Dave and I recently had an opportunity to visit other parts of Ecuador via bus. Our friends Yvonne and Chris, who are on the final legs of their stay in Ecuador, agreed to dog sit while we were gone. As a result, we were able to truly enjoy traveling without having to worry about our girls!
Because Dave had to go to Guayaquil anyway to complete more steps in what has become a lengthy Visa application process, we started our travels in Guayaquil. Guayaquil is a very hot city with similar temperature to Crucita on the coast but without as much breeze. We stayed within walking distance to the historic downtown which is also right near the newly constructed river walk covering a distance of over 2 miles of walking.
The river walk is a fantastic place for all ages and includes children’s playgrounds and rides as well as a ferris wheel which from the top allows you to see great views of the city. There are also beautiful gardens and coffee shops as well as other places to eat both fast food such as McDonalds as well as more fine dining. The area is also very secure with plenty of city workers as well as security officers patrolling.
Because of our location, we were within walking to museums, shopping and restaurants. We were able to view both the historical museum and art museum as well as take the double decker city bus tour which lasted a couple of hours. We have found city bus tours to be a convenient way to see the city but also a easy way to get some beautiful photos both of the architecture as well as fun people watching shots!
We visited the famous Penas lighthouse which was over 444 steps up the side of the hill leading to even more steps up the lighthouse which allows panoramic views of the area. The winding stairs leading up the hill takes you through quaint village streets with children playing, men lounging in hammocks, those who are sweeping sidewalks and watering plants. Normal life really. However they see tourists climbing the stairs to the lighthouse on an ongoing basis, smartly taking advantage of the long trek by selling cool drinks and snacks.
Also while we were visiting the city, we saw several demonstrations due to obvious disagreement with the recent presidential elections. Our hostel happened to be right in the middle of the street which was closed and lined with armoured trucks as well as riot police waiting to be summoned should they be needed. One interesting thing I saw which I thought was also very humorous was a vendor making a killing selling snacks to the riot police. They were all lined up conveniently and were a captive audience and no doubt hungry! There was also a vendor that was able to sell a shoe shine for one of the police lined up. What a way to sell your goods!
The next stop was Cuenca located in the Andes mountains. The bus ride included beautiful mountain scenery but also included hair pin turns and a few heart thumping moments as the bus barrelled around corners zig zagging through the mountains.
Cuenca is a completely different climate and was a comfortable 70’s during the day with the sun out, it was lovely! Not too hot and not too cold. In the mornings and evenings however, the temperatures drop dramatically to the point where you need a coat or thick sweater and of course shoes and socks which we had not worn in over 6 months. The feel in Cuenca is very cosmopolitan. Such a wide variety of people from traditional Andes dress with the woman wearing knee length skirts, knee high socks, and black hats; to college students with gages and dreadlocks; to businessmen; to woman with jeans and below the knee leather boots and sweaters and much more. The feel is familiar to a visiting a larger city in the US.
There is amazing ethnic foods such as Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican as well as real red wine served in a real wine glass as well as amazing coffee shops with pastries. We took a city tour to Turi which is a mountain with breathtaking veiws overlooking the city. My favorite thing about Cuenca was the “normalcy” with the amazing dining experiences.
We stayed in a simple but clean hostel for $22 per night and in addition there was a breakfast offered for an additional $2 each which included eggs, toast, and coffee. The pricing on other dining was more expensive than what we are used to on the coast but would be similar to what you would pay at Applebees for example but much much better quality both food and expereince. So a good steak dinner would cost about $13. I loved our visit in Cuenca, however the weather was not something I am ready for again having just left a cold climate in WI.
Our next stop was a one night visit to Riobamba where we were catching a bus to Banos the next morning. We arrived in Riobamba mid afternoon and stayed in a hotel called the Tren Station which was right across from the train station (imagine that). There are tours available in between Quito and Guayaquil and the scenery is supposed to be spectacular however due to timing we opted to not do the train this time. Riobamba had a more reserved feel to it as compared to Cuenca. I didn’t see many tourists there at all and the feel was a bit off for me but we were able to walk to the main park and people watch as there was a festival going on.
