Just back from… Ecuador with MaryMary Anne Nelson - Travel Expert
How did you get there?
Flew to Quito with Avianca via Bogotá
Whereabouts did you go?
Almost everywhere! Visited the cloud forest in Mindo, then continued to the highlands of Otavalo, then south to Cotopaxi National Park to then turn south-east towards the upper Amazon areas in San Isidro and Archidona, near Tena and ended in the lower Amazon region around the Napo River, but visiting Baños, Cuenca and, of course, Quito before the latter.
Had you been before?
Only in Guayaquil and the Galápagos.
If so, any notable differences?
I went to places I hadn’t been before.
Which was your favourite:
Place: Although I would very much like to say everywhere, I might have to go for San Isidro, in the upper Amazon/lower cloudforest because of the incredible variety of flora and fauna, but mostly because you can see the changes and variations within those changes that occur in nature within just a few metres in altitude.
Hotel: I might be unfair with the rest, but I fell in love with Chilcabamba Lodge in Cotopaxi, just outside the national park, because not only does it offer amazing views of the mountains (on clear days, that is…) but also it’s an extremely comfortable place to arrive to after a day of adventures in the park, with fantastic food, one of the most comfortable beds I had, a cozy fire in the wood burning stove in the room and warm ponchos to top it up. That’s hiking in style!
Excursion: The most memorable, other than zip lining in Mindo, was the hike to a waterfall from Kuyana lodge, near Tena, in the upper Amazon area. The nature here is breath taking, but the sense of adventure and wonder when swimming in the wild, under a waterfall, is hard to ignore! The fact that we had to use a rope to go down a small part and it rained on the way back, just added to the excitement.
What was your most memorable moment?
The adventure of driving from Baños to Cuenca. We had to take a long detour around the mountains as the road to Alausí is cut off due to landslides. It was a long day but the beauty of the landscape made up for it.
Were there any surprises along the way?
Realising that I actually enjoy birdwatching but that’s due to the phenomenal variety and quantity of them in Ecuador. I can definitely see the appeal, though I’m still not sure about getting up at 4 am.
What tips do you have for travellers wanting to visit the same destinations?
Don’t dismiss Mindo as just for birdwachters; it’s good for everyone who loves nature and a bit of soft adventure; April is rainier than we thought; try to include a visit to the upper Amazon area, San Isidro and Archidona/Tena, these are surprisingly beautiful and not that long a drive from Quito, so are more accessible than you’d think.
Is there anything indispensable to pack or prepare for?
Mosquito repellent for all forested areas and a good camera. Binoculars if you want to watch birds and don’t think that because you’re on the Equator it would be hot and humid – the country is mountainous so you will need a jumper!
Any local snacks, dishes or drinks that should be sampled?
Their national drink Canelazo, of course. I cannot give you the recipe as I can’t remember what’s in it, other than cinnamon and something alcoholic. You will be given one pretty much everywhere! Oh, and their “aji casero” – a lovely spicy condiment you want to add to everything!
Any restaurant or bar recommendations?
Vista Hermosa in the historical centre of Quito – the views from the terrace are breathtaking.
Sum up your trip in a sentence?
An exhilarating journey through nature and culture.
Please provide an expert comment
I fell in love with the variations in nature in the different areas of this country: you travel from above 3,000m above sea level to 0 in one day and you have all temperatures, flora, and fauna in one go - never allowing you to get bored or blasé. It’s a relatively small country compared to its neighbors and yet packs more than you could even imagine.
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