Ecuador

Ecuador travel tips

Ecuador is a beautiful country worth a long and lengthy visit, from top to bottom. We only stayed about three weeks in total, but we enjoyed every bit of the trip. Here are our thoughts:

1. The Pacific beaches are very nice and worth the visit, though they aren’t the cheapest towns in the country. We stayed in Montañita, a small surf-town, and found a hostel further away from the beach for 8 USD a person a night. Drugs seem to be pretty common on the beach scene as well. It wasn’t a problem, we just had to turn down “happy brownies” and cocaine often.

2. All the extreme or adventure sports you’ve ever been interested should be done here! You won’t find it cheaper anywhere else. And it is pretty safe. Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador, and while it is a little touristy, we definitely thought it was worth the trip (we stayed three nights and loved it). For a price example: half-day white water rafting in Ecuador was 20 USD a person, but in Panama and Costa Rica about 65 USD a person.

3. Want to eat guinea pig (cuy)? Eat it in Baños, where it is street food on a stick. A whole one will cost usually below 10 USD. It’s the cheapest in probably the whole country. Quito serves it in fine restaurants, but you will pay a pretty 35 USD per plate.

4. Happy Gringo is a well-known third party company to see the Amazon, and while we did get a good deal for our money, it wasn’t exactly what we had hoped. It isn’t Happy Gringo’s fault, but rather that Ecuador is on the northwestern corner of the Amazon. If I could do it all over, I would do a tour in Leticia, Colombia or perhaps northern Bolivia. I bet the ones in Brazil are great also.

5. If you do go ahead and book an Ecuadorian Amazon tour, know that you won’t see piranhas. I specifically requested a tour that included those on my tour, but no one told me until I was in the boat that Ecuador recently passed a law against piranha fishing. I didn’t want to fish them, just see them, but apparently it all amounts to the same thing. If piranhas are your primary goal, don’t expect to find them in Ecuador.

6. Buses are reliable, if pretty run-down, and the prices are cheap. We frequently went without air conditioning or bathrooms, but it got us where we needed to go cheaply. We took a couple of overnight buses and didn’t have any problems, besides the roads falling apart beneath the bus.

7. If you pass through Quito, expect cool temperatures. Nestled in a valley at the foot of a volcano, the climate it cool all year-round. We pulled out our long-sleeves while in the city, though we immediately went back to tank tops and shorts anywhere else in the country.

8. They still use some of the local currency as well as US dollars, so be careful when people hand you change–they could be the discontinued local currency from before 2001, or a regular US quarter. I wasn’t paying attention one day and was handed a 25-centavo piece. When I later tried to purchase hot chocolate with it, they wouldn’t accept it, saying it was defunct and worthless now. So don’t be an oblivious gringa (like me) and pay attention to the coins you’re given.

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Amazonian Adventure, Pt. 2

Our third day in the Amazon was probably my favorite: besides looking for animals during our boat rides, we met people from the Siona tribe.

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Our guide is Siona and took us to the village she grew up in to meet her neighbors and grandmother, the first tour guide of the Siona 30 years ago.

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Above is a “stinky turkey” bird and a guinea pig, which everyone eats here.

Veronica’s abuela spoke Spanish to us instead of her native language, Bicoca. Our group was there to see the local village (which was fairly primitive, but considering they just met the outside world 40 years ago was pretty good) and learn how to bake yucca bread. Abuela asked two of the men in our group (including Jordan) to help pull the yucca plant out of the ground.

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Once Jordan had ripped it out, everyone took turns cleaning the worst of the dirt off the roots and peeling the skin off, leaving the roots white and hard, like huge potatoes. Then we brought them back to the village’s communal kitchen. Because only five or six families lived there, they had communal bathrooms as well.

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Abuela showed us how to wash the roots (I went first) then grate them against tin sheets with nails hammered in, like a huge, improvised cheese grater. It was a lot harder than it looked! We all took turns, but by the end everyone had an arm workout and was starving. Abuela took the shavings and packed them in a reed netting to wring all the liquid out. When it was finally dry, we sifted it through reed-woven mats and gave the yucca flour back to her. All Abuela had to do was spoon some into a hot skillet and bake over an open fire. Ten minutes later, we had a large yucca tortilla. For a midday snack we spooned bellpeppers and tuna on our pieces of yucca bread, and for desert we spooned blackberry jam on it. Yucca raw is pretty unappetizing, but cooked it tasted fine.

