After one month in Colombia, I arrived at the extreme south of the country. My logical next move was to continue my travel in Ecuador. From the mountains to the beach, from party cities to historical villages, from chilling on a beach to hiking in the mountains, I tell you everything about my trip!
Step 1: Otavalo
I left Colombia in the south; it makes sense I reached Ecuador in the north. So I start to discover the country with the village named Otavalo. This place is famous for its crafts marker. The market is every day but it gets bigger on Saturday when people from other villages come.
But of course, there are other things to see and to do in Otavalo. There are two places which are easily accessible by foot from the city center. The first one is the Peguche cascade. From the city center, you have to walk 1h. This attraction is famous and very touristic, however it worth it. The second one is a millennial tree called Lechero. From the city center, it is also 1h walking or 1h30 from the cascade. This tree is holy. Indeed, during 500 years, the dead babies were buried here. Thus, you can’t touch it or get too close to it but you can get close enough to see it.
If you stay another day in Otavalo, you can hike for a day around Cuicocha Lake. The hike lasts around 4h or 5h according to your rhythm. You walk around the lake on the crater. Because yes, it is a volcano (but the volcano sleeps nowadays don’t worry).
To get there, you have two solutions: take a taxi from Otavalo (~10$) or take the then to Quirago (0,50$) and then a taxi to the lake (5$). In any case, I advise you to say to the taxi driver when you plan to finish the hike so he can come back for you. Otherwise, you have to call a taxi once you finished the loop.
Step 2: Mindo
Mindo is located in the middle of the forest and the mountains. Thus it is the perfect place to see cascades. The most famous is the Nambillo cascade. This one is part of the cascades path and on this path, you will see other beautiful ones. But the funniest is to access them. You have to take the Tarabita. Let me explain to you what it is. Imagine a small motor from a Nissan (2002) used to power a sort of supermarket trolley to cross a lush river basin over the cloud forest. This is it! And it works very well.
The other main activity in Mindo is to observe wildlife. But more specifically two animals: birds and butterflies. You can either watch them by yourself in nature or choose a tour with a guide who knows the best spots. Concerning the butterflies, there is in Mindo a garden where you can see them. You will admire them in their natural environment and you will see thousands of them.
Step 3: The Tsachilas community
On my journey between Mindo and Canoa, I stopped 3 days in the Tsachilas community. The program was: cascades, discovering the Tsachilas culture, traditions, way of life and immersion into the community. I tell you everything here.
Step 4: Canoa
Canoa is my start for the Pacific coast. There is no much to do in this village except enjoy the beach. To sum up, you go to Canoa to relax on the beach. However, the evening the beach is the perfect spot to admire the sunset.
Step 5: Isla de Plata or “the poor person’s Galapagos”
If like me, the Galapagos Islands are too expensive for you, you have a cheaper solution: Isla de Plata. The easiest way to get there is from Puerto Lopez. In this city, you find easily an agency (you can’t go there by yourself) and the expedition is one all day. The morning you visit the island and observe the birds with a guide. The afternoon, you snorkel to see fishes and turtles around the island.
I can’t give you my opinion compare to Galapagos Island because I haven’t been there (but hopefully one day I will!). However, according to me, the Isla de Plata worth a day if you want to discover the wildlife here.
Step 6: Montañita and the vicinity
Montañita is the capital for the surf and parties in Ecuador. By the way, these are the only two things you can do there. You can, of course, enjoy the beach or learn surf if you wish to learn it. If you are looking for a place to party, chill and enjoy the beach, Montañita is the perfect place.
However, if you don’t like parties and you feel like the beach in Montañita is crowed, there are other quieter places to go. The first I recommend you is Ayampe. This village is in the north of Montañita. To get there you have to take a bus (~40 min). It is also the perfect place if you want to visit the Isla de Plata and don’t want to stay in Puerto Lopez because you look for a quieter place. By bus, it takes 20 in from Ayampe to Puerto Lopez.
The second beach and my favorite are the one of Olon. This village is 10min from Montañita by bus and the beach is beautiful Moreover, there are restaurants and bars along the beach, which are not in Montañita and Ayampe. It is perfect for a drink after you can swim in the ocean.
