazo to Cuenca, the Troncal de la Sierra road is very scenic and in good condition. It is a pity that in having such a impressive landscape there are very few “miradores” in Ecuador’s roads. Cuenca is a pleasant colonial town (word heritage site since 1999) easy to explore by foot and a place where you can enjoy the easy going vibe, charming colonial architecture and cultural events. We felt Cuenca is more livable than Quito, the weather is spring-like even though at night it gets chilly. For inexpensive and good tasty food head to 9 de Octubre market, its mezzanine floor is filled with small family run kitchens which offer freshly made meals for just 2$! It is safe to park overnight by the river bank.
This is a popular stop over for travelers who are crossing the Peruvian border. We saw a lot of retired Americans who have bought land here and are enjoying their days sitting around the main plaza. The whole area is very peaceful with lush nature, butterflies, birds and great climate, perfect to chill out for a couple of days. We stayed on the camping grounds of Izhcayluma (2 km out south of Vilcabamba), great place, highly recommended. With a little bit of luck you can meet other travelers and exchange useful information, GPS coordinates, routes etc.