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Ecuador

Ecuador - Guayaquil

29 °C

We only had a day stop over in Guayaquil, a big city near the coast in Ecuador, on our way back from the Galapagos Islands. At sea level, Guayaquil is a lot warmer than most other plaes in Ecuador, and we enjoyed the nice humid change. After spending the night at Hostal Murali just near the airport we caught a bus into the city. The city centre has a fantastic Malecon walk between the large sprawling river front and the city. It runs for a few kilometres with little commercial centres, restaurants, gardens and lookout pioints dotted along it. If your stuck at the airport, which is the main transit airport for the Galapagos Islands, it´s definately worth a trip into town for a nice walk and some fresh air before your connecting flight.

At the northen end of the Malecon sits Santa Ana, a hilltop covered with beautiful, colorful ramshackle houses. A (sweaty) climb to the top gave us spectacular views across the city and Guayas river. Definately another worthwhile visit during your time in this city, and a nice way to finish off the day before catching our flight back to Colombia.

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Ecuador - Galapagos Islands

26 °C

Ok we apoloigise in advance if we start to ramble and sound like a bird watcher dressed in khaki, but after a trip to the enchanting Galapagos archipelago we guarantee you'll be doing the same. The Galapagos consists of a cluster of islands 1000km away from the mainland, created from molten lava that's leaked from the earths crust, and filled with volcanoes and animals which migrated to the islands over time. Nowdays there are small townships on a few of the islands, supporting tourism.

One fantastic part of the islands is that the animals are fearless of humans, as the islands are for the most part uninhabited which means the animals don't run away at the sight of humans, and you get to see them in their natural habitat. To maintain this environment the Galapagos National Park, and passionate guides, enforce strict rules about keeping a distance of 2 metres and definately no touching of the animals.

We were super lucky to snag a last minute cruise on The Seaman II, a luxury catamaran! Our six days aboard will never be forgotten, the service and food was outstanding as was the breath taking scenery on the west coast of Isabella. We snorkelled and swam with many animals such as giant sea turtles, rays, sea lions and beautiful fish every day. Paul was even lucky enough to see a white tipped reef shark! We saw abundant bird life, blue footed boobys, (and yes all jokes aside, they're blue feet are awesome), pelicans, frigates and many more I don't quite recall the names of! Dramatic volcanic landscapes, where cactuses have managed to root themselves in the desolate rock. Beautiful sunsets, dolphins, marine iguanas and giant tortoises. A red beach and a black beach, resulting from different parts of volcanic eruptions. All this was topped off when Paul celebrated his Birthday aboard with our fantastic guide and group of 16 people!

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Either side of our cruise we spent a few days on Santa Cruz Isand, in the guesthouse Los Amigos, with a friendly owner, two gorgeous huskies, a kitchen, and everything we needed. If you're in Santa Cruz it's a crime not to visit stunning Tortuga Bay. After a walk through dry bush land you arrive at a pristine white beach, with marine iguanas stretching themselves out to dry everywhere, we had to be careful not to stand on one! On a trip to the highlands, in the centre of the island we walked through some giant lava tunnels, gouged out by molten lava thousands of years ago. And no trip is complete without spending a couple of hours at one of the giant tortoise sanctuaries. The massive tortoises which can weigh up to 250kg roam through the grounds munching on grass, and no matter how many you see, they are still amazing creatures to watch. After this we rode bikes downhill into the town of Puerto Ayora!

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To reach San Cristobal Island in the east of the archipelago, we caught a speedboat which cut through the waves and had us there in two hours. Another beautiful place to explore. We were stunned by the amount of sea lions making themselves at home along the shoreline along which the main street of town runs. They were lying under and on benches, not flinching at the human passers by, except the odd growl when someone got too close, I suppose thats how they got their name! We walked out to Los Lobos Bay, where there are yet more sea lions, and we even spotted some baby sea lions, very cute. The interpretation centre is also worth a visit on San Cristobal Island, well set up with succinct information. And the walks nearby are great, with animals appearing everywhere we looked!

