We never really planned to go to Ecuador, but somehow ended up there. To our surprise, this country ended in our top three of countries from this world trip! We stayed 5 weeks in Ecuador, way longer than anticipated. Why? Ecuador is a small country, but it has s much to offer. Beautiful mountain ranges for trekking, climbing volcanos, spotting wildlife in the Amazon and Galapagos, beaches, good food and friendly people. What is not to like about Ecuador?
After a hellish 3-part flight from Cuba (Havana-Mexico City-Bogotá-Quito), we finally arrived. Sitting at around 2,800m high, walking the very steep streets did take some getting used to. But, exhausted from our flights, we happily spent the first couple of days acclimatising (read: mostly sitting in our hotel room on the sweet, sweet internet and sleeping).
In the three days remaining we: wandered the city centre, booked an adventure in the Amazon, met with local slackliners (making plans to highline over a waterfall) and we stood directly on the equator.
Whilst the lodge (Nicky Lodge, you absolutely should stay there) we had booked was not very far away, neither was it close. After a 7hr overnight bus from Quito, 4hrs waiting in Lago Argio, 2.5hrs on another bus and 2.5hrs in a motor canoe (through a tropical downpour, thankfully a short lived one) we finally arrived at our home for the next 4 nights. And what a location! Hours from any other lodge, in primary rainforest (which means it has never been cut down). Paradise for 5 days of adventures.
Every day we would wake up early, have a day full of adventures and be in bed again before 10pm. Our daily routine looked something like this:
- 6am wakeup call and 6.30am departure for a canoe trip
- 30am breakfast
- 10am departure for activity (walking through the forest or motor canoe up/down the river)
- 30pm lunch
- 3pm departure for walking/canoe/cultural activity
- 7pm departure for night walk in the forest
- 8pm dinner
- 3pm crawl into bed and crash into sleep
Each day was different though, with a different mix of activities and always to a different location. When we had a moment for ourselves we would lie in the hammocks with a book, swim in the river and wash ourselves in the river or fish for piranhas (David forgot that they have sharp teeth though…).
Our guide, Diego, was unfailingly enthusiastic and helped us remain excited when we were seeing the same wildlife for the 5th time (but to be honest, who isn’t excited about seeing monkeys? ).
We were sad to be leaving the beautiful jungle after 5 days, but also excited for our next adventures. We had a long day of travelling back to Quito airport from where we would fly to the Galapagos.
Let us just say this about the Galapagos: GO! Save your money and go! Start saving right now, you need to do this. You need it!
We flew Quito – Guayaquil – Baltra Island. We arrived to Puerto Ayeron Island, got a hostel and hit the beach! A very short ride on a water taxi and we walked to a lovely beach, Punta Estrada. We saw our first iguana, on land and then swimming. David was immediately fascinated with this incredibly ugly creature. There is just something awesome about them and their ultra ‘I don’t care about you’ demeanor.
After a quick dip in the sea, we continued walking to a huge crack in the rocks, which has fresh water mixing with salt water and many huge parrot fish living in there.
Snoozing on the beach on the way back was a lovely way to end our first day in the Galapagos. However, during our evening meal we saw that an earthquake had struck the Ecuadorian mainland. A tsunami alert went out, but happily nothing happened. So sad that so many people lost their lives.
The following day we simply walked to Tortuga Bay, checking out all the birds and iguanas, followed by some snorkelling with sharks and more snoozing on the beach.
Early morning ferry transfer to Isabella Island, past a lovely rock tower and we arrived in laid back Puerto Villamil.
After checking in at a hostel and having some lunch, we walked the first couple of kilometres of the “wall of tears trail”, enjoying the sights, beaches, birds and iguanas on the way, before returning for a quiet afternoon. Finished off with swimming with marine iguanas, seals and penguins in the harbour. Life is good!
But then David’s phone case developed a leak whilst swimming with the seals. He tried to fix it, but to no effect:
The following two days we did more snorkelling at the harbour, we went to the Tortoise breading centre twice and walked through the lagoon with flamingos.
We took the afternoon ferry back to Santa Cruz, to see if we could pick up a last minute deal on a cruise. After getting a hostel, it was already 6pm, with most tour agencies closing at 8pm. We walked around, hearing about routes and deals, our brains already frying as we tried to figure out what would be best. Then we found a tour with the boat Floriana. Straight away, the 8 day cruise route appealed to us and we decided on the spot to do it. One problem. Money. We had to pay in cash, otherwise pay 12% credit card fees. The 8 day tour was $1550 per person, so we needed to get $3100 from ATMs that give maximum $200-$600 (depending on the bank) a day. We got creative with our credit cards, some temporary cash relief from David’s parents and we scrapped together the money. We never intended to spend so much, but we figured: Why the hell not, that is what we saved for right?
