Ecuador attracts a large number of tourists, however the vast majority of them will only go to The Galapagos and maybe spend one or two days in Guayaquil or Quito in transit. Ecuador is a small country with a lot more to offer than just perfect beaches, giant tortoises and sunburn. Here are just a few things I did on my travels that I highly recommend to anybody passing through the area.
Cotopaxi is an almost perfectly symmetrically coned stratovolcano just to the South of Ecuador’s Capital, Quito, which looks way too similar to Mt Taranaki and therefore stole my heart. If you are a gringo estúpido (like me) then you will have to acquire a local guide to show you the national park, but day trips from Quito are not overly expensive. You can take the gentle (haha) hike up to the first refuge if you have a strong heart and on a clear day see a whole multitude of volcanoes and mountains around you. At the moment the summit is closed because Cotopaxi decided to scare the population of Quito recently and throw a load of ash over them, but the view from the refuge is rather breathtaking nonetheless. If you’re feeling brave, you can cycle down to the lake which will destroy your hands and maybe throw you off the bike once (the brakes were reversed, okay?!) but will be well worth it. For anybody who likes mountains, hiking, being short of breath and being cold, this is for you.
Cloud Forest & Bellavista Most people who go to the Cloud Forest will be going to Mindo, but if you fancy being fancy and different you can check out Bellavista. Here there are a shittonne of hummingbirds, a few toucans, more hummingbirds, plenty of hikes for all difficulties, a few more hummingbirds, a waterfall to climb up, a hummingbird that sounds like a bumblebee, super friendly and knowledgeable staff, some big moths, some wild clouds and you can sleep in an absolutely awesome motherfucking tree house. It hit all the right nostalgic notes and made me feel like a happy child again. It’s perfect for a peaceful two or three night break away from the crowds and chaos of Quito. If you have big sexy lenses for your photocamerathing, you’ll be leaving with some jealousy enhancing shots I’m sure.
Quilotoa & The Black Sheep Inn Quilotoa is quickly becoming an iconic photograph of Ecuador but the area offers a lot more than this particular picturesque landscape. The Black Sheep Inn in Chugchilán is an eco lodge hidden in the hills overlooking the valley which you can traverse and climb up to the crater lake. Here you can chill out in the peaceful village, explore a cloud forest ecosystem, take some moderate to difficult hikes, get stalked by a Norwegian girl and her Husband, fail at some yoga, eat some delicious and nutrtious vegetarian food and have the most glorious and memorable shit you will ever endure. For more details, read my previous blog praising their hospitality and their toilets. The person who deals with most of the reservations is rather good looking as well.
Reserva de Producción Faunística Cuyabeno (or just Cuyabeno for short) & Samona Lodge
If you fancy putting your health on the edge of its seat and risk catching a whole plethora of tropical diseases (as your travel advisory will likely try to scare you to unrightfully believe) then get your ass to the Amazon Basin (or if you got buns hun and you want to give some anaconda some). If you’re on a budget, Cuyabeno will be the most affordable and is fairly easily accessible from Quito by bus or plane and also (apparently) has the most abundant wildlife. Here you will be sleeping in wooden shacks that do not interrupt the sound of the rainforest at night; a truly rustic and magical experience. It’s truly worth the “risk”, although that is coming from somebody who didn’t catch anything. There are a multitude of lodges in the reserve that all offer a similar experience – I stayed at Samona lodge where a frog jumped on Julieta’s face and I had a glorious time laughing at it. This recommendation comes with a tarantula warning.
Reserva El Angel If you want to be really special and be a completely unique tourist you can visit Reserva El Angel in the north of the country; this place is so cool, the Ecuadorians barely know it exists. It is populated with a load of endemic trees that feel like rabbit’s ears and includes one of the most surreal hikes I have ever completed. To get there, you will have to stay in the township of El Angel where you will have to eat like a local (as there is literally no other option), from which you will have to hire a taxi for a few hours to drive you the hour up a rather dodgy road to the reserve and wait for you while you do the two hour circuit. This only costs about $30 (give or take), and comes complete with Tom’s seal of approval. The whole excursion makes an excellent stopover if you are travelling from Quito or Otavalo towards the Colombian border, and you will have scratched slightly deeper than most tourists who visit Ecuador.
Ecuador is such a charming little country, I feel upset that almost everybody ignores its existence in the shadow of The Galapagos. I would like to make a special mention to Julieta and the team at Nuevo Mundo Expeditions for helping me to have the most amazing experience and highly recommend you drop them a message if you’re in the area.
I don’t just like the country, I Ecuador it.
– Tom @ indieroad