Ecuador. According to the tourism board, it’s all you need. I came into the country from Colombia, which lies to Ecuador’s north, and left via the coastal boarder crossing to Peru in the south. During my month in Ecuador I made my way through all sorts of incredible places, from cloud forests to crater lakes to capital cities to the coast, and even hopped over to the magical Galápagos Islands. It all proved to show me that the tourism board was right… You can’t help but love life while traveling in Ecuador.
Coming in, I crossed the boarder from Ipiales, Colombia to Tulcan, Ecuador. My first stop was a uniquely manicured cemetery of all places! I spent an hour walking around and admiring the hedges trimmed to look like ancient Gods before I caught a bus to Otavalo, a city famous for its indigenous market.
I spent one luxurious night in Otavalo at the Rincon de la Viajera and seriously considered spending another night for the bed alone. The next day I explored around Otavalo. My first stop was the market, which was a site to behold, from the distinct clothing of the indigenous people, to the beautifully woven tapestries to the knitted handbags and colorful trinkets. My one purchase was a colorful “cinta” which the women use to wrap their hair in a “trenza”. After the market I hiked over to the Peguche waterfall, where I had a bit of nature time before I caught an early evening bus to make my way 3.5 hours to the capital city of Quito.
I rarely say a city is a highlight of a trip for me, but I really enjoyed Quito’s old town, and the people I met while in the city. I spent two days exploring around, visiting the churches and the art galleries and even accidentally bumping in to the President of Ecuador.
From Quito I took a quick trip up to the cloud forest of Mindo. This was lovely and lush, with many waterfalls and birds, which are two of my favorite aspects of nature. While I was there, the “Tarabita” tour of the waterfalls was closed for maintenance, but I managed to meet a local who took me on the same trails, chasing after waterfalls and spotting birds along the way. He taught me that boys in tourist towns are not to be completely trusted, but I was still able to enjoy a fantastic afternoon in the nature with him before hightailing it back to Quito, to then continue on to Quilotoa.
Quilotoa was spectacular. People visit to hike down to the crater lake or to walk around the magnificent crater rim, both of which are absolutely breathtaking, literally and figuratively. The town was cold and deserted, and full of indigenous people fully decked out with skirts, sweaters, ponchos, top hats and layered necklaces in the case of the women. It was a dry, almost desert-like landscape, and two nights was plenty for me, but the fact that we stayed at a place called Hosteria Alpaca, which had delicious community style breakfasts and dinners, 5 star beds, and personal wood stoves in each room made it a pleasant experience.
From Quilotoa I continued on to Baños, a place known for extreme adventures and waterfalls. I had a rainy few days there, but a cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition, and I enjoyed my visit nonetheless. Biking from waterfall to waterfall, soaking in thermal baths so hot they were literally cooking me alive, swinging into the great unknown at Casa del Arbol, and standing next to the powerful hurricane-like waterfall of El Pailon del Diablo, were all things I will never forget about my time there.
After Baños I took a night bus and made my way to the Ecuadorian coastal town of Puerto Lopez. It was the time of year to see humpback whales migrating, and although I didn’t take an official boat tour, I did see them spouting up water when I was running along the shoreline. My favorite part about Puerto Lopez was meeting a wonderful German travel buddy, visiting the Los Frailes entrance of the National Park, and drinking delicious coffee at a cafe called Etnias. My least favorite part of the coastal town was the constant leering men.
From Puerto Lopez I made my way down the coast to spend one night in a calm town called Olón, which had a beach that stretched out for miles. It was a beautiful place for my morning run and yoga practice. While there I caught a parade of all the locals kids dressed in their gym uniforms and it was absolutely precious to watch them march throughout the town chanting their class anthems.
Montañitas was my next stop, and it was just five minutes up the road from Olón. This was the loudest town I have ever visited in my entire life. It is known for being a party town, and it lived up to the reputation. The music would start around noon and blast until 5am
or beyond. I am lucky I can sleep through just about anything, but I could literally feel the bass vibrating in my chest. I was told that if you stay “across the bridge” it’s a calmer atmosphere, and that might be true, but where I stayed (Hostel Moai) was in direct line of the clubs. Although it was a really nice place, it was anything but quiet.
After Montañitas I continued down the coast to Guayaquil and spent a day there getting to know the iguana park, the malecón (boardwalk) and hiking up the colorful Cerro Santa Ana. Guayaquil is home to the airport that brought me to my next stop: the Galápagos Islands.
The Galápagos Islands were the true highlight of my time in Ecuador. The sheer quantity of exotic animals was amazing and the fact that they were so curious and playful was a true delight. I never expected to have penguins and seals literally look me in the eyes while snorkeling, or to have schools of hammerheads and golden rays swim by while scuba diving. Every day on the islands was special and full of surprises.
After a week on the Galápagos I flew back to Guayaquil, and spent a day at the home of my Couchsurfing host in the nearby town of Naranjal, eating delicious home cooked bolon soup and playing with kittens before continuing on to Cuenca.
The city of Cuenca is full of things to do, places to see and people to meet, however when I got there I was tired, and learned that a package I had been waiting for had finally arrived in Guayaquil. I decided to head back and get it personally, but first I spent one day touring around the city admiring the graffiti, the galleries, the ruins, the churches, the architecture, the markets and the hat making shop.
Back in Guayaquil I was happy to reunite with my German friend from Puerto Lopez and to be back in the house of my Couchsurfing host. It felt a bit like “home” after being on the go for nearly a month straight.
Overall my month in Ecuador was pretty incredible. The country has a bit of everything: jungles, cloud forests, volcanoes, mountain ranges, historical cities, ruins, beaches and the incredible Galápagos Islands. I saw more wildlife here than in Colombia, and also saw more people dressed in beautiful traditional indigenous clothing.
As a traveler, Ecuador is more expensive than Colombia when it comes to food and lodging, although to a normal vacationer $2.50 for a meal or $15 for a room is typically considered extremely cheap. However the transportation in Ecuador is incredibly inexpensive due to the fact that they have the third-largest oil reserves in South America. Overall, it is extremely easy and affordable to spend a month in Ecuador.
One thing I loved about the country is that the people speak more slowly, so having conversations is typically quite easy, but one thing I detested was that the men were constantly coming on to me, trying to take my hand or charm me with lies. After I came back from the Galápagos I had been planning to spend another week or so exploring the southern areas of Ecuador, but when it came down to it, I was really ready to move on, so I did. One month in Ecuador was just right.
From Guayaquil we caught a bus to Huayaquillas to cross the boarder into Peru, saying, “Hasta luego!” to Ecuador.