Cruising the Galapagos
Day 1 (Boarding at Baltra Island)
We met at the tour office at 2.30pm and were transported on a lacklustre tour of a tortoise ranch, lava tunnel and two craters. Then we got onto the boat and after an excellent dinner in the evening we got under way. Our boat held just 16 guests (1 Dutch, 1 Australian, 1 German, 1 American, 2 Canadians, 3 French, 7 British), in 8 double rooms (air conditioned) all with private bathrooms (hot water) and 7 staff (1 chef, 1 bartender/serve, 1 captain, 1 helmsman, 1 general hand, 1 engineer and 1 guide). Boat dimension were: 22m long by about 5m wide. Not such a big one, but the perfect size for us!
Day 2 (Genovesa island)
We arrived at Genovesa in the morning, had breakfast and had a wet landing on the island. Like all the Galapagos Islands, this ‘island’ is the remains of a volcanic crater and has around 100,000 birds. We saw the famous frigate, red footed boobies, nazca boobies, and Darwin’s finches. Finished our walk with a snorkel, David saw a shark (Galapagos Shark) in the murky water as a seal frolicked in the surf as we returned to the boat for a delicious lunch.
A lovely siesta later, we jumped in the dingy for a drift snorkel along the cliff sides, inside the crater bay. We saw huge schools of fish, swam with both species of sea lions (normal and hairy), a shark and were happy to get back in the dinghies at the end, as the water could be quite cold (due to the huge depth drop-offs surrounding the islands)
Time for a quick rinse and we headed back to the island, a different location to the morning for a walk.
We saw all of the same birds as the morning, as well as a Nazca booby laying an egg! We also saw an owl (adapted to hunt during the day) and an albatross!
The long day had taken its toll and we retired to bed early after again 😉
Day 3 (Santiago Island and Bartolomé Island)
Four activities! First we started off with a walk on lava flats which were about 120 years old, seeing evidence of the first colonising species (a small plant). Then we went back to the beach, checking out the penguins as they attempted to warm up in the drizzle.
This was followed by snorkelling in the bay, finding playful sea lions, penguins zooming past, sleepy sharks and rays resting on the bottom, turtles and many fish. Also got to see the cute storm petrel dancing on the water, after our snorkel
After lunch and siesta, we snorkelled again. No trouble finding sea lions, penguins, turtles and sharks. It is so great to swim in the water while sea lions are playing with you (circling around you, coming very close to you and looking you in the eye).
The next landing of the day was on the Island Bartolome. This island looks very different from its close neighbour Santiago. With every island, it seems like you have landed on another planet. We walked to the top of the mountain and enjoyed a splendid view, before heading back to the boot for dinner and sleepy time.
Day 4 (Chinese Hat and Whale Bay)
We started the day with a wet landing at the Chinese hat, this island looks like, yes you guessed, a Chinese hat! At this island we saw for the first time the effect of the El Nino weather pattern on the wildlife of the Galapagos. Dead baby sea lions and dead iguanas, they were starving, as their food sources have been reduced due to changes in water temperate.
We had another fantastic snorkel session before lunch and some card games during siesta.
Our landing on Whale bay was not very fantastic. Apart from a land turtle, goats and a few birds we saw nothing. But visiting this island is compulsory Ecuadorian government policy on an 8 day cruise for some reason. Our guide couldn’t give an explanation for it. No snorkel in the afternoon as we had a long sail ahead to get to Isabella Island.
Day 5 (Isabella Island)
As we’d been here already, we only accompanied everyone else with the morning walk and snorkel near Islote Tintoreras (a collection of very very small islands, with many channels through and in-between them). During the walk we went to a bay with more than 60 white tip sharks and during our snorkel we saw many turtles, rays and fishes. The highlight of the snorkel was when just us two together were playing with 3 sea lions for more than 10 minutes in the water.
When we went on land with the group we separated and arranged to go on a trip to a volcano in the afternoon. So after lunch we went with our former hostel owner to Trillizos volcano and had a milkshake at our favourite cafe on Isabella.
When we arrived after lunch at Trillizos volcano, the hostel owner gave us harnesses, ropes and shackles. He showed us the craters of the 3 volcanos and then we went down some steep stairs, to start our descent into the volcano. Harnessed up, we lowered ourselves along slippery ladders into the volcano. Tamar thought it was quite exciting. In the volcano we walked around with torches, also looking at a small gallery of quartz crystals. Followed by a slippery climb up again, with beautiful views of Isabella and the surrounding islands when we were waiting for our ride back, sitting on top of the volcano.
Day 6 (Fernadina Island and Tagus Cove, Isabella Island)
Fernadina island. This place was covered in iguanas! They never cease to amaze and they were in the trees, gathered in huge groups (numbering into the hundreds) on the rocks and swimming around.