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Veronica then took us downriver to the Siona sacred tree. I wasn’t able to get a really clear idea of Siona religion, but assume it is pantheistic. About 50% of her village now is actually Christian, such as her grandmother. The shamans still have strong influence in the tribe (Which total is less than 1,000 people), and see this great tree as their main god and source of spiritual inspiration. The oil companies, however, want to “develop” the Amazon area for oil, which could displace the Siona people from their homes. This is why tourism is so good for them, Veronica explained, because it gives them a good political reason to resist the oil companies.

Once a year, usually in August, the spiritual advisors of the tribe gather around the tree and dance (probably partaking in hallucinogens) and receive direction and wisdom from the tree. I couldn’t tell if Veronica believed it or not, but that’s what she told us. One of the women on our tour had studied sacred trees in Africa, so she particularly enjoyed the experience of walking around the tree, which was beautiful.

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After a quick swim in the river, our last stop of the day was to visit one of the tribe’s shaman. This was fascinating. The Shaman met us in a receiving hut in his formal wear and headdress, which is made with feathers from tucans and macaws. He showed us how, when under the influence of ayahuasca, to see what illness is in someone’s body. Although their spiritual influence is fading, everyone still goes to them when sick and pays in kind, such as chickens or milk. The Siona only see a doctor when diagnosed with cancer or need surgery. Sarah Ann jumped on the stool and the shaman performed a song and concentrated on her. Of course, there was no diagnosis because of the lack of ayahuasca, but it was very interesting all the same.

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There are three shamans in this village, for around 50 families, and they also participated in the hunting and daily life of the village. Usually only men can be shaman because the ayahuasca, no matter how used to it you are, is very rough on the stomach and women would miscarry any babies they had. Veronica’s grandmother, who we just met, used to be a shaman until she wanted to marry and have a family Now she is Christian and views the ayahuasca (which sometimes tourists can try if they haven’t eaten all day previously) as evil.

When boys are 12, if they choose, the current shaman will train them for up to 15 years. Young men that drop out after two or three years are considered witchdoctors and not as qualified. From a group of 20 usually two or three will graduate when the time comes. Their graduation ceremony is the first time they partake in ayahuasca, when they have strong visions and hallucinations. They must lie completely still and silent while mentally they battle evil spirits and are devoured by the dangerous animals of the Amazon, like jaguars, anacondas, and caiman.

After the really interesting religious introduction, he let us shoot his blowgun. It is long and a lot heavier than I originally thought! Sarah Ann did really well in aiming for the gourd.

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We returned to our lodge, ate dinner, killed a lot of cockroaches, and went to bed. The next morning we went bird-watching in the drizzle and finally found pink dolphins! The animals we saw are very shy and actually gray. They only turn pink during the last five years of their lives, from about 25 to 30. They can’t leap out of the water because their dorsal fin is too small, but it was fun to see their gasps of air as they surfaced. On our way back to the lodge we found our third anaconda, hidden behind some bushes along the shoreline. It was about five meters long and trying to sun itself. Although it was really cool to see these creatures, it was unnerving being so close to them.

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We finished our tour that day, and returned to the entrance to the reserve by noon, then took the two hour bus back to Lago Agrio. It was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed ourselves. However, I was a little disappointed because when I requested this tour through Happy Gringo, I specifically mentioned that we wanted to see piranha. While there were piranha in the river, we never saw them. Apparently Ecuador had recently passed a law against fishing piranha because the blood from the hook caused them to attack each other and deplete the population. I was pretty disappointed because I wanted to see them and because I think I should have been told at the beginning, before the tour, that it wouldn’t be a possibility. Also, although the tour was great (and our guide was fantastic!) everything felt kind of tame. People had recommended seeing the Amazon in Ecuador because it’s a lot of “bang for your buck,” but I heard other fantastic stories about other places in the Amazon and I guess expected a little more. This trip seemed pretty tame. I wouldn’t have minded roughing it a little more to see more animals or exotic plants. So I did have fun–we all did–but I probably wouldn’t recommend seeing the Amazon in Ecuador. I would recommend seeing it in Leticia, Colombia (where it is actually on the Amazon River, pretty deep in the jungle) or perhaps in Brazil. Ecuador is just too far on the edge of the Amazon to be considered really deep jungle, I think.

