Ecuador (Part II)
We flew from the Galapagos Islands to Quito, which en route took in some amazing views of Cotopaxi Volcano. Quito, formally San Francisco de Quito, is the capital city of Ecuador and sits at about 9,350 feet (2,850 metres above sea level).
Quito, which is divided into the Old Town and New Town, is the capital of Ecuador and although it is the second largest city in the country it still has some 1.5 million inhabitants. The main tourist attraction to Quito is the historic Old Town (UNESCO world heritage site), which has many beautiful 17th century facades, picturesque plazas and amazingly beautiful Iglesias!
After collecting our bags we eventually found a taxi that was going to charge us the right price (not the gringo price) to get from the airport to our next couchsurfing host called Gabriela. We arrived at her place to be greeted by her boyfriend Remy (from Lyon, France) and an Argentinean couple that were couchsurfing as well. As it was a long weekend in Quito (actually to celebrate its independence day) Gabriela and Remy were off to the beach so we were left at her place with Lucia and Fabio (Argentinean couple). Our first night in Quito we spent with Lucia and Fabio. Fabio is a musician and was performing in a bohemian café so we went along to listen to him sing, play the guitar, harmonica and xylophone all at the same time! What a fantastic performer and such an enjoyable evening with them both!
We spent the next 4 days visiting both the new and old parts of the city as well as the “Mitad del Mundo”. The old colonial parts of the city of Quito are much more beautiful than the new part. Some of our highlights while in Quito were walking the streets in the old part of the city and seeing the beautiful 17th century Iglesias, the cultural center and visiting the amazing Santa Clara Mercado. Whilst at the mercado we enjoyed some of the best market food we have had in South America! I am no pork lover, but the pork was some of the best tasting we have ever tried in the world - it was so tender and tasty! We also had mote (a typical dish made of corn with tomato, onions, coriander, other spices and chili sauce).
That afternoon we experienced Quito’s teleferiqo to Cruz Loma, which is a multimillion dollar sky tram that takes passengers 2.5km up the side of Volcan Pichincha. At the top you get to experience spectacular views over Quito’s amazing landscape!
The next day we did a day trip to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) from Quito. Ecuador is named after the imaginary line that divides the planet into the northern and southern hemispheres and a visit to Ecuador would not be complete without a visit to its namesake. The equator passes just twenty kilometers to the north of Quito where for a short time exists a real line. This line runs through the official Equator museum, La Mitad del Mundo. Visiting the equatorial line at Mitad del Mundo is an easy and fascinating half-day trip from Quito. So that is what we did! Check out our photos!
We enjoyed our few days in Quito and the surroundings. Thanks Gabriela for hosting us and it was lovely to meet Remy, Lucia and Fabio as well. Safe travels to you all!
From Quito we got a taxi to the main bus station, as it would have been quite a journey by bus to the main terminal with our big backpacks on local buses. It was a good 45-minute taxi ride and it was only $10! Well worth it. It was a piece of cake once at the bus terminal as we sorted our tickets and were on the bus to Rio Negro within 20 minutes of arriving and then on our way to “Vrindavan”, a Hari Krishna retreat that offers couchsurfing!
We found “Vrindavan” on couchsurfing as they host people for one free night and after that you can stay at the retreat but have to pay and volunteer on the farm. We arrived late at night and were warmly greeted by some of the Hari Krishna followers that run the place and given some food before heading to bed. The next day I was luckier than Dean as I got to help in the kitchen prepare lunch and Dean got stuck weeding in the garden! It is quite a different sort of place. Everyone helps out either cooking, weeding, cleaning; it’s like a community/ retreat / sect all in one! It was great fun for a night and day! I am not sure how much longer Dean would have lasted, as it is all strictly vegetarian, no alcohol and no smoking!
We were able to get a free ride from outside the retreat to our next stop Banos in a small bus with a group of Ecuadorian Army dudes – we just stuck out the arm to stop the bus and they let us on along with another couple from Scotland. The army guys, all dressed in uniform, were very nice and glad to have us on the bus. They all wanted photos with us and even took a video of us!
We were meeting our next couchsurfing host, Monica at the bus terminal in Banos. We met Monica and had a great few days with her and her family on their farm about 15 minutes from Banos (only 1km from the Volcan Tungurahua which actually erupted whilst we were there!). CouchSurfing with Monica and her family would turn out to be one of the most authentic CS experiences to date. We were also able to meet the lovely Victoria from Paris, France, as she was being simultaneously hosted by Monica’s family as well.
The first night we helped her family sort tomatoes as they own a farm and sell all their tomatoes at the market in Ambato. The tomatoes are sorted by size using a table with different sized holes. We helped sort 1000’s of tomatoes – it was so much fun! The following morning we went with Monica and her sister to milk the cows as well as have a look around their farm - it was in a beautiful setting up in the mountains! What hard work milking the cows! Victoria did a great job milking the cow’s haha!
Monica and her sister also drove us around and we were able to visit some famous local waterfalls - see pictures as well as us in the thermal baths.
Overall, Banos was made 100% better thanks to Monica and her family’s amazing hospitality (thanks for the 3 meals per day – greatly appreciated!). What a wonderfully authentic cultural experience. Thanks Monica, her family and COUCHSURFING!
A short 2 hour bus journey and we were in Latacunga, which would be our base for a four days in order to visit the famous Volcan Cotopaxi and do the famous Quilotoa Loop. We couchsurfed here and stayed with lovely Darina Nunez and her two children.