We also saw one of the Galapagos snake species! David was the first to spot the snake, we saw a total of three in short succession. They are not afraid of humans at all! Not venomous, they are constrictors and just eat lava lizards.
Really not scared of people!
The water current at Fernadina is very cold! When everyone jumped in the water from the dingy for our snorkel, you could hear many screams (less than 18°C). We saw some turtles and fishes, but the water wasn’t very clear. Many people left the water because of the cold (also Tamar), but David and some diehards kept on going in the freezing water.
After lunch and our siesta we embarked at the Tagus Cove, on Isabella Island.
A flightless cormorant was right in our way, so we carefully walked around. Beautiful eyes!
This part of the island has a lake and a lot of graffiti on the rocks as pirates came to this isolated part to attack the Spanish and collect food (giant tortoise, as they can live for a year without food. Because the pirates and whalers ate a lot of the tortoise, the population crashed, so that is why they are breeding them in the centres in Santa Cruz Island and Isabella Island now. Also a good chance for a group photo!
The afternoon snorkel was again from the dinghies. As the water was very cold in the morning, we mentally prepared for the afternoon. But what we couldn’t know is that the water at this spot was even colder, brrrrr! The snorkel was amazing though. Different type of fishes than on the other snorkels, many turtles, sea lions, sharks, bull rays, so lots of under water fun. After a while Tamar almost couldn’t move her limbs anymore because of the cold, so she had to get out of the water as the first one of the group. On her way to the dingy she saw a school of puffer fish though, something she had never seen before, so she ended her snorkel very happy.
Day 7 (Santiago Island and Rábida island)
We arrived at Santiago Island in the early hours of the morning and headed out for a walk along the intertidal zone right after breakfast. We saw a nice variety of animals: iguanas feeding on the rocks, herons, finches, oyster catchers and crabs.
After a hot walk back to the beach (black rocks and black sand), we jumped right into the sea for a snorkel. Much warmer than the day before! We saw sea lions, a shark, a ray and many huge schools of fish. The strong currents and swell did make avoiding the rocks a challenge though!
After lunch and a siesta (playing jungle speed), we disembarked on the island Rábida. This Island is totally red (rocks and sand). We walked around this island
and then had our last snorkel of the trip. It was a good snorkel with many sharks, big rays, sea lions and many colourful fishes in the water.While on the rocks there were blue footed boobies, nasca boobies and more.
David managed a cheeky slackline on the boat 😉
And in the evening we had a small goodbye party.
Last day (Back to Baltra and Quito)
After breakfast and a boat ride around the Daphne Major Island at sunrise, we were dropped off at Port Baltra.
Whilst waiting for the bus to the airport Cecile spotted a land iguana just a few metres away. A lovely large one!
At the airport we passed a few hours, looking back on 6 great full days (the cruise was 8 days) cruising along the Galapagos Islands. So happy that we decided to do this cruise! It was a magical experience. We enjoyed every bit of it. All the animals, the nature, the food, the people on board, watching birds and fishes, turtles, sharks and sea lions when sailing past all the islands. It was fantastic.
We went back to our lovely hotel La Rosario close to the historic town of Quito, repacked our two small backpacks with everything we needed for the camping/highline trip and the next day we headed out for our next adventure.
Together with some local slackliners we bought some groceries and drove to the highline spot, about one hour from Quito. Unfortunately from the parking spot we had hike to the camping/highline site over small lanes, rocks, bridges, through the river and climbing up and down ladders. As cool as that sounds, it was less cool as David was carrying two backpacks of 24 kilos each and a 5L bottle of water. Tamar also had two heavy backpacks and a bag of groceries.
As we arrived at the campsite it started raining. We quickly put the tents up and after a while the sun came out again.
The boys started rigging the highline (with no luck as the bolts were moving, and some of the boys had to go back to Quito for new bolts and the rock drill) and Tamar enjoyed reading her book. During the night it rained and the camping site started to get flooded. Luckily in the morning the sun was shining again. The boys got the rigging done, walked the highline and then it started raining again.
Rain, rain, rain, we had to move the tent because it was getting wet inside. David got caught on the highline in a downpour.
An uncomfortable night on a slope, everything wet, but we woke up to a sunny morning. We put everything on the rocks to dry.
The boys had a nice morning and midday of highlining.
Time to pack everything up and start the tiring and heavy hike again.
Back in Quito, we took 3 nights to rest, wash our clothes (that hadn’t been done in three weeks), write application letters for jobs, write our blog and do our administration and finances.
After much indecision, we decided to hike! We got down to Latacunga, dropped our bags at a hostel (for a small fee), and caught the next bus to the start of the trail, Sigchos. We arrived in the evening, in thick fog. So, we wandered around until we found a hotel, got some food and got into bed very early, ready to head out the next day.
