As the sign greeted me with the national slogan "Ama La Vida" along the breezy beach amidst sunburned vacationers and salt drenched surfers I knew that it was more than just words that would show me to "love life" during my brief journey through this beautiful country.
My month in Ecuador began on the southwest coast in Montanita, a soft days/hard nights kind of surfer’s paradise. My stay overlapped with the end of the World Masters Surf Championship, so I was fortunate to be in the company of some awesome surfer dudes and chicks from the US, Australia, Venezuela and more. During my days I took to some local surf lessons or yoga at Casa del Sol, where I stayed. And at night ventured to town with new friends for tasty cheap bites.
From Montanita, I continued 1 hour north along the beach to the small coastal fisherman village, Puerto Lopez. During my brief stay in this sleepy town, I volunteered at a local organization there, Clara Luna. During the day we assisted at the organization’s foundation for disabled children and adults and in the afternoons we enjoyed the beach and relaxed vibe of the fishing village. A few afternoons I was able to help out with the Club de Ninos, where we read and played with local children from the town. Before my departure, I took one excursion, a boat ride/day trip to Isla de la Plata (also known as the poor man's Galapagos) for some hiking and snorkeling. A perfect way to end my time on the coast.
|Club de Ninos|
|Isla de la Plata|
From there, it was time to connect with Holly, my friend from Santiago who I had planned the majority of the trip with, so after a rather uncomfortable 10 hour overnight bus ride (buses are nothing like they are in Chile!) I made it to the capital city of Ecuador, Quito. In Quito, we explored the city during the days taking in the beautiful architecture, churches and culinary delights.
From Quito, we wanted to visit the Ecuador section of the Amazon so we ventured to El Oriente via an overnight bus to Lago Agrio to get us, eventually, to the Cuyabeno Reserve. After 2 hours by bus and 2 hours by motorized canoe through the jungle, we arrived at Guacamayo Lodge and enjoyed a fantastic 4-day, 3-night adventure in the Amazon. Days were spent swimming in the lagoon, hiking in the jungle, relaxing in hammocks and visiting a local community and Shaman. During the evening we enjoyed the company of the other fun travelers and delicious foods served by the lodge and, even one night, ventured out for a private paddle trip and night hike with our awesome guide Vin. It was so powerful and yet so simple to disconnect completely over those few days. I didn’t find myself missing email or Facebook, but rather looked forward to the time of day where I could see the sun set and moon rise at the very same time over the lagoon. Absolute bliss.
|Canoe ride in to the jungle|
|sunset swims in the lagoon|
From the jungle we headed back to Quito, but another overnight Ecuadorian bus ride was a bit much to stomach, so we opted to break up the trip with a short stop in Papallacta and enjoyed a night at the Termas (hot springs) before bussing back to Quito early the next morning. Our next destination was the Otavalo market, about 3 hours outside of Quito, it is known as the premier destination for Ecuadorian handicrafts, and it certainly did not disappoint! We spent a few morning hours browsing the multitude of stalls and interacting with friendly, if not a bit overly pushy, vendors. After settling on a few personal purchases and a few gifts to bring back home, we returned to Quito for another night before packing up all our bags and heading south to Banos.
Banos was the town we had heard about from other travelers, but really had no expectations going in and it turned out to be one of my favorite stops! This is the place you go for any outdoor adventure sports you can think of: hiking, rafting, jumping off bridges…and then follow that with any kind of spa service you would want. We opted to rent bikes one day to explore the various waterfalls just outside of the main part of town as well as rafting the next day, followed by steam baths and massages! Day 3, we joined up with some new friends for a rather challenging hike up to the cabin of one of our bartender friends in town. After just barely making it through the freezing cold night, and unfortunately Holly getting quite sick, we made it back to town eventually and spent the rest of the day trying to recover. We thought it best to lay low and relax for another two days until Holly was feeling better enough to travel onward.
|Waterfall bike ride|
|hiking "upstairs" with Roberto|
From Banos, we continued south to Cuenca where we spent 2 days and nights exploring the beautiful colonial city.
|views of Cuenca|
From Cuenca, we continued on to our last stop and furthest south, Vilcabamba. This small town gained recent notoriety as “the valley of longevity” since so many of its residents were living well into their 100’s. Thus, many gringos began relocating and it now serves as a mix of local Ecuadorians, retired Ex-pats and new-age backpackers taking in the beauty of the area as well as meditation, medicinal healing and vegetarian food that the town has to offer. After 4 blissful days, it began to feel like time really did stand still, alas, our trip had come to an end and it was time to head back to Santiago.
|mountain horse rides|
All in all, Ecuador was a country I knew very little about and had heard even less, yet surprised me to be one of my favorite places I have visited. A small, yet proud land filled with beauty, tranquility and, of course, friendly inhabitants.