A good breakfast was included with the price of the hotel and while eating I witnessed an interesting site outside the hotel. A man was selling some type of breakfast juice which isn’t unusual, however I noticed whenever he poured a glass of his homemade juice, he used a butter knife to cut through the liquid which appeared to resemble a thick egg white consistency. I also noticed people taking a drink of some liquid ahead of time and then having the man fill their cup with this thick substance which was also hot. I later found out that he was serving some type of drink with what appeared to the insides of an aloe plant (which gave it the slimy texture). I also heard that the “shot” ahead of time was a different natural drink that is extremely medicinal and good for the body. The local Ecuadorians loved it and were lined up to get this drink as many of them appreciate more natural remedies for ailments as well as natural foods to stay healthly.
I didn’t try it, but looking back I wished I had. Overall the weather in Riobamba was cold such as 40-60s.
We left for Banos the next morning which was just another short one hour bus ride. Banos is a big backpackers/tourist destination and reminded me of a mix between Door Country and the Wisconsin Dells back in my home state of WI. Since Banos is a tourist town, there were many many shops with souveniurs, and home candy made from the local sugar cane. They pull taffy while attached at one end from a hook.
Many of the tourists there were younger and physically fit looking for hiking, rafting and other adventures.
There are backpacker’s hostels on nearly every street corner and depending on what you are looking for, you can pay anywhere from $6-$40 a night for a hostel. We opted Hostel Carolina which included a nice sized bed as well as a private bath and breakfast included in the morning for $34. Excursions are available in rock climbing, rafting, ziplining, waterfalls tours and even tours to the natural hot springs. The weather can be quite cold although we had a beautiful sunny day to explore the town and again took the double decker city bus which included a ride to several waterfalls and ziplines as well as an amazing waterfall called Pailon del Diablo. It was a long walk to the falls but the view was beautiful! We did a lot of walking even as “non-back packers” and my feet were sore by the end of the day.
The food is delightful but not as fine as Cuenca. Banos is overall a beautiful place to visit. Though wonderful, one day was enough for us.
That was going to be the extent of our trip this time, however in analyzing the route back we discovered that to go back by way of Guayaquil which is how we came verses going back by way of Quito (which we had not yet seen) was not that much of a difference in terms of travel time. A new Ecuadorian friend from Crucita had casually commented on one of my facebook posts to “come visit them in Quito”. So we decided to take her up on the offer! What a pleasant part of our journey!
Her and her family were so incredibly gracious and offered us to stay in their beautiful home with them (we stayed two nights). They took us to the highlands area which showed us yet another completely different landscape of Ecuador. Quito itself is in a high altitude with weather being cooler overall and at this time of year raining most every afternoon. It is a large area of many different suberbs and smaller neighborhoods everywhere you turn. The weather in the Quito area is quite diverse in itself with the valley areas being 10-15 warmer than the city. Some areas consistently get more rain than other areas within the greater area. To get to the highlands we traveled even higher by car and were prepared for very cold weather. If I had to guess it was maybe in the high 30s, but still not as cold as we are used to back in the states. The highlands reminded me of the mountainous areas in Montana or Wyoming with beautiful
fields, lush grassy landscape and fields stretching between the hills.
We drove through a national park area where there were wild bulls, a large variety of birds, deer, rabbits, llamas, alpacas and the very protected and revered national bird, the condor. We did see a couple of them from the distance and they were spoke about by our tour guide friends very excitedly. We would be driving along and all of a sudden Gustavo would point and say “condor, condor!!….never mind, it’s just an eagle”. Of course in the US, we are just as excited about seeing eagles so it was very interesting so see the excitement when seeing their national bird! We were also able to see some condor nests in the rocks. The highlands are beautiful and serene. We saw wild horses as well as domestic horses with some of the local more indiginous people riding on them with their beatiful traditional hats and ponchos draped over their shoulders. We would have never known this area existed without the help of our friends Gustavo and Patricia! Our visit with them was priceless and they were some of the best hosts we have ever had.
Ecuador is a beautiful and diverse country. Our travel experience was amazing and overall we felt safe while traveling by bus and enjoying the local people.