Sigchos – Isinvilí
A lovely hike, we set off with a clear sky. 14km along the dirt road, but not many cars or people around, so for 90% of the time we were hiking by ourselves. The hike was not particularly challenging and it took us about 4hrs.
We arrived at the (much discussed and loved, but not cheap) Hostal Llullu Llama at midday and lazed around, greeting the new hikers as they arrived. We made friends with them all and played cards late into the evening.
Isinvil to Chugchilán
We set off at 9am, joined by our new friends David and Jayne, and Kyle. We hiked as a group, having frequent discussions about which way to go. This was due to the confusing directions we had been given by the hostel (on paper). But, we managed to do just fine and not get lost.
The views were stunning.
The hike was for the most part down and level, right until the end, where the track suddenly zig-zagged up for a few hundred metres. Then we came to the (much discussed the previous evening) bog. A big, deep mud puddle that stretched right across the path, which was enclosed on both sides by steep dirt walls. The only way to avoid this bog was to climb just before the walls enclosed the trail. An 80°, sandy slope with grass for handholds. Needless to say, we were much relieved to climb it successfully!
Shortly afterwards we arrived at Chugchilán, grabbed some very nice (and very expensive, but we had not much choice) rooms at a hotel, showered and settled down in the games room. It had an excellent view over the valley and we had a happy afternoon playing cards (Janiv of course), drinking wine/beer and eating papas fritos with huevos (French fries with egg on top). It rained on and off for most of the afternoon, so we were happy that we had been walking at a good pace. We went to bed early, so we would be ready for the toughest day yet, hiking all the way to the Quilotoa volcano at a maximum height of 3,900m.
Chugchilán to Quilotoa
Leaden skies greeted us, as we left the hotel at 8am. Whilst we got some light rain during the day, it wasn’t for long and didn’t last (thankfully). Our first part of the trail was essentially a steep track that also doubled as the rubbish dump and sewage disposal lane for that part of town. Not the best of starts. But, from this low it only got better. So much better. We continued hiking down (no more rubbish), to a low of 2,700m. To a dirty, but shallow stream, which had one of the poorest excuses for a bridge we had ever seen. But there was simply no other way, so we went across, some of us with more trepidation than others.
Now we had only 1,200m of elevation gain before the end of the day. It began straight away, with a steep trail leading 300-400m up, which gave us amazing views back down the valley.
30min later we stopped in the village of San Pedro and David ordered some chicken from a street food stall (the only sign of life in this village), which took 25min to make… After this, the trail gradient increased steadily for the rest of the day. Many nice sights on the way, to help us recover when we got out of breath.
Finally, after much struggling we reached the rim of the volcano. Seeing this view made it all worthwhile!
But the hike/day wasn’t over yet. For another 45 min we had to go up and down and up and down again to reach the city of Quilotoa and the last 15 minutes is also started raining on us. But nothing could stop us. We made it to the village, grabbed a taxi to Latacunga to get our backpacks, walked to the bus station, took a bus to Abuto and from there took a bus to Banos. Hungry and tired we went out for dinner and went to bed straight away at 11 pm at the apartment that we had rented as a group.
The following day we had a yummy breakfast at a French bistro and then moved into the best Airbnb apartment ever.
As we were still tired from hiking we had an amazing massage of 90 minutes, David did a swing jump from the bridge
, we bought yummy fresh ingredients for brekky (fruit, yoghurt, muesli and cane juice), we at some shots and went to the thermal baths. Where you had to get into the cold bath first in order to be able to go in the hot bath.
As it was our 4th year anniversary we went out for a romantic dinner together at a Spanish restaurant.
Our breakfast was amazing, together with a lazy morning in our apartment.
But time for some action. Swing time. We went to the famous swing up on a mountain at Banos and had some fun.
Tamar couldn’t let only David jump of bridges, so she also jumped of the bridge in town (after some hard moments/minutes getting herself together before jumping off).
In the evening we (our gang) met up with Karin and Mike, who we had also met on the Quilotoa loop, for dinner at a great restaurant. We had the best steak there and amazing service by our Russian host. It was scary to get to the restaurant though. There was an angry mop outside the police station, which wanted to lynch three robbers inside (apparently they were car thieves and the locals really wanted to get their hands on them) so there was a large police presence on the street.
Time to say goodbye to or new friends. Kyle and us jumped on the bus to Cuenca and Jayne and David went back to Quito. We only stayed two nights in Cuenca, a lovely Spanish looking town.
We wandered around and had some relaxed time, before taking the night bus to Mancora, Peru. We were looking forward to see a new country again and some beach time, but we were sad to leave beautiful Ecuador after 5 weeks. We could have spent many more weeks here and we hope to get back to this amazing country in the future