There was not a lot to do and see in Latacunga itself, so we dedicated a day to walk around the main square and Parque Simon Bolivar.
One day trip we did was to the Volcan Cotopaxi, which is considered by many to be the highest active volcano in the world at nearly 6,000m (although this is strongly debated as some consider the volcano on the Chilean / Argentinean border to be active). We hired a driver to take us around the park to see a few lakes as well as get driven to the highest point vehicles can go to at Volcan Cotopaxi. From this point we hiked, on what felt like an almost vertical ascent, to the refuge at 4,810m! It is quite difficult considering the nature and degree of the ascent and also not to forget to mention the conditions which on this particular day including strong winds and sleeting! There are people that hike to the top on ice, but this time it was not for us!
It is amazing to see some many volcanoes in South America as along the Andean range they are scattered everywhere – especially in Ecuador which is home to some of the highest volcanos in the world! Our day visiting Volcan Cotopaxi was wonderful and we even got a rid back to Latacunga because that was where our driver lived!
Our couchsurfing host in Latacunga was ever so kind to let us leave our big backpacks at her place while we trekked the Quilotoa Loop. The Quilotoa Loop is famed for its spectacular scenery and almost solely for the famous volcanic crater at Quilotoa.
We left Latacunga early on Saturday morning and caught a bus to Zumbahua. The bus was full and there were no seats, however, the driver let us sit right up front next to him! We had great front row seats haha! It was an interesting bus ride with beautiful scenery and fun to sit with the driver and chat to him until we reached a roadblock about 10 minutes from the pueblo of Zumbahua. There was a road block because work was being done to clear the sides of the existing road in order to lay improved tarmac.
It must be said that the roads in all of Ecuador, under the current government of Rafael Correa, are some of the best roads in the world (at least comparable to USA, Britain, Europe, Australia IF NOT BETTER). They really amazing and easily the best in South America!
So back to the story…whilst we were waiting on the bus there were huge massive boulders that were falling down from the top of the cliff above. At least we were far enough back that none of them were going to hit us, but it was scary to watch none the less! The bus driver told us that a few weeks back some locals were not patient enough to wait for the workers to finish and they tried to walk past only to be cleaned up by a barrage of free falling boulders – sadly it was lights out for them!
We made it to Zumbahua after a good 45 minute wait, but happy to arrive safely! We were in Zumbahua on a Saturday, which is the best day of the week to be there as there is a big market. We enjoyed walking around this very small and local town for a few hours watching the locals go to business trading and selling their stock and produce. After we had our dose of the market we continued on our journey in the back of a pick up for about 15 minutes for $1 to the very small town of Quilotoa. This is where we were going to base ourselves for the night in order to walk down and also around the famous volcanic crater that is now called Laguna Quilotoa.
Laguna Quilotoa is a water filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The crater sits at some 4,000m above sea level and is 3km wide. The caldera was formed by the collapse of this volcano following a catastrophic eruption about 800 years ago. The caldera has since accumulated a 250 m (820 ft) deep crater lake, which has a greenish color because of dissolved minerals.
We found a hostel that was only $16 for the both of us and this also included dinner and breakfast! What a deal! Shortly after checking our stuff into the room we set off and walked to the bottom of the laguna. A quick 45 minutes down and then a little more difficult at altitude again walking back up! About an hour and a bit! After walking back to the top of the crater we went to get some energy food (chips and chocolate) before setting off on our walk around the crater’s rim! The walk is a good 10 to 15km which involves going up and down many times - at altitude this makes it all the more difficult!
Glad that we are still married after all these crazy walks I make Dean go on! I LOVE walking and I think Dean has learned to like walking a little more now! It was well worth it in the end, but it sure was challenging and a good 4.5hr. We only saw one other tourist on the whole walk as many tourists just opt for the obligatory camera shot from the main tourist observation area or others see just 1/6th of it whilst walking to the next part of the loop to Chugchilian. By 6pm we were ready for bed! We had enough energy to just eat dinner and of course take a necessary shower!
The next morning we got up, had breakfast and headed off on a 10km walk to the next stop on the Quilotoa loop, the very small pueblo of Chugchilian. We had met two German couples that were staying at the same place as us in Quilotoa and walked with them to Chugchilian. Great to have some company and chatting and exchanging stories which made the 10kms go by so quickly!
We had originally planned to stay in Chugchilian over night, however, when we arrived at 1pm there was a bus heading back to Latacunga via the villages of Sigchos and Siquisili. This was the last bus of the day, so we would have to wait until tomorrow sometime to get the next one back to Latacunga. As there was not much to see or do in Chugchilian we decided to take this bus back to Latacunga. This was an incredible experience because this bus was not only loaded with local produce in the under carriage compartment, but also IN the bus there was more produce than people! To get a seat on the bus you had to climb across all the produce to find a seat! Funny stuff! We stopped at little local towns along the way to drop off the local produce.
The bus journey back to Latacunga was spectacular because the landscape was so gorgeous - we even got to see the Cotopaxi even more clearly than the day when we took the day trip to it! Check out the pictures!
The Quilotoa Loop was definitely a highlight in Ecuador along with the Cotopaxi Volcan. Well worth the visit and we can now say we have walked around an active volcanic crater! Many firsts on this world tour and that is one of them!
We stayed another night with Darina before heading off to Riobamba the next evening. Thanks for hosting us Darina and hope you can continue to follow us on our travel book website xxx
That is all for Ecuador Part 2 folks! Be in touch soon with Part 3…
Love to you all xoxo