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We wrapped up our time in Ecuador with this Amazon tour, which was great, and then headed onward to Colombia (with a rather terrifying overnight ride on a cliffside with falling rocks and knee-deep mud on the gravel road). Colombia, here we come!

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Amazonian Adventure, Pt. 1

Our Amazon tour began in Lago Agrio, a small northeastern Ecuadorian town, where a bus picked us up at an appointed location. There were about thirty of us in total crammed on the bus, and we began the two-hour trip to the entrance of the Cuyabeno Reserve in the rain. But I guess it’s a rainforest, so it should rain.

At the reserve entrance we were met by our guide at the edge of the Cuyabeno River, Veronica, who made sure all of our luggage got on one motorboat and we got on the other. Our tour had ten people in total, which was a nice size. After a two-hour boat ride downriver we finally arrived at our destination: Samona Lodge. Sarah Ann’s phone showed us where we were:

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I had booked the tour through Happy Gringo because of positive online reviews, and this was when I learned Happy Gringo is a third-party agency. I don’t know how I missed that before, but it is. We never met anyone associated with Happy Gringo, and our guide asked us later how we had heard of Samona Lodge. I will give my thoughts on the whole tour experience in the next blog post. Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is one of the largest reserves in Ecuador and home to several indigenous tribes, as well as animals and rare plants.

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The lodge was basic, but not bad. Water was too spotty to take real showers. Electricity worked from around 7:30 pm to 10 pm everyday. If there wasn’t enough sunlight to power the panels, we would have been given candles to get to bed. Our guide told us to watch out for snakes and tarantulas crossing our boardwalk to our cabins, but we never saw any. Each of the beds had a mosquito net, which was very nice. We checked our beds every night for bugs or snakes under the blankets, just in case. The worst problem we had was cockroaches, when for two of our nights at the lodge we spent thirty minutes before bed killing every one we could find. The meals were delicious but a little small and far apart in the day, and heavy on the rice, as is usual in South America.

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Our first adventure into the Amazon was a boat ride to Laguna Grande, where everyone with bathing suits could swim for about 15 minutes. Jordan and I forgot ours, but Sarah Ann had a grand time.

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Our second day in the four-day tour was a hike through the jungle while Veronica showed us the plants her tribe (the Siona people) use for medicine. The fungus below is an oral contraceptive. Women brew it into tea and drink it once a month to prevent pregnancies.

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We also walked over the equator, which was kind of fun.

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Veronica told us that her grandmother was the first tour guide in the Siona tribe 30 years ago, when Amazon tourism began, and one the first the learn Spanish. The tribe was discovered by the military only 40 years ago. Before that, the rest of the world hadn’t heard of the Siona and the Siona hadn’t heard of the rest of the world. There are still a few uncontacted tribes in the Amazon, but primarily in Brazil now.

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During all of our boat trips up and down the river, we kept our eyes open for birds, monkeys, anaconda, pink dolphins, and sloths. We found quite a few! That night we did another hike on an island near Laguna Grande. One group told us later they saw a boa constrictor. We weren’t quite as lucky, but we did see baby caiman and its mother. This was when I felt the presence of the Amazon the strongest, when it was dark and mysterious. After tripping around roots and hoping no anaconda would cross our paths, we returned to the lodge via boat, oohing and awing over the night sky. It was so clear and beautiful that our necks hurt from upturning our faces for so long. Even though we had seen more than half of the animals we would probably see on the trip, it was strange to think that our tour was halfway over.

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Quito

Quito, the city on the equator in the country named for the equator. So imagine our surprise when we arrived and found it to be chilly and overcast! It turns out, Quito is at the foot of a volcano and around 9,000 feet in the air. Summer here is short, and the rest of the year has lots of rain. Not quite what we were expecting!