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What we didn't really realise before arriving is that there is so much to do on the Islands on your own and it can be very affordable. We easily filled in a few days in Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands. There is also a market on each island selling fruit and veg, many corner stores and a supermarket, and the prices were very reasonable. So go on, no more excuses even if your on a budget....book a flight this place is a must see!

We've uploaded more photos at: http://www.thenomadway.com/galapagos-islands-ecuador.php

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 16:00 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador - Mindo

25 °C

We were on the road with a couple of other travellers and decided to head to the Mindo 'cloud forest' in northern Ecuador. As we drove in we felt the temperature climb, the air was filled with moisture and the rolling hills were shrouded with clouds...hence the name. A gorgeous spot to spend a few days, although we confess to not doing much at all during our time here! Paul went to visit the waterfalls in the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest, a beautiful place to hike and explore 6 waterfalls. All went really well until they decided to walk the 2 hour road back into town...instead of walking back to town, they walked for an hour in the wrong direction! It was raining, getting dark and they are lucky the road came to a dead end or they'd still be walking. Just by chance an Ecuadorian film crew was driving past (as often happens in the middle of nowhere!) and gave them a lift. Meanwhile I had a trip to the doctor, who gave me some antibiotics to treat several days of stomach pain. All for free, thank you Ecuadorian government!

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We stayed at the very nice Casa de Cecilia, perched on the riverbank, with a variety of rooms. We started off in a dark cave-like room, then lucked out for our last couple of nights when we moved to a room with a view out over the river and lush green cloud forest. Although a little dangerous for the waistline, the chocolate brownies sold at the chocolate shops around town are also not to be missed!! We spent a few peaceful hours at a butterfly sanctury, where we walked through a butterfly filled greenhouse, saw some crazy Orchids, some shaped like shoes, others like angels, Ecuador has thousands of endemic species of Orchids. Then we relaxed in hammocks and watched hummingbirds feeding in front of us!

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Ecuador - Otavalo

22 °C

Paul's Brazil visa application was to take a few days in Quito so we decided to head two hours north to Otavalo, home to South America's largest market. We went on a Friday afternoon in readiness for the early Saturday mornings animal market. What a treat. Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, puppies and kittens...all being bought, sold or traded. The other market, full of artesinals (hand made products), arts, crafts, food and more flowed out from the main square along the town's central streets...so much to explore.

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After some haggling, we made a few purchses and headed back to our accommodation, Rose Cottage. It is about 4 kms out of town, set magnificently on a hill top, surrounded by deep valleys and green mountains, with a view down across the town. We definately recommend this place to anyone coming to Otavalo. (Plus you can stay in a cubbyhouse! Well, pretty much). We de-stressed from the market mayhem with a few days of relaxation in hammocks, taking in the views, and watching some movies from Rose Cottage's never ending DVD collection.

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Ecuador - Quito

22 °C

We have heard a number of unfriendly stories about Quito from other travellers, someone even told us it is a 'right of passage' to have your bag stolen or get mugged whilst staying here!

With our secret money belts in action and our bags all locked up we bused into town. After a smooth journey into our accommodation, Hostel Chicago, in between the New and Old parts of town we were able to relax. Quito is divided into two parts, the Old Town which is full of beautiful buildings, big plazas and spotless streets, with shops and restaurants catering to locals. And the New Town, which doesn't have the charm of the Old, but sits close to some big parks and caters very well to the tourist crowd with numerous cafes, bars, and tour agencies. So for us our hostel was in a perfect spot, between the two, and it also had a fantastic deck from which we could see out across the city!

We exlpored the stunning old town, which was filled with vibrant people and headed into 'Calle La Ronda', to see Quito's version of a Saturday night. An old laneway completely buzzing with locals, live music, good food and jugs of cañelazo ~ hot rum and fruit drink, which come served with giant empenadas (fried dough). We enjoyed seeing the locals up dancing to live salsa music having a good time, and finished the night off with some tasty pizza sold through a window. And we met a couple from the UK, as it turns out we've been following each other around the continent for the last 7 months!