The last beautiful place to chill is a little further and it worth to go there for a whole day. Los Frailes is a beach located in a natural park in the north of Puerto Lopez. It takes 1h30 to go there from Montañita. In this park, you will find several beaches: Los Frailes (the biggest and the easiest to access) and other beaches smaller. The thing I loved the most is the small hike you can to do to see all the beaches and even two viewpoints. The hike lasts 1h30 and is accessible to everybody. The entrance is free and you can access to the park with the bus which goes from Puertoviejo Santa Elena.
Step 7: Cuenca and the vicinity
Cuenca is part of the cities you have to visit during your stay in Ecuador. The main reason is that the historical center is beautiful. The most famous monument if the cathedral. It is the one you see on all the pictures of Cuenca. The rest of the city center also worth the detour and deserved to be visited. There are many churches and ancient building to see. Just walk around in the city center was a pleasure to me.
One hour by bus from Cuenca, there is Cajas National Park. You can hike for one day there and come back to Cuenca the evening. There are several circuits in this park and all of them are available at the entrance. There are hikes for all levels: you can hike for a few hours or a few days. However, if you want to hike for days, you have to bring everything with you and be totally autonomous.
For Cuenca, I chose a hostel which isn’t in the city center. The Mallki hostel was just what I looked for. The hostel is clean and has all the facilities I needed: wifi, kitchen, hot water, breakfast, etc. I strongly recommend it!
Step 8: Baños
If you are looking for adrenaline or extreme sports, you have to come to Baños. You can try rafting, zip line, etc. And if you prefer quieter sports, you won’t get bored either. The most famous attraction in Baños is the Casa del Arbol. This is where you have the famous swing at the edge of the world. TO go there, it’s really easy: you can go by bus (~1h) or walk up there (~2h). If you choose to walk, you would be able to enjoy the viewpoints also of Mindo. The entrance costs 1US$ and you can swing (there is even someone who is pushing you), try a small zip line and enjoy the view.
The second most famous attraction in the Road of the waterfalls with at its end the Pailon del Diablo. If you wish to do this road, the easiest and funniest way is to rent a bike. The road goes down and you can stop where ever you want to admire the waterfalls. To go back to Mindo, you can take a pickup which brings you back to Baños with your bike.
However, if you don’t like bicycle, you can also take a bus to go directly to the waterfall Pailo del Diablo. It is the last waterfall and the most impressive one of the road. There are two access and with both you are going to be soaked. You will get very close to the waterfall and see how powerful it is.
Step 9: Quilotoa loop
The Quilotoa loop is one of the most famous in Ecuador and a must do for hikers. You can choose to hike it in 2, 3 or 4 days. Personally, I chose to do it in 4 days: 3 days to go to Quilotoa and the last to hike around the crater. I tell you everything in this article.
Step 10: Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi is the highest volcano in Ecuador. It is located around 1h30 from Quito. It is possible to hike a little from the car park until the refuge. This hike lasts around 45min and you can continue 45min more until the glacier. The refuge is at 4 000m high, so it may be cold and/or snowing. Don’t forget to wear warm clothes. And if you can, choose a clear and sunny day or you won’t be able to enjoy the view of the park nor the volcano.
Step 11: Quito and the vicinity
The most famous attraction in Quito is the Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). This place is north of Quito, but this is where you can literally cross the equator. There are two places: one historical place and the “real” place 200m away. At the first place, you will find the famous monument with the yellow line which represents the equator. There is also a museum (where you can get 2 stamps in your passport), craft shops, souvenir shops, restaurants, etc. The second place is less touristic but it is the “real” place where is equator is. The calculations have been made again in the 18 century with more precise tools that’s why there are two places.
Closer to the city center, there is the teleferico. From up there, you will have a view of Quito and its historical center. In the historical city center, you will find very old buildings: churches, banks, squares, cathedrals, etc.
The easiest to way to visit Quito is to have accommodation in the or near the city center. In my case, I choose Minka hostel. This hostel is closed to the Basilica and has all facilities you need: modern kitchen, good internet connexion, a great commune living room and of course a cheap price.
This is it for Ecuador! I hope you liked this article and you want to visit Ecuador now. If you like challenges, I share with you my challenge bucket list for this country!