Most hostels in Quito are in the old part of the city or Mariscal, an upscale neighborhood with lots of clubs, discotechs, and fine restaurants surrounding Plaza Foch. We chose Mariscal because we knew the most about the area, but hostels in the old part of the city will be cheaper most likely. Quito is long and narrow, with almost two million inhabitants in the city alone, let alone suburbs. We arrived in Quitumbe, the southern bus terminal, and traveled about 40 minutes by taxi (12 USD in the afternoon) to Mariscal, which is near the center of the city. Our first evening was spent wandering Plaza Foch, looking for food. It is a little pricey in the plaza, but the food is great.

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The next morning we chilled at the hostel, which was 10 USD per person a night, then went to the Teleferico. Although the teleferico is also in the center of the city lengthwise, it is on the opposite side of Mariscal, at the base of the volcano, and with all the winding, one-way streets took about 20 minutes to get to by taxi, or around 5.50 USD. The teleferico is a cable car that rides about 20 minutes to an observation point about halfway up the volcano. On a good day, you can see clear across the valley and even past a few hills in the north to other cities. There are horse trails, hiking trails, and a small chapel and café at the top. Twenty minutes in a cable car one-way is actually a long time, but it was safe and usually highly populated on the weekends by tourists and locals alike. Keep in mind that at the top you are about 10,000 feet above sea level, so it is common to by out of breath. We didn’t stay too long because it was significantly colder and windier there than the city, which was good because my altitude sickness usually kicks in at about 10,000 feet.

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Our second full day in Quito was spent going up to Otavalo. We had debated on whether to spend a night there, but the hostel owners said there wasn’t much up there and it was only worth a day trip. I would probably agree with that. It is a good two-hour ride up to Otavalo from Quitio’s northern bus terminal, which was a 30-minute city bus ride from Mariscal. Tickets were cheap, only 2.50 USD per person one-way. Although the large market is held on Saturday and Sunday, there is usually a good turnout on Wednesdays, which is when we went. Most vendors in the plaza sell woven blankets or clothing as well as leather workings. I went looking for a dress to buy, but we ended up buying a leather hat for Jordan. He had his eye on one for a while, and since we were going to go to the Amazon shortly, we thought it was a good purchase. It can be difficult to bargain with the vendors, and one person said not to expect them to go down more than three dollars. The hat salesman started at 28 dollars, I started at 15 dollars, and we settled on 19 USD. I think that’s a good a deal as anyone can expect.

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By the time we got back to Quito, it was nightfall and we shamelessly went to the movie theater to watch Tomorrowland. Sometimes you just need something relatively familiar. And because it was subtitled in Spanish, it can be good language practice.

Our last day in Quito, June 4th, Sarah Ann spent sick. Jordan and I went on the free walking tour of the old city. It begins at 10:20 am at Community Hostel every morning and lasts close to three hours. I would guess we walk three to four kilometers. We decided to use public transportation in getting there, the streamlined city bus, and got separated from each other for about ten minutes because the doors closed too soon. However, this has happened to us before, so there was no panicking, and we found each other about 10 minutes later and resumed our trip.

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The walking tour was pretty good. We walked past the oldest churches in the city, saw the old central bank, and got to try Ecuadorian candy. Above is the Gothic cathedral of Quito. Besides the tall towers, it stands out because none of the other old buildings are in Gothic style–usually people either love it or hate it.

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Jordan stands in the main plaza of the old part of the city, with the Quito cathedral behind him. This square was the site of the first independence movement in 1812. To the right is the presidential palace, where the current president does not live because it is hard to secure entrances/exits to. Quito built upon the ruins of an Incan city, and the name “Quito” comes from one of the indigenous tribes in the area.

We ended our time in Quito that day by hopping on an overnight bus to Lago Agrio (from Quitumbe, the southern bus terminal) for 12 USD apiece, where we would begin our four-day Amazon trip!

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Bridge jumping

In our last day in Banos, I decided to jump off a bridge.

It was terrifying.

But it was only 20 bucks, so I thought better do it now while I’m only semi-scared and interested, rather than wait and find an expensive version back in the States.

There are three options for bridge jumping in town: 30 meters, 50 meters, and 100. Well, I was not about to do the 100. But somehow I was talked into the 50. I distinctly heard the word “bungee” during the sales pitch, which was why I was willing to go do it. There was no bungee. Buyer be warned.

