Honeymoon in Ecuador: Part One
Our journey began in Quito, the capital city, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its preservation of historical sites. At 9,348 feet above sea level, Quito is one of the world's highest capital cities and nestled beautifully between mountain ranges. In this region of the country, the provinces are named for their volcanoes, and Quito is located in Pichincha. The city has been compared to San Francisco, and I could definitely see the resemblance with the steep hills throughout the city and houses crowding the mountainside. Quito prides itself in being traditional and perhaps more conservative than other parts of the country. According to the Moon Handbook, "Quito (pop. 1.6 million) is an intriguing mix of old and new: colonial squares and concrete office blocks, traditional markets and modern malls, indigenous artisans and fashion-conscious professionals - and this diversity allows visitors to have the best of both worlds."
|Old Town Quito|
|Virgen de Quito en El Panecillo|
|La Basilica del Voto Nacional|
|Shopping in Quito|
There is a strong Spanish and Jesuit influence in Quito, especially in Old Town (El Centro Historico), where there are dozens of museums and elaborately decorated churches -- El Sagario, Iglesia de San Francisco, and La Compania de Jesus, to name a few. In the more cosmopolitan New Town, there are a plethora of restaurants, shops, bars, and discotecas. We stayed at the Nu House, a trendy hotel in La Plaza Foch. The location was perfect - right in the center of an upbeat and happening area - but unfortunately was extremely loud at night, and warm without air conditioning. In Quito we enjoyed shopping for handmade gifts at the Mercado Artesenal, eating the Ecuadorian specialty "cuy" (guinea pig) at Mama Clorinda's, watching futbol and drinking strawberry daiquiris at Azuca in La Plaza Foch, touring the colossal churches, and taking a taxi to La Mitad del Mundo ("The Middle of the World"), where visitors can stand with a foot in either hemisphere. We found Quito to be fairly easy to navigate, and taxis were safe and affordable.
|Nu House hotel|
|Mitad del Mundo|
|Jaycob eating cuy|
From Quito, the first phase of our vacation was a six day guided tour with Ecuador Pure Life. I am so glad that we opted to have a tour guide. We learned quite a bit about all the places we visited and the culture, had the benefit of a Spanish interpreter throughout the trip, saved time and money by having the logistics planned for us, and had the opportunity to experience unplanned side trips (like stopping for Helado de Salcedo, and ziplining across Pastaza River). Our guide, Christian, was awesome, and since it was a private tour we didn't have to deal with a large tour group.
Our first day kicked off bright and early with a scenic drive through the avenue of the volcanoes in the Central Sierra region, nestled between the eastern and western Andes ranges. We drove through picturesque rolling hills and farmlands with llamas and grazing cows. We arrived at a hacienda outside of Machachi, where we donned ponchos, warmed up with some cinnamon tea and empanadas, and rode horses at the base of the Ruminahui volcano. I have always loved horseback riding, and this was such a perfect morning to begin our tour! After lunch (consisting of potato soup with popcorn, chicken, rice, plantain chips and herbal tea), we drove into Cotopaxi National Park and set up our campsite at the base of Cotopaxi volcano, the second highest in the country. (At 19,342 feet, Cotopaxi was once the highest active volcano in the world.) Although the peak of the volcano was often hidden by clouds, we did catch a few glimpses of this impressive, enormous, snow-covered mountain. After many failed attempts to start a campfire in the cold, damp climate, we had to hunker down early and bundle up in our sleeping bags. We learned the hard way that night that the nighttime is very cold at that elevation, and 40 degree sleeping bags weren't going to cut it (even with hats, gloves, and multiple layers). To think that 24 hours earlier we were desperate for air conditioning in Quito!
|Dressed like chagras (Ecuadorian cowboys) for horseback riding|
|Camping in Cotopaxi National Park|
After waking early to view the volcano at dawn (which was unfortunately hidden by clouds), and dealing with a car that wouldn't start due to the high elevation and cold temperatures, we took a morning hike up to the glacier line of the Cotopaxi volcano (almost 17,000 feet). The air was thin and the sun intense, but overall the hike wasn't overly difficult or technical. There were several groups of mountaineers hiking to the summit that morning, equipped with crampons, ice axes, and helmets. This type of climb typically begins around 11 p.m. so that hikers can reach the summit before the clouds settle in at daybreak. Hiking was followed by biking through the park, past Incan ruins and fields of wild horses. The horses were absolutely beautiful. What a life they must have! We finished the day with bird watching at the Laguna de Limpiopungo before leaving the park and driving through the winding mountain roads to the Mantales Hacienda just outside of Banos, which ended up being my favorite night of the entire trip....
|Trekking at Cotopaxi Volcano|
|Biking through Cotopaxi National Park|
Stay tuned for Part Two!
Tips for Travelers:
-Since 2000, Ecuador has been using the American Dollar as its currency, so no need to exchange money! Ecuador also has U.S.-style voltage and electrical outlets, so don't worry about adapters or power converters.
-It's important to drink a lot of water at the high elevations in the Sierra, but make sure it's bottled water.
-When traveling to Ecuador, you should pack for all seasons. The mountainous regions are generally mild in climate, but rain is common at this time of year and the evenings are cool. It was near freezing overnight in Cotopaxi National Park, but the daytime sunlight is intense.
-Be patient and flexible! Ecuador operates in the Land of Manana (very much like Santa Fe), so nothing is on time.
-Despite the fact that coffee beans are a major export, most Ecuadorians drink tea. If they do have coffee, it's of the instant variety. Don't expect Starbucks.