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The Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the word = Equator) is just a few kilometres north of Quito, so we headed there the next day. There's a giant monument on the equator 'line' although there's a bit of debate about exactly where the equator is, the place next door claiming it's actually there! Being Sunday it was a big family day, with salsa music and more dancing in the plaza nearby, and perfect weather to enjoy a beer in the sunshine.

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Our next few days were filled in with sightseeing and exploring the New and Old parts of Quito, and taking in the fantastic view from our top deck!

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Ecuador - Latacunga & Quilotoa

21 °C

It is refreshing, in Ecuador, to reach a new place after a short 1 or 2 hour bus ride, compared with the massive distances covered in other South American countries, often on night buses. We arrived in Latacunga early afternoon, and were greeted by some stray urine that got whipped up in the wind from an old guy releiving himself on the main bridge...hmm. We stayed at the very good Hostel Tiana, who gave us heaps of tourist info about trips from town.

We'd arrived in perfect timing to visit the nearby town of Saquisili, which goes market crazy on Thursdays. We managed to make it through 6 of the giant markets, and there are 8 in total! Selling everything from live animals, electronics, fresh food, handmade textiles and more... One market was called the 'potato market'..which had an astonishing amount of potatoes, as you can imagine, amongst onions and other things which had crept their way in!

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Latacunga doesn't have loads going for it but it's the best base to venture out to the impressive Quilotoa crater. The next day we did the 3 hour journey to the giant volcano crater, which sits at 3,919m above sea level and houses a beautiful lake. We peered over the craters edge and then walked/slid our way down to the water, over steep, dry and dusty terrain. The lake had super clear water, complete with row boats and a small hostel. There is a myth amoungst local people that the lake has no bottom...but we weren't game to find out. Strangely, it's $40 US to see this place on a tour, or around $8 if you go as the locals do, on busses then the back of a pick up truck...a little more interesting.

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Ecuador - Baños

21 °C

Argentina has Bariloche, Chile has Pucon, Peru has Huaraz and Ecuador? Baños, famous for all things adventure. Rafting, hiking, biking, buggy riding, zip lining and bungy jumping...all set in a stunning valley, huge waterfalls and towered over by the 5016m high active Volcán Tungurahua. Touristy? Yes, but for good reason, and we loved it.

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Our highlight was hiring a 2 seater buggy and cruzing down the Ruta de las Cascadas (road with loads of waterfalls) along a winding river with huge cliffs, zip lines and cable cars, that culminates at the gob smacking Cascada Del Diablo with enormous amounts of water gushing over a cliff top. When you get close you get drenched in water, this didn't stop us, or all the locals. And just when it couldn't get any better, we climbed through a narrow rock crevace and emerged BEHIND the waterfall, with gallons of water exploding in front of us!!

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A hike around the mountains surrounding the town, a cable 'cage' swinging across the top of 2 waterfalls (which Lucy thought were her last few minutes on Earth as it hung mid canyon swinging in the wind...lucky we didn't go for the ziplines!). Coupled with some great Pizza at 'Pappardelle' and hanging out with a nice Austrian couple in the our clean and homely hostel 'Princesa Maria,' we loved our time here, despite the regular rain!

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Ecuador - Guaranda

22 °C

Our bus trip to Guaranda climbed and climbed, until all vegetation disappeared, as our breathing got a little tough we knew we were getting pretty high up. Turns out we were cruising along at over 4,000m. Soon we were almost level with the monsterous Volcán Chimborazo, masked in clouds and towering over us to our right. You might be suprised to hear that at 6310m high it is actually the furthest point away from the centre of the Earth, due to the bulge of the Equator (take that Himalayas)!

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We breathed a sigh of relief as we cruised down into Guaranda, at a mere 2,650m we could breath easy. It was a typical Ecuadorian town, friendly locals, nearly no tourists and surrounded by lush green mountains. We stayed in the nice Casa Grande hostel and tried some tasty morachas at the market...hot milk and rice drink, flavoured with spices and of course lots of sugar (we're in South America after all, sugar is their bread and butter).

We took a day trip to Salinas, a small town an hour away set amoungst rolling hills, famous for their production of cheese, chocolate, salami and textiles amongst other things. After we overloaded on cheese and some chocolate covered coffee beans, Lucy found a woolen handmade cardigan, and after the textile lady whipped out her knitting needles and tailored it to fit, it was of course 'the perfect cardigan I couldn't do without!' Sold.

