Five weeks in Ecuador

Five weeks, three national parks, six in-country flights, fourteen cities and villages, 40 gigabytes of still photos (even after deleting some in-camera!), 30 gigabytes of HD video.  So, yes, it took me a while to get this trip edited!

Ecuador… sigh.  After two previous aborted attempts to get to Ecuador, finally!  I didn’t really believe it until I stepped off the plane in Quito in October 2011.  This small country (about the size of Nevada) blew me away from start to finish.

Quito (“kee-toh” for non-Spanish speakers) is the travel hub for most visitors to Ecuador, and I was no exception.  From Quito one can easily get to most places by inexpensive bus or quick planes.  Like most large cities, it can be a bit overwhelming.  It is also –  Loud.  Dirty.  Sometimes dangerous.  Vibrant.  Energetic.  Depressing.  Beautiful.  Ugly.  Boring.  Fascinating.

Yes, all of those things at the same time.

My base was the “Mariscal” section, home to most of the tourist services.  Fun and exciting during the day and evening.  Horrendously dangerous late at night.  Leaving a bar at midnight?  Take a cab **2 blocks** to your hotel if you want to arrive safely.

15-20 minutes of walking brings you to the Centro Historico, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  An amazing collection of Spanish colonial architecture, Centro is beautiful.  It’s also hard to photograph due to the constant flow of people.

More fun at night. Just watch your pockets!

La Concepcion (one of the cathedrals) is stunning. Beyond words. It's also off limits to cameras inside. But trust me when I tell you it's amazing.

La Concepcion.

The climb up to the top of the Basilica is incredible. Your $2 ticket gives you the right to traverse across the top of the roof, up several narrow flights of stairs, then, finally, up a 12" wide ladder on the outside of the building. Only in South America!

Details like this are why old churches (and old buildings in general) are so much more interesting than modern ones. Gorgeous.

LOVED this man. He was playing guitar and singing (badly) for money. What a great face. Asked if I could take his picture, gave him some money. Shot him for a couple of minutes when a nosy person started yelling at me to pay the man. Unfortunately my spanish is not strong enough to respond that I had. I really wanted to tell them "mind your own d**n business. And then my camera lens fell apart. Literally.

An all too common scene across Ecuador.

I based myself at a small hotel called Villa Nancy, run by a friendly Swiss-Ecuadorian couple and their dog.  Berenice & Joffre were less like hotel owners, and more like friends.  During my multiple trips in & out of Quito, they always made me feel welcome and at-home.  $21/night got me a clean, comfortable room, breakfast, and use of the guest computer.


Didn’t I learn this lesson last summer in Alaska?  Twice I went to dinner with my friend Karem, a former co-worker from my Ritz-Carlton days.  Born & raised in Ecuador, she was kind enough to show me a bit of her city.  It was wonderful to see her again.  A pox on me for not getting a picture with her.

If you’ve ever considered Ecuador, you’ve heard of Otavalo.  The finest market in South America.  Colorful indigenous people.  Llamas.  Volcanoes.  Stunning lakes.  Of course I went.

$2 and 2 hours later, I arrived by bus.  Gotta love cheap south America travel.  Nicer than Greyhound at a fraction of the cost.

The misty morning light in Otavalo was wonderful. I didn't enjoy getting up at 6am, but the eerie light was well worth it. Imbabura Volcano in the distance.

The market was of course my main reason for traveling to Otavalo. I bought 2 handmade wool wall hangings from this woman.

To try something even more unique, I spent a night with a Kichwa family that lived near Otavalo.  Runa Tupari, an indigenous organization, coordinates home stays with local families.  $24 for round-trip transport, the overnight stay, and 3 meals.   The mom and older daughter were delightful, even though we had minimal common language.  I helped feed the livestock (including the guinea pigs they raise for food), practiced spanish with the older daughter, and went walking through the village.  Enjoyable, but it could have been amazing if I knew more Spanish.

My host family. I never saw the husband, but I had a great time with the mom & her two daughters.

My only miscalculation with Otavalo?  I should have gone at the END of my Ecuador adventure.  I bought an alpaca blanket and two wall hangings.  Not so much fun to schlep around the country for weeks on end!


I was lucky enough to be able to spend a night in Papallacta, home of the best hot springs I have ever visited.  This small village  lies at about 12,000 feet, and is home to several hot springs.  I found a room in an inexpensive hotel, and then walked up the road to Termas Papallacta, a lovely hotel with the best hot springs.  $7 gets you access to 9 hot spring pools in an incredible location.  The next morning I visited the “locals” pool, a city-owned facility.  For $3 I enjoyed the hot springs and entertained the locals who were confused but happy to share with a gringo.

Yes, it really was this color at sunset! Spectacular. A bit crowded, but well worth it.

I also went for a road run the afternoon I arrived – running steep hills at 12,000 feet was NOT easy!  The next morning I went hiking and was pleased by lots of beautiful scenes like this.

I have few regrets about this trip, but one of them is that I didn’t spend more than one night in Papallacta.  If I could do it over again I would definitely spend another one or two nights, to have proper time to hike more.  And soak more!

Still to come – a 5 day cruise in the Galapagos, 4 days in the Amazon Basin, 5 days in the cloud forest…. and much more.