At 10 am I walked ten minutes from downtown to the San Francisco bridge across from the bus terminal with the tour guide and Jordan. The guys setting up the jump were already there, securing ropes in place. I carefully looked over them and the harnesses to make sure nothing was frayed.

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They put me in and helped me climb onto the ledge. I’m not really sure what I was thinking, honestly. You can tell by the look on my face I’m not sure if I should regret my decision or be excited.

Then I was supposed to jump. The view was gorgeous, but I was about to fall 164 feet, and that didn’t sound good to me.

“Look straight out, don’t look down,” my safety person told me. “Don’t look down.”

That is easy to say.

“Okay. One, two, three, go!”

And I didn’t move.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said.

“Okay, okay. One, two, three, go!”

Somehow I left the little wooden platform attached to the bridge railing.

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And fell a very long way. And screamed the whole way.

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The rope had very little give in it, so the landing was rough on my neck. But I was okay!

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The weight was rough on the harness and my legs, but I made the rest of the trip down slowly and then caught a rope from the guy at the bottom.

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After being unhooked, I just had the quit shaking and hyperventilating, then climbed back up the hill to the bridge. For 20 USD, it was quite the experience. I think it was a good experience, but my neck was sore the next day.

I still can’t believe I did that.

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Baños: adventure capital of Ecuador

If you’re into adventure sports, Baños has it all. Whitewater rafting, zip lining, trekking, kayaking, canyoning, bridge jumping, horseback riding, and many other sports/tours are offered in the town. We took advantage of that opportunity and decided to go zip lining our second day in Baños.

It costs 20 USD a person, and the whole canopy course is about 2,000 meters. We, unfortunately, weren’t able to go on the last two lines because they were down for maintenance, but it was still a pretty good deal. We walked to the tour office and were picked up in a truck, then driven to the course about 20 minutes away near Llanganates National Park.

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Everything seemed really safe and the guides knew enough English to communicate clearly with us the safety precautions. The courses range in length and height. We were joined by two Belgian girls and all five of us had a blast. Sarah Ann strapped the GoPro to her helmet and we got lots of cool videos, some of which have ended up on Facebook.

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I don’t look like I’m smiling in that photo, but I promise I’m having fun. All the blood is just rushing to my head. And zip lining upside down is a little harder than it looks!

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Again, we saw beautiful views of the valley and the mountains on the other side. This was a pretty good deal and we recommend it! There is a little hiking up hills involved, just to get to the platforms, but nothing bad.

After a much-needed lunch break, we headed back to the tour office to meet up with our canyoning group. We had never heard of canyoning before this, so we were a little nervous but mainly excited about our four-hour tour. Canyoning is basically rappelling down waterfalls–not for the faint of heart or those who hate water. This tour was also 20 USD a person, which was a great deal. It included everything: shoes, helmets, wetsuits, equipment, and guides.

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The only thing they don’t tell you is that there is a 25 minute hike up a mountain before you get to the Rio Blanco waterfalls. And an eight minute hands-and-knees climb down through the trees to the first waterfall.

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This time Jordan wore the GoPro! Have you ever been in a wetsuit? Especially an already-wet wetsuit? This was our first time, and I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything so uncomfortable and so unflattering at the same time. It really is a bummer to be so uncomfortable and then look in the mirror and think, “wow, it’s not worth the trouble.” But when we got to the waterfalls (which were freezing!) I stopped worrying about my looks and wished the wetsuit was waterproof.

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The tour includes rappelling down five waterfalls, the fifth without ropes because we could slide down it. The waterfalls were all different sizes, but the largest was about 118 feet tall. I was freezing through the whole thing. Our group was 11 large, so there was a lot of time standing in cold water and waiting. There were plenty of times I thought I would slip on the wet rocks and get caught in the water spray, but we all made it.

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The guides passed a waterproof camera back and forth to capture our anxiety and excitement. Although not many of the photos turned out well, we at least got a whole disc of them included in the tour price.

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Although this was something we were really glad we did (I felt so strong and capable after all of that hiking and climbing and freezing!), we were equally as glad we didn’t sign up for the full-day tour. That really would have been too much. Out of the four-hour tour, we spent about an hour and a half in the water and that was enough. All three of us were very sore the next day–a sign of a good workout. I thought it was a lot of fun and a really great experience, but it was very intense.

