Nick’s Adventures in Ecuador!
Touching down in Quito is an exciting feeling. If you’re smart you’ll have a prearranged transfer as part of your tour as the new airport is quite far from the city. You’ll be whisked off to your accommodation, ready for the adventure that lays ahead. All the dreams and pictures in your head will start playing out in real time as you wake the next morning to begin your trip. From Quito you’ll have an amazing view of Cotopaxi, one of the world’s highest active volcanos. Its perpetual snowcapped peak is a great way to center yourself as you tour through the old streets of Quito. Staying near the central plaza is a good idea as it will allow you to stroll through some of Quito’s central plazas at your leisure. If you’re a fan of architecture the old town will dazzle you with its churches and museums. Most of the central plazas have WiFi so keeping in touch with people back home is easy. The five star Hotel Plaza Grande is a fantastic choice for accommodations either at the beginning or end of your trip. If your budget is a little tighter there a few more boutique style hotels like Hotel Plaza Sucre in the old city that offer great lodging as well.
Center of the World
A day or two in Quito is usually enough to see most of what the city has to offer. Food options are great here so make sure you do at least one dinner out. A half day trip to the “center of the world” is a great idea too. Here you’ll be able to balance between hemispheres right at the equator. However make sure you go to the actual equator line as the national monument has been found to be a few hundred meters off since the coming of GPS pin point navigation. Seeing both sites offer a nice half day trip before you head up to the mountains.
There’s a few ways to get up to Cotopaxi but by far one of the best is by rail on the newly renovated Quito to Cotopaxi line. The line was closed for quite a few years due to landslide but with renewed focus on infrastructure and tourism the government has been able to reopen it. It’s a bit of a slow and bumpy ride compared to more westernized high speed trains but well worth it for the spectacular views it provides. Once you arrive outside Cotopaxi you’ll definitely notice a change in the air as well as the lifestyle. The Andes way of life is a lot different from the city. There are some great haciendas to choose from for accommodation and I highly recommend spending a night or two in this area. This is a great region to go horseback riding or mountain biking in. The lunar landscape beneath the volcano is striking and a visit to the national park is a must.
Welcome to the Jungle
As soon as you cross south of Cotopaxi the topography and climate change drastically as you drop into the jungle and you witness one of Ecuador’s wonders. The humid dampness of the jungle is refreshing after the cool temperatures in the mountains. Packing light weight “quick dry” clothes is a great idea and you should also bring larger Ziploc or compression bags to section your clothes and ensure you have dry stuff every day. There’s quite a few options for jungle accommodation and I recommend staying at one with a Rainforest Alliance certification which carries several criteria measuring sustainability and ensuring a very small ecological foot print. This usually means that water and power are both conserved and that generators only run from 6 to 9pm in the evening. Bring a headlamp as this helps navigate if you’re a night owl and is also very handy if you do a jungle night trek. Other activities that you can participate in when you’re in the jungle include: rafting, jungle trekking, an indigenous visit or homestay, Shamanic ceremony, chocolate making, and panning for gold. Although warning on the last one, if you do find gold it won’t be enough to make you a millionaire.
After the jungle I recommend heading towards either Banos or Termas Pappallacta for soak in the hot springs and some relaxation. Banos offers amazing views of the nearby volcano and also has heaps of mountain biking opportunities. Termas Pappallacta is a bit closer to Quito so if you’re tight on time, a night here will still allow you to get back to Quito in time for a flight out the next day. If you’ve got a bit more time the markets at Otavalo are a great way to end your trip before you journey back to Quito. Here you can find lots of keepsakes and souvenirs but don’t forget to bargain as that’s part of the experience.
October 10, 2013