Honeymoon in Ecuador: Part Two


After an adventure-filled day at Cotopaxi National Park, we drove through the mountains and past vineyards and farmlands to Hacienda Mantales outside of Banos.  The hacienda is absolutely beautiful with gardens, trees, a lovely lodge and dining area, and spectacular views of the Tungurahua volcano, which was actively erupting while we were there.  This was one of the highlights of the entire trip!  This volcano was thought to be dormant after 80 years of inactivity, but now has been highly active, and trekkers are advised against climbing it.  We were able to watch the bursts of smoke and flowing lava from our spacious suite.  The staff at the hacienda were friendly and welcoming.  For dinner we enjoyed tilapia and filet mignon with a bottle of Pinot Noir from Argentina.

Tungurahua volcano

Hacienda Mantales

Gardens at the hacienda

View of the volcano from our suite

Hacienda Mantales

Gardens

Volcanic eruption at night

The next morning we rode bikes through the cloud forest of Llanganates National Park down the mountain to Banos.  The "cloud forest" is formed by the warm, humid air rising from the Amazon and colliding with the cool climate of the mountains.  We were hoping to see a Toucan on our ride, but we did see a variety of Jays and Oropendolas.  Banos is a fun and touristy town at the base of the Tungurahua volcano.  It is named for its mineral rich hot springs, and also offers a variety of adventure activities.  We opted to partake in a thrilling zip line ride over the river, followed by a ride on the tarabita (cable car) to see the Bride's Veil waterfall (Manto de la Novia).  Before heading out of town, we enjoyed some Ecuadorian ceviche (which differs from Peruvian ceviche in that it's eaten more like soup) and went hiking to see the Devil's Cauldron waterfall (El Pailon del Diablo), the second tallest waterfall in the country.

Biking through the cloud forest

Scopolamine plants

Banos

Ziplining over the river

Bride's Veil waterfall

Devil's Cauldron waterfall

That night we departed the Sierra region and entered the Amazon (also called El Oriente), a vast area of rainforest that stretches from the Andes to the border of Peru and is home to the native populations of the country, many of whom live in isolation and speak indigenous languages.  The Amazon is incredibly diverse and also home to 15,000 species of plants and 500 types of tropical birds.  Entering the Amazon felt like arriving in a different country altogether, and the change in climate from the cool mountainous temperatures to the heat and humidity of the jungle was palpable.  We stayed at Itamande jungle lodge that utilizes entirely solar power and is only accessible by canoe.  The rooms are comfortable and nicely designed, with screens that create the feel of being outside in the jungle.  That evening, equipped with headlamps and rain gear, we set out on a guided hike in the dark.  It was incredible and exhilarating to experience how alive the rainforest is, even at night, and we became skilled at finding spiders and insects on leaves.  We even spotted a gigantic tarantula!  I couldn't believe how loud the frogs were over night.  Who knew that a remote lodge in the jungle could be so noisy?!

Itamande Jungle Lodge

Oropendola birds outside our window

Birds of Paradise flowers
The next morning we awoke before sunrise to watch the parrots descend from the canopy for feeding.  After a lot of waiting, we heard the birds start to stir in the tree tops, then carefully fly down to the lower branches to prepare for feeding on the clay.  Unfortunately they were startled by a hawk before we could get a good view, but we were able to spot a handful of these gorgeous birds before they flew away.  The morning was made worthwhile when we found pocket monkeys!  They were so shy and adorable!  They do not have a typical prehensile tail like larger monkeys, but instead have very sharp claws for climbing trees.

A parrot perched on the branch

Pocket monkey peeking out from behind the tree (look toward the bottom of the trunk on the right)
Another shy pocket monkey (look for the brown head, toward the bottom of the trunk on the right)

In the Amazon, the provinces are named for rivers (unlike in the Sierra, where they are named for volcanoes).  We started out in Pastaza, then drove in Napo, where we spent an adventurous afternoon white water rafting on the Jatunyacu River (Class 3/3+) near Tena, a town known for having the best rafting and kayaking in the country.  This was one of our favorite activities of the whole trip!  I can't wait to do more rafting in New Mexico and Colorado.  Later that evening, after stopping for tilapia and yucca at a road-side restaurant, we left the Amazon to return to the mountains.

We spent the final night of our guided tour at the Papallacta Spa Resort, the best hot springs resort in the country.  It is located at 10,824 feet above sea level, and the evening was so foggy that we weren't able to truly appreciate the resort's beauty until the morning.  We had hot pools right outside our door, as well as access to the public pools (balneario).  These were some of the hottest springs I've ever experienced!  The restaurant was excellent, and in the morning we made appointments at the spa (massage for Jaycob, Andean mud wrap for me).  This was so perfect and relaxing after several days of activities.

Papallacta Spa Resort

Hot springs outside our door

Papallacta Spa Resort

Later that day we visited the Guango Cloud Forest Reserve, an ideal location for hummingbird viewing.  Ecuador is home to more than 130 species of hummingbirds.  These animals are incredible!  They flap their wings up to 80 times per second and have the ability to hover in flight while they feed.  I read one report that if Darwin had been on the mainland of Ecuador instead of the Galapagos Islands, he surely could have studied hummingbirds for his theory of natural selection because of their many adaptations to environment and food.








That night we returned to Quito to prepare for our flight to the Galapagos Islands!  Stay tuned for Part Three...


Tips for Travelers:
-It is recommended to get your Typhoid vaccine and a prescription for Malaria pills before entering the Amazon or coastal regions of Ecuador (not needed in the mountains).  The yellow fever vaccine is probably not necessary unless you are going deep into the jungle.
-Ecuador is one of the best places in the world for bird watching.  With 1/6 of the world's population of birds, Ecuador has the highest bird diversity for its size.  Whether or not you decide to take up bird-watching as a hobby, I definitely recommend including it in your Ecuador itinerary.  Bring binoculars and exercise patience!
-Many travelers to Ecuador skip the Amazon and opt instead for the beaches and big cities, but I don't think our Ecuador adventure would have been complete without a trip to the jungle!  This is a huge region of the country and definitely worth including on your itinerary.
-Rain jackets and pants are essential! 

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