10 Days in Ecuador

From our guest blogger friend Richard Joseph:

It’s like Costa Rica on steroids. Not to offend the Central American gem, but that’s my impression after 10 days in the South American neighbor.

Ravaged by Covid-19 early on in the pandemic it’s clear this country wants to make sure it has the virus under control. When you arrive at Quito’s international airport your first greeting comes from people in medical gowns asking for proof of vaccination or a negative test within three days of arrival. My old work buddy friend Jeff and I hopped into a taxi where a transparent seal separated us from the driver.

Day 1
Speeding through the deserted street one thing is remarkable peering out the window, this country is clean. I mean, where is the litter you expect in most big cities?

Quito old city buildings, Richard Joseph

We got out of the cab and stepped into the Spanish colonial past in the heart of Quito’s old city. Opening the door of the Hotel Reclario del Carmen reinforced that feeling. The furniture, art work, carpeting and a telescope to look out over Quito were exquisite. All this and breakfast for $100 per night.

Just steps from the Paza Grande, we began our adventure in the morning with a self guided walk around this sparkling clean UNESCO World Heritage site. There are historic churches, regally guarded government buildings, markets, shops, and hills.

Surrounded by mountains, Quito sits at 9,350 feet providing numerous opportunities for aerial type photos without requiring a helicopter. Watching patiently over the city is the Virgen de Panecillo. A $1.50 cab ride took us to the top then we got a taste of neighborhood life as we walked down the stairs.

After a sunny warm morning the afternoon arrived with perhaps the loudest thunder and heaviest rain imaginable. We took cover in a museum and then elsewhere a light lunch including cow’s feet soup (not recommended). The dining was significantly better for dinner at what became our first of three visits to Vista Hermosa. It lives up to its name, “beautiful view”. You can dine inside or out gawking at the illuminated buildings at night.

Quito Plaza Grande, Richard Joseph

Day 2
Rather than deal with the maze of local buses or a group tour we hired our own guide/driver to show us the country. What could have been 10 days of logistical nightmares turned into a piece of cake thanks to Carlos who was hooked up to us by Quito Bus Tours, a company we found on a brochure.

Quilotoa Volcano, Richard Joseph

Day 3
We started big. How big? A visit to the 19,347 foot Cotopaxi volcano. We were able to drive to 15,000 feet which was well into the snow. Our guide and my friend made it higher to a refuge where you can spend the night before attempting to summit.
In Ecuador one volcano is never enough. We drove through beautiful countryside arriving at dusk at Quilotoa.

Day 4
What makes the Quilotoa volcano so fascinating is that its crater features a beautiful lake. It was formed by the collapse of the volcano during an eruption that we only missed by 800 years. You can hike to the lake below (1/2 hour) and hire a horse or donkey back to the top. We got up before dawn for the sunrise, went back to bed then hiked a good portion of the rim. We met a young girl shepherding dozens of sheep with help from a couple of dogs. The sunny morning skies there often give way to clouds and rain. That was the case as we sped through the storms towards our next stop, Banos.

Still Day 4
Descending to Banos at 6,000 feet we were now at a far lower elevation than the 12,841 feet of Quilotoa. The temperature was mild, the Mountains spectacular, and the activities. Well, let’s say exhilarating. How exhilarating? We started with the famous “Swing at the End of the World”. It’s called that because it sure looks that way. Here you literally swing out over a void of sky with nothing below and framed by the Tungurahua volcano alongside you. Our hunger for excitement gave way to the hunger in our stomachs. Did I tell you that Ecuador is cheap? Giant steak dinners for $15-$20.

Toucan, Richard Joseph

DAY 5
After falling asleep on a very full stomach we awoke to sun and more adventure on the agenda. We traveled the “Ruta de las Cascadas”, the route of the waterfalls. Passing through one chute of water vehicles slowed for a free wash. A short distance away an open basket cable car with rails took us over the next falls and back again.  One of Ecuador’s most spectacular waterfalls came next.
We had to hike and climb our way to the Devil’s Cauldron. Reaching the best viewpoints even involved getting on hands and knees through a small cave to get behind the falls. It was well worth the trouble.
Our day in Banos was just getting going. The San Martin Adventure Park lived up to its name. Our “circuit” started with a lie on your stomach zipline that shoots you like a rocket across a river, like Superman, into a gorge where you hope to stop before crashing into a narrow canyon wall. We then crossed a very shaky 250 foot long bridge using crampons hitched to a cable to keep from falling to our deaths below. There was more. Next to a mountainside with metal stairs called a “via ferrata” to climb before zipping back across the river. Whew!    Now onto the jungle.

DAY 6
We descended into the Amazon Basin outside of Puyo and began with a walk through the jungle. The heat and humidity were quickly forgotten as we reached a 100 foot high waterfall cascading into a picture perfect pool leaving no choice, but a swim.
We had three nights booked further into the jungle at the Suchipakari lodge, but getting there proved to be a bit difficult. A bridge across the Napo River was out and the last ferry for the day, but it had already departed. After a long detour we arrived at our luxury lodge complete with straw roof buildings, a pool and temperamental WIFI. Tarzan never had that.

Jungle Lodge, Richard Joseph

Day 7
In the morning we kayaked on the Pununo river, which flows into the Napo, which drains finally into the Amazon River. In the afternoon and evening a wonderful Suchipakari lodge guide named Brian, with large machete in hand, escorted us on jungle walks. He introduced us to giant trees, insects, and we also met the lodge’s friendly Toucan.

Day 8
We opted in for an all day rumble in the jungle for just $20. It began with a 45 minute hike to our waiting long boat equipped with a canopy and a mostly reliable motor. Here on the river another Carlos captained our vessel first to wildlife refuge. The monkeys monkeyed around as two enormous Tapirs enjoyed a vegetarian lunch. The day also included visits to indigenous peoples homes. My friend Jeff must have some Amazon in him. because he struck the target with an unpoisoned blow dart. Nearby we hiked through the heat and humidity to a lagoon filled with caiman (a sort of alligator). One had a friendly butterfly dancing on his nose so he was dubbed the “grand caiman”.

Day 9
The final day of our private tour took us on a winding drive from sea level up across the Andes Mountains. Clouds floated below the soaring peaks that reach nearly 20,000 feet. Situated in this picturesque area outside of Quito was the Papallacta mineral springs. Eight warm pools were dotted with cold plunges alongside that make the body tingle.

Adventure Park, Richard Joseph

DAY 10
For our final day in Ecuador we thought it would be fitting to drive an hour north to the center of the earth. When we arrived at the tourist village there, with a monument to mark this line, it had shut its doors for the day. Imagine that. We traveled all the way to the equator only to find it was closed.

Devil’s Caulron, Richard Joseph

 

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