If you get the chance, do it!

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Baños: volcanic, thermal springs

During our time in Ecuador we bumped into several other travelers who had told us about the town, either encouraging us to go because of the tour options or warning us away as a touristy area. So we decided to see what the fuss was all about. After a longer-than-expected eight hour bus ride into Baños in the center of the country, we arrived in the small town around 10 pm. Our hostel, Hostal El Recreo, was about a mile and a half from the bus terminal, and with our baggage a taxi cost two USD to get there. We highly recommend that hostel–cheap and the owner is friendly and even drove us into town a few time for free.

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The town (in English, “Baths,”) is nestled at the foot of a large, active volcano and between several hills in the region. It makes for gorgeous scenery. We walked outside the next morning and were immediately glad we came–the views were worth it all, and we hadn’t even looked at activities yet.

The town is quite small and renowned for its thermal baths, caused by cool waterfalls and volcanic heat combining into great hot springs to bathe in. Everywhere we went we could see waterfalls cascading down into the valley at the edge of town. We felt a little travel-sore, so our first order of business was to find one of these thermal baths and enjoy ourselves.

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There are several bath houses throughout town and even up the mountain sides, ranging in price and value. We went with a middle-weight, Santa Clara, which is in town and easy to walk to. Costing four USD per person, it is a brand new municipal center, which meant it was cheap and the facilities nice. It wasn’t as natural rock-and-vegetation-formation as we had expected, but we did have a good time in the hot tub and outdoor pools.

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We only went to a pool once, but if we had gone a second time we would have checked out Eduardo’s, which is next door to Santa Clara and privately run, so a little more expensive but also a little nicer. Other blogs I read talked about spas on the side of the volcano that cost 20 USD a person but included incredible views of the valley.

Banos is also a highly religious area of Catholicism, because many people believe the Virgin Mary appeared at one of the waterfalls ages ago. The cathedral is in her honor. Although the town is very touristy, we really enjoyed walking around. The tourists that come here are backpackers (like ourselves), adventure sport enthusiasts, and hikers. All three of us are much more comfortable in this type of environment rather than the Cusco version of touristy.

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We traveled up to see the Casa del Arbol that afternoon, something I had really wanted to do. It is about a 45 minute local bus trip up the side of the volcano (one USD one-way) to see a famous treehouse with a rope swing attached to it. It is called the “swing at the end of the world” because it swings over the edge of a cliff. We were suspended about 8,530 feet above sea level and close to 2,000 feet above the ground.

The pictures we viewed online were quaint: a treehouse, a gorgeous view, and little crowds. Well, the word is out now, because we had to stand in line for 20 minutes before getting a chance on the swing–and we only got three swings out of it. I mean, it wasn’t bad. It was actually a lot of fun. It just wasn’t what we had been expecting. It costs one USD to get into the park, where there are beautiful views of the valley, a cafe with cheap hot chocolate, and a small zipline.

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As you can see, the fog was rolling in. We arrived around 5 pm, which I think is too late in the day for good photos. The best time of day is between 11 am and 3 pm to get a clear view of the surroundings. When we got our turn, fog had covered everything and it was murky gray. Thankfully, he had snapped a photo of the area before the fog got bad, so he photoshopped the two pictures together. That isn’t cheating, right?

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It’s cheap entertainment and a great way to see the rest of the valley during the bus ride there and back. There are other, alternative “casa del arbols” now, because of the popularity of the original. We didn’t go to those, bus a backpacker we met in our hostel said El Vuelvo del Condor (Flight of the Condor) is great.

We spent the rest of the afternoon perusing dress shops and tour agencies, eager to try out adventure sports. Jordan, Sarah Ann, and I all decided to do zip lining in the morning and canyoning in the afternoon–a full day’s schedule.

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Beach break: Montañita

By Sarah Ann Allen

Montañita. The name may bring to mind mini mountains, but in actuality it is a chill-out, laid-back beach bum town, perfect for relaxing after going so hard for so long.