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Ecuador - Alausi & the Nariz del Diablo

22 °C

Our guidebook described the Nariz del Diablo, (The Devil's Nose) train ride as hair raising, a 500m descent in only a few kilometres, with 2 switchbacks on cliff edges. Tourists used to take the journey on cargo trains, hence they crammed on the roof, but 4 years ago there was a nasty incident with a low hung TV cable, needless to say roof-riding has been banned. We decided to go and check it out!

The train ride, and mountain were given the name 'The Devil's Nose' due to the thousands of lives that were claimed during its construction over 100 years ago. In the last few years since the incident, the Ecuadorian government has invested loads of cash into the area, so it is now a tame tourist attraction complete with modern train, guide, museum and local dancers. We hung out with cashed up older toursits who were en route to the Galapoas.

It was a great experience, as train rides are hard to come by in South America. Alausi, a nice town and Ventura Hostel seemed to be the pick of the pricey accommodation bunch.

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Ecuador - Cuenca

19 °C

From Loja another short bus ride and we arrived in Cuenca, a much larger city. Staying on the outscirts of the CBD we felt immediately at home in the great Hostel Alternative, which was spotlessly clean. We were there just in time to head to the Sunday markets in the surrounding villages of Gualaceo, Chlordeleg & Sigsig. What a treat that was. Local dress, many different top hats and colourful wraps on the women. We sampled some rico (tasty) and fresh fruit juices, in a giant food market, which took over an entire plaza in Gualaceo! Checked out the jewellery shops in Chlordeleg. Then had lunch in the food market, where to Paul's delight they were rows of whole pigs cooking on a spit, complete with ladies crisping up the crackling with blow torches! The day was finished off with a moracha ~ hot milk and rice drink, flavoured with star anise amoungst other things, and a lot of sugar!

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Our next couple of days in Cuenca were shrouded in a constant drizzle, so wrapped up in jackets we braved the colourful cobblestone streets, colonial buildings and impressive churches. Handmade Panama hats are a pride and joy of the town, with many shops selling them. Also not to be missed were the shrunken heads in the museum 'Pumapungo' where Ecuadorian tribes used to cut off the heads of their enemies and shrink them down to the size of a fist to keep as a momento. On our last night we made the most of the 2x1 coctails on offer at a nearby bar, with some other travellers we'd met.

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Ecuador - Loja

19 °C

Loja was an overnight stop-off on our way north, and being the first Ecudorian city we had seen, we were very impressed. Mercedes and VW's zipping through the spotless streets, and shops for everything you may need from hardware to jewellery, bakeries and clothes shops.

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There are many coffee farms in this lush area of Ecuador and therefore coffee shops galore, the aroma of freshly ground coffee drifting out into the narrow streets...mmm! Lucy was super happy to find a 'coffee strainer' a great S. American invention to make a cup of freshly ground coffee on the go ~ perfect for travellers, no plunger required! Loja was a great city to wander through for an afternoon, including a visit to the Puerta de la Ciudad - gate of the city.

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Ecuador - Vilcabamba

20 °C

Vilcabamba, set in the so called 'Valley of Longevity', where people live forever thanks to the ideal surroundings, climate, food and a stress free lifestyle. It's actually full of western hippies young and old, yoga and meditation camps. Still, the setting is beautiful and Vilcabamba was a great place to rest and hippie'it up. It was a welcome change to our last few days of rural travel.

We washed off the layer of dust and stayed at the fantastic Le Rendez-Vous garden retreat, on the edge of the small town. Surrounded by leafy plants, hammocks and home made bread for breakfast we had no trouble relaxing straight away. Our 3 days were easily filled with some of the many walks on offer, a visit to the 'mini zoo', and discovering some of the delicious restaurants and cafes. We took in the fantastic view at Izhcayluma which serves up great food, wine and has a dayspa (life was complete for Lucy), and the pizza at Shantas Bar, was as good as it gets in South America!

Loving Ecuador so far...

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