While most of my blog posts with travel as a topic is closely related to triathlon, I had to do an exception with this one. Ecuador was incredibly beautiful and cool, but we found it a bit difficult beforehand to know where to start, stop and everything in the middle. Even if we decided to travel to Ecuador and booked the flight tickets nearly one year in advance, the final plans were not complete before 5 days prior to departure. This is how we spent our week in Ecuador before we headed to Galapagos for another week.
Quito – four nights
Quito truly took me by surprise. I had read and been told that the Old Town, with its colonial-style buildings, was nice. That was true, but I found that the city had so much more to offer. The well-maintained and colourful buildings in the Old Town were aesthetically appealing, but the real treat was the inside. Original, trendy and inspiring shops, cafés and restaurants. Eating good food had never been easier since we found great food everywhere we went; from the more fancy restaurants to the least expensive cafés/restaurant. The streets were filled with people, and from the sight of it, local people and not tourists. In the Old Town, you can find the Museo de la Ciudad (city museum), and a $5 taxi ride north from there you can find the Guayasamin Museum, which we visited and highly recommend. Both the art, architecture and history are world class. While staying in the Old Town a trip to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, is a must do. There you can climb up to the tower and have a great view over the city.
What I really was not aware of about Quito was the surroundings. Laying at 2800 meters it’s the second highest capital in the world, right after Lima, Peru. Yet, it is surrounded by mountains. A good way to get an overview of the city is taking the hike up to the statue La Virgin El Panecillo, which starts south in the Old Town. If you want a better and more spectacular view of the city and its surroundings you should definitely take the Teleferico. The cable car brings you up to Loma Cruz, at nearly 4000 meters with excellent hiking paths which brings you even higher peaking at Ruco Pichincha 4698 meters. The views are out of this world! From the Old Town, its $5 taxi ride each way and a trip up and down the Teleferiqo costs a total of $8.
Ecuador obviously has a lot more to offer that Quito, and after spending three whole days here it was time to move on. You can do plenty of day trips from Quito, also to the places we visited. To get the most out of our precious days and reduce the time spent in a car/bus we chose to do it as a road trips. The least expensive way to do it is taking the bus, which basically costs close to nothing. Getting the logistic to add up however can be a challenge. Taking a taxi is costly since its quite a long drive, and we found that the price of a rental car was just slightly less than actually renting a car, with a driver/guide. Thru the booking company Imagine Ecuador we arranged our very own custom made “explore-as-much-as-you-can of-Ecuador-in-three-days”-tour.
Cotopaxi – Starting 8 AM on Wednesday, our driver, Ivan picked us up at the hotel and headed south to the 5897 meter volcano Cotopaxi, which took about 2,5 hours. From the bottom of hill were you can park the car there is a rather short hike up to the cabin, which typically takes 45 minutes. That is of course affected by shape, weather conditions and how well your body perform in the high altitude of more than 4000 meters. In the cabin you can get some food and warm drinks, and a stamp in your passport if you bring it along. From the cabin you can continue up to the glacier.
After climbing Cotopaxi we had a lunch at a lovely restaurant on the way back and set of to our second goal for the day, Quiltoa .
Quiltoa – About 2 hours drive from Cotopaxi you can reach Quiltoa, a hugh crater volcano with lake inside. On top of it it’s a few restaurants, hotels/B&B, in a addition to a spectacular view. There is possible to go down to the lake, and actually take a boat trip from there, and you can walk around the whole crater rim. The full tour takes about 5 hours, but you can also walk parts of it, and turn back when you are happy about the length, view or don’t have time for more. Arriving too late to do the whole tour before dawn, we were satisfied with a shorter version.
Black Sheep Inn – Our accommodation for the night was the extraordinary Black Sheep Inn, being a 20 minutes drive from Quiltoa. It’s an eco-lodge located in truly Zen surroundings. They serve good vegetarian (and only that) food, have Yoga sessions, a very original outdoor gym, and a sauna/hot tub. There are great hiking tracks directly from the Inn with the possibility to give the very sociable Alpaca a pet. Is absolutely worth a visit and I would love to have been there longer.
Or pet an AlpacaBanos – After a good breakfast at the Black Sheep Inn and a hike in the mountains above we started the 3-hour drive to Baños. We had heard so much nice thing about this small city, with its great adventure options and location close to the rainforest. Driving into Baños, Ivan gave us a quick tour around the city could and inform us that this was the Baños. Jenny and I looked at each other with a look and thought, WTF? The poorly maintained buildings were in an anarchistic mix of building styles and colours. They were accompanied more or less successful street art and power lines looking like an electrician’s nightmare. When other people described Baños as nice they could by no means meant beautiful. Baños had other qualities which actually made it very nice. We checked in at La Posada del Arte, which was owned by an elderly American hippie couple. We grabbed some food from the local bakery and explored the better parts of Baños. Located in a valley the city is surrounded by mountains, but unlike Quito, they are steep and covered with trees. There is a hike up to the “Virgin of Baños” with a great view over the city. From there you can continue upwards until Café del Cielo and enjoy a “chocolate caliente”, hot chocolate with a panoramic view over Banos before continuing along the path that takes you down back to the city. The trip is not very demanding, but can take a couple of hours, and will give you good appetite afterwards.
Like the rest of Ecuador, the food was great and generally inexpensive, everywhere. Having a better dinner, with something good to drink while watching over one of the lively parks was super nice. People everywhere, most local, and quite a few backpackers. Another of the perks of Baños is the hot springs. The old bath facility is, old, worn and crowded. Yet, it is authentic and charming, and in my opinion, a Banos must do. While the Old Town in Quito was empty (and a bit dodgy) after 8 PM, Baños became full of life. There were numerous bars with crazy themes and good mood, and it felt safe.
Banos offers plenty activities, like bungee jumping and rafting. In our last day in the town, we drove up to Casa del Arbol to take a rather special swing, and enjoy the scenery. If rafting is your thing, I would recommend giving that a go, as it looked really cool. We choose to go another hike in the hills, just on the opposite side and longer. It was a good hike with marvellous nature, nice company and good training. After a tasting dinner in the city, we said goodbye and headed on back to Quito. There we had one night at the Wyndham Airport hotel (the only hotel somewhat close to the airport) before we continued our amazing trip to Ecuador, to the infamous Galapagos Island.
A quick sum up – Ecuador rocked big time and should be on every adventures travelers bucketlist. Especially for those who dont really like the «touristic» stuff.