My Ecuador Review:
Since I have just spent three weeks in Ecuador, and just blogged about my foodie adventures, I thought it would be fitting to make a review and propose my recommendations on the country as well.
I arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, on December 19th at 1:30am. It was a longer journey than I had expected, because of flight delays and whatnot. But, I finally made it and was picked up at the airport by my boyfriend Alex and his cousin Javier (Alex left a week earlier than me). We stayed with Alex’s aunt Fanny (Javier’s mother) in Quitumbe, pretty much the equivalent of Quito’s suburbs as its further south of the “downtown” area.
While in Ecuador, I got to meet a lot of Alex’s family who still live there (his closest relatives all live in Montréal). I met a panoply of cousins, aunts, great aunts, great uncles, half aunts, etc. Everyone was very friendly and accepting of my okay Spanish (I took four years in high school). It was interesting to see how they celebrate Christmas, which is often different from one family to another (karaoke seems to be a very popular Christmas activity in Ecuador). This was my third non-white Christmas (I spent two in Australia in the past) which has its pros and its cons. I’m definitely not a winter person, so I enjoyed being in the somewhat warmth (it gets quite cold at night in Quito). However, a real Christmas to me will always be one where its cold and snowy.
Other than visiting and meeting some of Alex’s family, we also did a lot of sightseeing all over the country. From our initial base in Quito, we visited the historical area of the city, El Panecillo (the view point of the city), the Quilotoa Lagoon to the South, the villages of Otavalo and Ibarra to the North and even the las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia. On boxing day, we flew down to Cuenca, then on to Guayaquil, Salinas, Montañita and Puerto López. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands (too expensive), nor the Amazonian area (not enough time). But, I loved everything I got to see and very much enjoyed my experience in Ecuador. So, on to my recommendations of things to do and see in Ecuador.
My Ecuador Recommendations:
9. La Mitad del Mundo or the Middle of the World (Quito)
I decided to include this, because it’s kind of like going to Peru and not going to Machu Picchu (I should know because I went to Peru and didn’t go to Machu Picchu – but that’s a story for another time). So, if you’re in Quito, make sure to head North to this tourist attraction, which is located where the Equator is; hence, the middle of the world.
Montañita is a fun place. Great for surfers, hippies, party animals and international youngsters. However, being in Ecuador with my boyfriend, Montañita was a bit too much for us lovebirds. I did feel it was necessary to include it on this list, for all of the other people that Montañita would be perfect for. It reminded me a lot of Koh Phi Phi (in Thailand) with its street side bar shacks (who make delicious cocktails fyi), the array of bars and international restaurants, the beach and of course, the partying.
7. Horseback riding with Sebastian (Cuenca)
If you have time, like horses and pretty scenery, get in touch with Sebastian from Centro Ecuestre Bellavista for a horseback ride up the mountains (yes, I died a little as the horse was galloping up). The views from above were amazing and something we wouldn’t have been able to see from the ground level.
6. Montañita Beach’s sunset
One of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen. Because of the way the villages are positioned along the Ecuadorian Pacific coast, some don’t have a direct view of the sunset, which is what made this one special. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
5. Puerto López Beach
Although we went to a few beaches, my favorite one was Puerto López’s beach, as it was more suited to my lifestyle. It was calm, almost empty, close enough to shops and restaurants if we got hungry and best of all, there was virtually no one hassling us to buy something (as opposed to the beach in Salinas, where we were literally hassled every few minutes). Puerto López is a small and quaint fisherman village, that you can walk across in under 15 minutes, or take one of the many tuk tuks for $1 USD.
4. Cuenca city walk
Cuenca’s historical center has many of my favorites: churches. When I travel, I love to see and visit churches, to look at the different architectural styles. Cuenca is a very tourist and expat friendly city and it is easy to walk around everywhere. If you have the time, take a couple hours to walk around and see the many different churches, the colonial style buildings, the parks, the Spanish style plazas and the river side walk.
3. Quilotoa Lagoon
Apart from beaches, Quilotoa Lagoon is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes I have ever seen. As soon as the bus drops you off on the dirt road, walk about ten minutes to the lookout platforms high above the lagoon and wow; the views are breathtaking. When we arrived, the sky was very cloudy and thus this affected the color of the lagoon. However, soon after rays of sunlight began to appear and we could see the lagoon change in color. It was a beautiful sight, even though we didn’t walk down to the platform right by the lagoon (we were told it takes about 3 hours there and back) nor did we do the 3-4 days hikes around the lagoon (that’s just not our cup of tea).
2. Las Peñas (Guayaquil)
Las Peñas are those colorful houses in Guayaquil, built on and around two cliffs, just to the North of the Malecón (boardwalk). Ever since visiting Cinque Terre in Italy in 2014, I have had a thing for colorful houses. Therefore, it is not surprising that I really wanted to see Las Peñas. There is more than one way up the 444 stairs, but all lead to the lighthouse at the top of the cliff and offers a view of the Malecón, the adjacent river and the other side of Las Peñas. We didn’t take the main path to go up, mainly because we missed it. This lead us to a winding street with beautiful colonial style homes, which many have been converted into art galleries. We went through one of them, which still had its old doors and shutters. Las Peñas had an old colonial vibe and charm, which I really liked.
1. Cathedral de la Immaculada or New Cathedral of Cuenca
We spent a total of three days and three nights in Cuenca; in my opinion, two days would have sufficed. However, this gave us the opportunity to do activities we otherwise wouldn’t have done, like the thermal spa (see point #12 above) and a horseback ride in the mountains (see point #7 above). This also gave me the opportunity to try and shoot the best possible shot of this beautiful cathedral. Unfortunately, I was not able to find my picture perfect postcard shot and will have to remain satisfied with the ones I managed to take. As for the cathedral itself, it is worth climbing all the way to the top to get a better look at those blue domes and the rest of the historical area of Cuenca. I especially liked the cathedral’s bright turquoise doors, but have no idea why they are that color. Anyone?
*Bonus: Santuario de las Lajas (Ipiales, Colombia)
I’ve included las Lajas as a bonus for two reasons: (1) it’s amazing and (2) it’s not in Ecuador, but in Colombia (but only like a 10mins drive away). While researching things to do in Ecuador, I came across this stunning sanctuary that was built in a mountain and just across the Ecuador-Colombia border. My boyfriend had already been in a past trip and assured me that: (1) it was worth going to and (2) was easy enough to get to. It took almost all day to get there from Quito (we went by buses and taxis) but was well worth it. Once you get there, you walk down towards the basilica, where there are plenty of little plaques built into the mountain as well, until you’re standing right in front of this magnificent structure. On the inside, you can even see the part of the mountain on which the basilica was built. Continue walking further away, so you can get that perfect shot of the basilica and its bridge.
Got any questions, comments or recommendations of your own? Don’t hesitate to post them in the comments box 🙂
Wanna know more about Ecuador? Click here for the foodie aspect of my trip!
*All photos are my own (or taken by someone with my device)