Quito and beyond
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My friend and I were doing a 16 day trip to Ecuador and The Galapagos. This is a review of the land part of our trip (the Galapagos is covered in a separate review).
We had booked our trip through Trail Finders in London and for the land part of the trip they had suggested an agency called Metropolitan Touring. I cannot praise this company enough. All of their guides and drivers were professional, punctual, informative and quite delightful. We were met by them in Quito upon arrival and taken to our hotel, The Holton Colon. It was a lovely hotel, quite centrally located and it had the softest beds I have ever slept in! The guide had told us to be careful about altitude sickness. Some people are badly affected and it can make you very ill. Luckily we just had slight headaches and I got a few nose bleeds but it wasn't enough to spoil our enjoyment of the trip. It is important to keep hydrated so drink lots of water.
On our first day we had a tour of Quito. We saw the markets and the old city with its cathedral and many churches and then we went to where the Equator line is. (There is a monument showing where the Equator is but in recent times, using GPS, they realised that this is not the exact spot!) Now the Inti-Nan Solar Museum has been built on the exact location of the Equator line. It is a little touristy but there are some fun things to do like trying to walk on the equator line with your eyes closed (it is hard as your balance is affected) and other interesting experiments. We also visited Quito's botanical gardens. (Not quite Kew gardens but nice nonetheless).
There are lots of food options in Quito. Every kind of food is available. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it was easy to get vegetarian food (something that is not always easy when abroad). Although set in the middle of mountains, Quito is not the prettiest city in the world. there is a huge amount of graffiti (in fact there is a huge amount of graffiti all over Ecuador). Some of this is very colourful and artistic but a lot of it is just urban scrawl. Although Ecuador is quite a wealthy South American country there are still a lot of shanty towns and the whole country is reminisce of a 1960's communist country like Cuba.
After a few days in Quito we were taken by our guide and driver through the Avenue of the Volcanos. We headed to Cotopaxi National Park and took a 40 minute walk through the park. Cotopaxi is the largest of the volcanos and even though it was a little cloudy we could see the snow capped top of this impressive volcano. There were wild horses roaming in the park and we were taken for lunch to Tambopaxi Hacienda, which, had the cloud not come down again, would have had stunning views of the volcano and the park. Our guide Javier was very knowledgeable about the area and en route took us to an artisans market and a taguna nut workshop (they carve these nuts into little animals). There were a pack of llamas and alpacas here, ready for a photo shoot with us!
Our overnight stop was the hotel Hacienda Abraspungo and we were incredibly impressed to find that we had a wood burning stove in our room which they lit whilst we were having dinner. It was a wonderful cosy hotel, probably our favourite of the whole trip.
The next day we headed to Alausi. The scenery en route was amazing, little farmlands that looked like patchwork quilts. In Alausi there is a rehabilitated rail system for tourists. The train goes down a 800 metre descent on zigzag cuttings around the rock called "The Devil's Nose". Great views and there is a museum and shops at the bottom. It is a little commercialised but the train is quite unique. After the train ride Javier handed us over to another guide and driver who were taking us on the last part of our trip. We drove through the Andes mountains and again there were spectacular views. We were above the clouds, it took our breath away!
We stopped at the Inca Fortress of Ingapirca which was interesting and then we drove on to Cuenca. Our hotel, the Oro Verde was very basic but comfortable. Cuenca is the 3rd largest city in Ecuador and is probably the prettiest city. It has a very religious history and has 52 churches. We visited some of these along with the market and the Modern Art Museum. Good things to buy in the market are textiles of any kind, their scarves are beautiful and they do wonderfully warm blankets and colourful tablecloths. Cuenca is definitely a nicer city than Quito and looks more prosperous. After a couple of days here we headed off to our final destination, Guayaquil. We stopped along the way at Cajas National Park for an hour long walk. Fabulous views as we walked above and into the clouds.
Then the scenery started to change. As we came down from the Andes we came into the "coast" area. (Ecuador has 4 areas, the Amazon, the highlands, the coast and the Galapagos). The coast area looks a bit like the Caribbean. There is an abundance of banana trees and mango trees. The area is mainly farmland but seems poorer than the area around Cuenca. Most of the houses are on stilts and were in a rather dilapidated state.
On arrival in Guayaquil we were taken to the Wyndham hotel. This huge high rise hotel is in an area that looks a bit like Canary Wharf. However when we took a walk along the riverside we had only gone about 2 miles when we came across another shanty town type area and a section of the riverside which looked rather like Southend! Mind you, relaxing by the roof top pool at the Wyndham was certainly a nice way to end our tour of Ecuador.
So what was my opinion of Ecuador? Interesting? Yes. Stunning scenery? Yes. But I wasn't overly impressed with the cities. If you travel to Ecuador concentrate mainly on the national parks and the natural beauty of the country and don't spend too long in the noisy busy cities. And don't forget to visit The Galapagos. Now that IS wonderful!! (See my other review for more!)
8 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.