Ecuador is the second smallest country in South America and the smallest Andean nation, but nowhere else on earth will you find so much natural diversity, this country is packed with the most startling contrasts of scenery and wildlife. When people think Ecuador they think the Galapagos (which unfortunately we had to save for a next trip), but this tiny country seems to have it all; Andean peaks, Amazon rainforest, colonial towns, amazing beaches, indigenous markets and one of the highest densities of volcanoes in the world. Roads here are very well maintained and distances are relatively short, so travelling here is easy and fast.
With 14 distinct groups of indigenous people, each with their own customs and style of dress, this is a place that’s alive with color and culture. The country’s capital, Quito, is dramatically situated hemmed in by mountain peaks. The city’s crown jewel is its ‘Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site packed with colonial monuments and architectural treasures. But best of all are the Ecuadorians themselves: kind-hearted, generous and proud of their origins.
Ecuador offers a variety of lifestyles for a range of tastes. The Andean mountains and volcanoes are a great option for hiking or mountain-biking. Other landscapes offer equally alluring adventures such as surfing tight breaks off the Pacific coast, wandering in colonial villages or exploring the jungle of the Oriente.
The cost of traveling
Total days = 24 • Total spent = 460 € • Daily average = 19.17€
*Budget was calculated for the two of us. It includes transportation, accommodation, food, tourist attractions, miscellaneous…everything.
Transportation represented easily 50% of our expenses. We traveled mostly by bus and we bought the tickets directly in the bus station, prices are no negotiable here, there is only one company so prices are fixed. Roads are very well maintained
As for accommodation, we had the opportunity to stay with different locals by using Couchsurfing. It not only allowed us to keep our budget but to meet wonderful people and new friends!
Colombia – Ecuador Border
This was the fastest and friendliest border of the trip. It was a weekday during the morning. We took a shared taxi from Ipiales to the Colombian border. We got our passports stamped (5 min) walked 100 mts to the Ecuadorian border and got again our passports stamped (also 5 min). From there we took a public mini van to Tulcán and that was it.
• Tulcán → Otavalo → Quito → Baños → Riobamba → Guayaquil → Montañita → Cuenca
My top 5
1. Cuenca & El Cajas
The second most important city in the country and for me, the prettiest one. Cuenca’s historic center, a Unesco World Heritage Site dates for the 16th century. Here one must wander trough the cobblestone streets, chirches, cathedrals and colonial parks. It is also possible to see many craft traditions, including ceramics, metalwork and the internationally famous Panama hat, which actually turns out to be Ecuadorian. The city itself is really charming and with a lot of activities to do but if church and museum hopping is not your thing and you are looking for something more adventurous, then you can visit “El Cajas.”This is an amazing national park located about 30 km west from Cuenca. There are several hiking routes all well marked and for each level if fitness and length. Be prepared for a really cold weather and impressive vegetation. In recent years, Cuenca has become a hot spot for expatriates and retirees settling down to live.
2. Playa Los Frailes
Located in the Machalilla National Park, 12 km from Puerto Lopez, Los Frailes beach is a piece of paradise on earth. It is a lovely crescent shaped beach with cliffs on both sides and vegetation on the outskirts dotted with wild flowers. To get there you must take either a bus or a taxi to the entrance of the park, from there you can take a tuk-tuk or walk for 45 min approx. You can also get there by boat from Puerto Lopez. Since this beach is far from any village, crowds are inexistent. Here you will find calm and beautiful turquoise water, nothing more. So if you plan to visit this beach I highly recommend to bring a tent, at least an umbrella, to protect yourself from the sun.
3. El Chimborazo
Chimborazo volcano, 6,268 m, is Ecuador’s highest active volcano and the highest in the Northern Andean Volcanic Zone. Its location along the equatorial bulge makes its summit the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center. We got there by car from Riobamba but you can also make your way from Ambato. This is a popular and challenging climb. The normal route up the mountain takes 10 hours to the summit and 4 hours to return, we did just a small hike but it was enough to get impressed by the beauty of this volcano. We reached the second camp, which is at 5600 m above the sea level, marking the highest point I have ever been! One amazing and totally recommendable experience.
4. Baños de Agua Santa, or simply Baños
Baños is a major tourist city, which, in my opinion leaves a lot to be desire. The highlights here are the surroundings. The region, Tungurahua Province, offers a wide variety of amazing eco-adventures. Baños is appropriately named for its dozens of waterfalls, hot springs, and surrounding rivers. This city is the starting point to explore surrounding national parks, spectacular volcanoes, and an abundance of wildlife including llamas and vicuñas. Baños is also known as the “Gateway to the Amazon,” you can bike or boat all the way to the Amazon Basin.
5. Parque de Las Iguanas
My favorite part of traveling is coming across random, unexpected sights. Entering to a park in the middle of the city and finding thousands of iguanas taking the place was really an unexpected and delightful experience.
Located in the heart of downtown Guayaquil in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral, Parque de Simon Bolivar has become home of this creatures. The park itself isn´t that big or different from another park, but the iguanas that live in this place have turned a common place into a magical and unique setting.