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In between getting asked if we wanted to partake in some “happy brownies” or “magic brownies” the beach was gorgeous. We stayed at Hostel Iguana Backpackers in a private three-person room for 24 USD per night. It lived up to its name with at least 3 or 4 Iguanas always visible from the back porch. The town began as a tent town created by surfers as the waves are strong and break on soft sand instead of the dangerous coral reefs. Later it was inhabited by hippies and the surf by day, party by night culture was born.
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We spent lazy mornings cooking pancakes and French toast (or eggy bread as the British call it), chill afternoons on the Internet or watching movies to avoid the strongest hours of the sun and our late afternoons and nights lounging on the sand and getting pummeled by waves created to surf. The three nights we spent there were perfect. The people wonderful, entertaining and unique. It is a backpackers’ town for sure.
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As I have spent some time in Hawaii and let the locals teach me how to surf (not to mention being obsessed with the first Blue Crush in which you get to see a movie montage of football players learning to surf) I found myself being the surfing expert of the group. Our hostel allowed us to rent surf boards for only $5 for 3 hours so we took advantage of it the last night we were there and I taught Jordan and Adrianne how to surf.
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They each got to ride a wave or two but we kept getting rolled by the waves so after an hour in the water we headed back to the sand for a photo shoot with the longboard. The surf was pretty rough with a lot of double waves… Which made for great photos but tough surf.
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The guy at the hostel really seemed to like me as I answered all his questions about his new iPhone (he was a droid person before) and taught him about Amish culture in America, so we ended up not having to pay for the surfboard rental which was nice. Other than that we just enjoyed the sand and the shallow waves and we found a sushi restaurant that had amazing burgers and was decently priced so we ate there twice (though don’t ask the name of it because I can’t remember).
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We were sad to have to leave, but it helped that we were going Baños, the land of hot springs and waterfalls! (Although it was nice to shake all the sand out of our stuff…)

 

 

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Hello, Loja!

So the crossing into Ecuador wasn’t exactly fun. We got an old, un air conditioned bus without a bathroom and little leg room for the nine-hour bus ride. And the border crossing happened at midnight. And there weren’t really bathrooms at the border crossing, so most people just walked behind the customs building and took care of business there. We used the company Transportes Loja because we wanted to avoid the infamous Tumbes crossing by traveling from Piura, Peru to Loja, Ecuador. I suppose it was worth it, but it was very inconvenient and uncomfortable.

We arrived in Loja at 6:30 am and hadn’t booked a hostel, so we just went to the nearest hotel we found and got one night for 34 USD. While that was a little pricey, we thought it was worth it because we checked in so early in the day. After crashing for a few hours, we got up again to explore the city and plan our next moves.

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Settled in a valley between hills in the southern part of the country, Loja has a strong musical culture. We saw stages and advertisements for upcoming events all over town. Founded in 1548 by a Spanish general, it is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador, and was an important stop on the trail from the Pacific Ocean to the Amazon Basin for hundreds of years.

IMG_5598.1Probably their most interesting sites are the numerous and beautiful old churches and plazas and the city hall, which is pictured above. The castle-looking place is the metaphoric gate of the city and where city hall is, along with a small art museum displaying local artists’ work. It is designed to commemorate the old city walls from the 16th century.

IMG_5620We wandered several miles around the city, but it was Sunday so most things were closed. We did, however, enjoy the views. I returned to the train station and surveyed the situation. We wanted to get to the coast, and had to learn how. Guayaquil is one of the largest cities in Ecuador and near the coast, so we knew we would have to pass through there. It is around 10 USD or eight hours from where we were, so we decided to split the trip up, stopping midway in Cuenca for lunch.

The next day we did that: paid six USD for a bus to Cuenca, almost four hours due north of us, and stopped there for lunch and to see the historic park.

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Although we only stayed about two hours, we were impressed with the city center architecture and gardening. I personally was interested in the cabbage-like flowers they had. Does anyone know what these are?

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We then hopped on another bus for eight USD apiece to get to Guayaquil, a city known for its crime but wonderful bus/plane terminals, and four hours due west of us. It took a little longer than four hours, but we finally made it. By then it was 10 pm, I felt sick, but we had several more hours north along to coast to get to our destination. We decided to go two more hours, away from the expensive city, and find a cheap hotel in one of the small towns. It turned out to be a little harder than I thought, but we survived the night and eventually made it to Sarah Ann’s beach paradise the next day.

Categories: Ecuador | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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