Ecuador is a bite sized delight that is maximum on flavor. For such a small country, you have the ocean, the Andes, the Galapagos, the amazonia, some action at Baños, some slow time at Vilcabamba and the colonial town experience in Cuenca.
After an interesting border crossing experience from Ipiales in Colombia, we made it to Ecuador just before new years eve. We planned to arrive in Otavalo on Friday evening, just in time to enjoy and experience the Saturday market – which is one of Ecuador’s most famous attractions next to the Galapagos Islands. Otavalo’s incredibly colorful and vibrant Saturday market is a dangerous proposition for long term backpackers as the market is insanely tempting and you’ll have to carry all the stuff with you while you travel.
From Otavalo, we took the 2 hour bus ride to the capital city of Quito. We didnt plan on doing very much here. Just lie low, take it easy through the slow holiday weekend and plan the rest of our stay in Ecuador. We did walk around old town quite a bit and ended up eating Indian food after a long long time!
Just south of Quito is Latacunga, which is a convenient base for some volcano climbing (Cotopaxi!) or the less travelled ‘Quilotoa Loop’. The Quilotoa loop is literally the road less travelled. Buses to this area ply only once or twice a day. And to get back to Latacunga from here, you might even have to wake up at 4AM to catch a milk truck back to town! A lot of people just walk the loop, stopping at villages along the way to spend the night. The star attraction here though is the Quilotoa lake, Ecuador’s away-from-the-tourist-trail crater lake.
We spent 2 nights on the Quilotoa loop and then headed back to Latacunga for our trip South.
Just south of Latacunga is Ecuador’s adventure capital Baños. We ended up loving Baños so much that we stayed there for a week. Baños has a lot going for it – very reasonably priced adventure activities (rafting, zip lining, paragliding, biking, bridge jumping, volcano climbing etc.), but its also home to some cheap spa massages and many vegetarian friendly restaurants run by its sizable expatriate population. We stayed at the super friendly Princessa Maria hostel which boasted a pretty nice kitchen and was right next door to a lovely market, so we ended up cooking many of our meals.
From Baños, our next stop was Riobamba. Swami really wanted to go hike Chimborazo, Ecuador’s tallest mountain, but arranging a climb to the top wasnt working out the way we wanted. So we satisfied our curiosity by taking a bus to the Chimborazo national park, which is absolutely in the middle of nowhere.
The next stop was Cuenca. Cuenca is a beautiful, peaceful colonial town in Southern Ecuador which just whisks you to a bygone era. Just outside Cuenca is El Cajas national park that just wowed us with its unpretentious beauty and well marked hiking trails.
Just something we saw on our way to get some dinner:
Our last stop in Ecuador was Vilcabamba, also known as the valley of longevity. Nestled in a lush green valley, this place is a haven for middle aged expatriates from the US and Europe who have settled here. They’ll gather around a restaurant and chat the day away enjoying some mighty fine weather and make you incredibly jealous of their relaxed lifestyle.
From here, we began a long journey across the border using several modes of transportation and eventually arrived at our destination in Peru – Chachapoyas after nearly 48 hours!
I’ll be writing a few more posts about Ecuador, focussing specifically on the individual towns.