Páramo Peaks, People, Volcanos, and Birds
Páramo Peaks, People, Volcanos, and Birds
After spending 4-weeks in Ecuador, we wanted to share our top 10 adventures with you. Most of them we did. Others we could not fit in, but wished we had the time.
As outlined in our trip report, one of the hardest things about traveling in Ecuador is deciding what to do and where to go. Despite its small size, Ecuador has so much offer, from birding in cloud forests to exploring jungles to hiking up huge volcanoes to scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands to surfing on the coast. But we’ve nevertheless come up with a top 10.
As you drive down the Avenida of the Volcanoes, you are surrounded by huge volcanoes on each side. There are many to choose from, including Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Fuya Fuya (see our Ecuador Trip report). There’s two volcanoes that are very close to Quito. Most people take the Teleferico (cable car) and summit the Ruca Pichincha. But a great alternative is to get a ride to the top of Guagua Pichincha (translation Baby Pichincha), which is actually higher than Ruca Pichincha, and hike to the top of Ruca Pichincha and then take the cable car back down into Quito where you can visit one of its brewpubs (see below) to celebrate. This is not a simple hike, so make sure you either go with a guide or get good directions (and a ride to the top of Guagua PichincHa) from someone who has done it like Arie (http://www.ariesbikecompany.com).
In addition to hiking up big volcanoes in Ecuador, you can also bike down them. The most popular ride is down Cotopaxi. This is a short downhill on a dirt road, but it’s a great way to see Cotapaxi if you aren’t going there already. We preferred biking down (and up) Guagua Pichincha. Arie (http://www.ariesbikecompany.com) gave Karl a ride most of the way up Guagua Pichinca, enabling him to ride all the way down from the summit to downtown Quito. Another good ride is down Chimborazo (there are companies in Riobamba who will drive you to the top). Karl chose a longer (40K) cross country route with Juan who owns Finca Castillo de Altura (http://www.ioverlander.com/places/39941-finca-castillo-de-altura) from the town of San Juan into the park to the entrance of the park. If you are really up for some suffering, you can ride from their all the way up to the first refugio and then bike back to San Juan (Juan called this the Chimborazo Extremo).
Otavalo is a great base in northern Ecuador from which to climb the nearby volcanoes including Fuya Fuya, to explore numerous indigenous communities in Northern Ecuador and, of course to visit the Otavalo markets. We stayed at La Luna Hostel (http://www.ioverlander.com/places/318-otavalo-la-luna-hostel), which is a hostel with an informal campground and a warm common area with a fire which is nice since the evenings can be a bit cold, at least during their “winter” months of July and August. While there, we had a bit of guinea pig, which is a local delicacy. It tastes great but Karl was not convinced it was really worth the effort. Apparently, guinea pigs are also pets (at least until they are ready to cook).
A local girl on the finca we camped at with her pet guinea pig
As described in our trip report, Mindo is one of the best places in the world to go birding. Bring a good set of binoculars (and if possible at least a 300mm lens for your camera) and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful and colorful birds in the world. We chose to stay at the more remote Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve (https://www.bellavistacloudforest.com) outside of Mindo but there are lots of other campgrounds and lodges you can stay in closer to “downtown” Mindo (it’s actually a tiny town).
One of the most magical things about Ecuador in our opinion is its people, including its indigenous communities. These indigenous communities speak at least 13 Amerindian languages including Quechua. It’s difficult to describe how amazing these communities are, so here’s a few pics of Ecuadorians including people from indigenous communities and people of mixed descent (mestizos).
Ecuador has many hot springs including 15 described in Hot Springs of the Andes. Ecuador’s most famous thermal field is Papallacta, 43-km east of Quito. Perhaps the most famous (and nicest) hot spring in Papallacta is Termas de Papallacta. It’s not quite as quiet as other hot springs we have been to, but if you go during the week and camp or stay there, it’s pretty quiet. It’s also surrounded by some amazing cloud forest and there’s a road that starts in the parking lot that leads to the entrance of the beautiful Cayambe Coco Ecological Reserve, which offers great hiking. There are also numerous hot springs in Baños.
Unlike most of the other countries we have been to on our trip, Ecuadorians know how to make good “artisenal” beer. Some of our favorite brew pubs include Paramo, outside of Quito (our favorite is the Pale Ale with the green label) and Jodoco (https://www.facebook.com/jodocobelgianbrew) in Cuenca (our favorite beer there is their Trippel).
Ecuador includes numerous beautiful colonial towns and its not surprising that these towns are also some of the most popular place for gringos and westerners in general to retire to in Ecuador. Quito is interesting, but Cuenca, and Vilcabamba are more beautiful. Keep in mind that like many big Latin American cities, Quito is not immune to crime. Try not to carry anything in your pockets or in backpacks that can be opened when you aren’t aware.
We did not have time (and to a lesser extent the budget) to go to the Galapagos on this trip. We’ve heard mixed reviews about “island hopping” trips to the Galapagos, but we’ve only heard good things about diving in the Galapagos. However, don’t go on a live-a-board scuba diving trip to the Galapagos if you want to have a relaxing dive experience. Expect to spend most of your time clinging to rocks as strong currents and swells try to rip you off of the rocks for a terrifying ride into the deep blue beyond. Do expect to see schools of hammerheads and manta rays and, if you are lucky, whale sharks. Here’s a video from our Swiss friends Stefan and Thomas (http://www.einmalrundum.ch/) who we dove with in Panama.
For those that don’t have the funds to go to the Galapagos, you can see some of the same types of amphibians and birds that you can see on the Galapagos, including the Blue Footed Boobies, on Isla de Plata, for a fraction of the price (and time). This is why the island is often called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos.”
Ecuador is one of the best places in the world from which to visit the Amazon basin. Many fly to Parque Nacional Yasuni, but it’s also easy to make a shorter trip to the Amazon from Baños and also from Papallacta. The latter involves traveling east from Papallacta (on an amazingly good road, again built by the Chinese apparently to ship containers on trucks from the east to the west coast of Ecuador as an alternative to the Panama Canal) to the tiny town of Puerto Misahualli. While in Puerto Misahualli, you can stay at the Sinchi Warmi Lodge (https://www.facebook.com/SinchiWarmis), which is owned and run by indigenous women from a local indigenous community. But if you want a once in a lifetime Amazon experience (including once in a lifetime wildlife experiences) you still need to jump on a plane and go to Yasuni (or somewhere else like Iquitos in Peru which is on our itinerary).