SURPRISING ECUADOR

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.

Itinerary

• 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.

 

BEAUTIFUL COLOMBIA

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When we first arrived I couldn’t helped thinking how similar Colombia was with Mexico. Our flight landed in Bogotá, the big noisy capital instantly made me start comparing here and there both cities. But with each day that passed I started feeling the authenticity of the country.

Colombian regions are very different one from another but what they all share is the kindness of people. Colombians are simply one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. They are friendly, energetic, welcoming and always willing to help, they are really something special. Besides the amazing people, Colombia has a very wide offer of activities. Either at the coastline, the country side or at its beautiful colonial cities you will never stop being surprised of the beauty of the landscapes and the richness of the culture; it is no surprise that many travelers fall in love with this country, I did to.

And what about the so known Colombia dangers? Many people warned us about the safety, even Colombian people continuously reminded us about all the precautions we should take. Maybe is because I come from another country known for its dangers but personally I didn’t feel in danger not even once. Of course one talks about his own experience, I was cautious as I regularly am. If we didn’t know our surroundings we tried to be as discreet as we could and we tried not to be out late. Our stay went well.

The cost of traveling 

Total days = 22          •          Total spent = 537.52 €         •          Daily average = 24.43€

*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 negotiable! We flew just once form Cartagena to Medellín with VivaColombia. The trip was one hour instead of one night and since we booked it in advanced the price was really convenient.

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!

Itinerary

• Bogotá → Zipaquirá → Villa de Leyva → San Gil → Barichara → Santa Marta → Parque Tayrona → Cartagena → Medellín → Salento → Calí → Ipiales •

My top 5

1. Eje Cafetero

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When arriving to Colombia one of the things that excited me the most was trying the world famous Colombian coffee, it was a big deception when I realized that the regular consumption of coffee is mainly second quality coffee sweetened with “panela” which is a solid form of unrefined whole cane sugar, I´m not saying the taste is bad just that it was definitely not what I expected. So I had to wait until getting to “El Eje Cafetero” (Colombian coffee growing axis) to have the Colombian coffee experience, and what an amazing experience! We started trekking from Circasia to Salento and during the trek we crossed some coffee fields and a coffee finca where we took a coffee tour. The region has more to offer besides the coffee experience. You can also find “El Valle de Cocora” a really nice national park located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains. It is the principal location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm. The town of Salento in itself is a colorful town flooded by tourists where you can find lots of coffee and crafts shops.

 2. Medellín

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Oh what a great city! I could definitely imagine myself living there. Once known as the most dangerous city on earth, Medellín is now one of the principal destinations of the country. Situated in a narrow valley of the Antioquia province, the city offers cultural, sportive and leisure activities all with unforgettable views.

3. Barichara

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Known as “El pueblo más bonito de Colombia” (the prettiest town in Colombia) this colonial town is the perfect place to relax from the craziness of big cities and wander through the cobblestone streets taking pictures of the colorful facades. It is also possible to enjoy adventure activities and visit the quiet village of Guane nearby.

4. Cartagena de Indias, or simply Cartagena

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Cartagena is between a film set and a fairy tale where colors play the main character. Cartagena’s old town is a Unesco World Heritage surrounded by 13km of colonial stone walls built to protect the city from pirates and other enemies. My recommendation here is either find the perfect park bench and watch people pass by or get lost in the streets and alleys. When the sun sets there is a romantic atmosphere that takes over and the balconies, terraces and plazas fill with loving couples.

5. Santuario de Las Lajas

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Our last stop in the country and a great surprise. I had seen pictures before and it surprised me that a place like that could be in South America other than in Europe. Las Lajas Sactuary is a gothic Cathedral Basilica church, dedicated to the veneration of Our Lady of Las Lajas Ipiales, built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River. It is an outstanding architectural building at 100 meters high from the bottom of the canyon, being connected with a 50 meters tall bridge to the other side of the canyon. This place is simply impressive! By chance we visited it on Mother´s day and it was full with Ecuadorian people in typical clothes. That definetly made the day even more memorable.

Looking for an explanation on why anyone thought to build a Cathedral in such a dangerous location I found the history of the place, “History tells us that everything started from a miraculous event that happened in 1754. Then, an Amerindian woman, named Maria Mueces, and her daughter Rosa, which was deaf-mute, were caught in a powerful storm. The story says that while the two women were looking for shelter, they felt like a strong force was guiding them towards a cave, where they were able to see the image of Our Virgin Mary on one of the walls. The little girl then shouted to her mother, pointing to the image. It is believed that the apparition of the Virgin Mary cured Rosa.”

ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME

Last year my boyfriend and I decided to quit our jobs in Paris, go to explore some of the corners of our beautiful world and after the travel, settling in Mexico City. A not so hard decision to make since we both love traveling and even all the beauty Paris has, we were both looking for new experiences to live. Our adventure lasted 10 months and took us to South America and Southeast Asia. Since we were backpacking, and trekking was an important part on our itinerary, we decided to bring only the essentials. Sadly that didn’t include my laptop. And so I was left with only my travel diary and a waterproof, shockproof compact camera. 10 great months have passed and now my memory card and diary are full with memories that little by little I will share with the hope of being able to help some travelers in their adventures.

Countries visited

countries trip 2105

Total budget 12,400 €
Details will be featured in each country post.

And the lovely song that inspired the post´s title (which landscape I´m sure is inspired by Bagan, Myanmar)