30 April 2010

The End of Ecuador

In coming to Ecuador, we had a pretty specific idea of what we wanted to do and how long we would spend there. That was a first for us. Usually we have only a vague idea and plans eventually change regardless. Amazingly, we also stuck to our initial schedule. Two weeks, only the mountains, Quito to Vilcabamba.

First, Where We Did Not Go:
  • The beach. The surfing is supposed to be great, but we have seen plenty of great beaches but not enough mountains.
  • The jungle. We have been bitten by enough jungle mosquitoes to last a lifetime.
  • Mindo, a cloudforest near Quito. We just spent a week in Colombia's cloudforests, which were free and empty of travelers.
  • Mito del Mundo (Middle of the World) - A giant tourist trap that is full of science experiments that prove you are on the equator. That sounds cool, except that the structure is not on the equator (as proven by more advanced GPS measurements) AND the science experiments are fake (they are more magic than science). 
  • Otovalo and around - Renown for the local handcrafts, we skipped these towns because we never buy anything, a lot of the items are actually mass manufactured, and, according to a well traveled-friend, the markets in Guatemala are better. 
  • Galapagos Islands - More important than the exhorbidant costs of a trip to the islands, Ecaudor has poorly managed development so much so that the area is considered an endangered habitat. From what I gather, the tourism industry is generally doing a decent job in respecting the environment. The rampant growth of buildings and infrastructure and pollution is due to the uninhibited migration of Ecuadorians looking for jobs on the island. The government has done little to nothing to protect the nature that makes the Galapagos such a unique biosphere, and therefore, such a world renown eco-tourism attraction.
Soooo, where did we go? South along the Andes via Quito, Iliniza Norte, Machachi, Cotopaxi area, Baños, Quilotoa, Cuenca and Vilcabamba. I expected the Andes in Ecuador to be bigger and more wild, but they were mostly rolling green hills and completely farmed. There is virtually no wilderness camping to be done in the entire country. Quilatoa was easily the highlight of our trip, due to the unspoiled culture, magnificent hike, friendly locals and lack of tourist infrastructure.

The volcanoes certainly stand out as most are above 5000 meters and glaciated. Some are easy walk-ups while others are very technically demanding. We hoped to climb Cotopaxi (5897 meters / 19347 feet), which is a lot higher than either of have ever been, as well as slightly more technical than anything we climbed before. Alas, it was not to happen as a crucial snow bridge had collapsed, rendering the largest crevasse impassable. Luckily we discovered this issue two days before we were to climb . . . as opposed to acquantances who found out the hard way - during their climb.

Honestly, I am glad I saw Ecuador but I do not have any desire to return. The food was typically horrible, with the exception of a few vegetarian restaurants which were cheap and healthy but not amazing. We had the worst run of hostels yet, even though we sometimes paid more, only to get shafted on something. The bus drivers were the least helpful. The police are corrupt. The tourist district in Quito is the most dangerous place in the city. Usually the touristy areas are safer as cities strive to protect the tourism industry.

Of course, most of the pictures are of the wonderful things that we saw. Thank you Becca B. for the great ideas on where to go, whose itinerary we followed almost exactly. Thank you Rich Meyer, for assisting us with our climbing efforts, such as good beta, guide recommendation, and acclimitization plan.

Iliniza Norte, at 5100+ meters, is the high point in our relationship. It also was more than breathtaking, a little scary at times, and we were the only people in the entire park.

Cotopaxi at sunrise, as seen from our tent. Beautiful views, worst hostel experience ever.

Lake Quilatoa at sunset.

In our hike around Lake Quilatoa, we passed only one other pair of hikers.

A great hike with good views above Baños on a rare day of few clouds.

Ecuador's national dish: guinea pig. Does this make you want to be vegetarian?

The view from our hostel in Cuenca. This is a scenic, tranquil college town with an absurd number of historic churches. It also has (at least) two excellent vegetarian restaurants.

The best hiking in Ecuador: Vilcabamba. Advertised as the Valley of Eternal Youth, we couldn't tell if it lived up to it's slogan, but it certainly was pretty and had lots of good food. While the area wasn't wilderness as it was all used for grazing animals, the land was still less altered than in any other mountainous area in Ecuador. You can see the tiny town of Vilcabamba to the right of the central peak.


  1. Sorry Danny! You probably want to edit the photo but it is my turn on the computer tonight.

  2. In terms of great accommodation, you can find it in a hostel.

    Pousada Ubatuba

  3. Ouch so negative about where not to go...maybe it's because you didn't go to these places that you missed out on a truly great experience. I agree the "Mitad del Mundo" is not worth going to but the rest you mentioned that you did not go to are beautiful areas. There is only one island where people are allowed to live on in the Galapagos. It's a developing nation so of course things are not going to be ethereally managed. So many misconceptions about really great regions, probably fabricated by "tourists". They are more contrived than heavily edited digital pictures so to speak. Also the national dish is not guinea pig, it's actually ceviche but varies by the region. Whatever floats your boat though, beauty and experience is in the eye of the beholder. Hope the rest of your travels are more exciting.