Ecuador is a fascinating country – socially, geographically and gastronomically. Geographically, the country can be divided into three vertical zones – the Pacific coastal strip to the west, the Amazon jungle to the east, and the Andes mountain ranges in the centre. I was backpacking mostly in the hilly terrain, because I was craving high altitudes and hiking. [Very important trivia: I prefer the mountains to the coast.]
So what can one do in Ecuador? I have merely scratched the surface in three weeks:
1. Hiking, trekking and high-altitude madness in the Andes
↑ Hiking to the southern face of Cotopaxi Volcano.
I love the mountains My trip started from Quito (2,800m), the second highest capital city in the world, and I was hiking in the mountains virtually throughout the trip. The highest I went was 4,300m, to the Fuya Fuya summit. There are numerous hiking trails, such as the Quilotoa loop, where one could get away for days.
2. Seeing natural wonders – volcanoes, lakes, and lakes in volcanic craters!
↑ Laguna Quilotoa, a 3km diameter Caldera lake formed inside a collapsed volcanic crater approximately 800 years ago.
Ecuador is full of volcanoes – 44 of them (Wikipedia), of which 14 are considered active. Besides traveling to (not to the top of) Cotopaxi, Pichincha and Tungurahua volcanoes and checking out large lakes, I saw two more places that were intriguing – Laguna Cuicocha and Laguna Quilotoa. These two lakes had formed inside the crater of a former volcano. eh?
3. Participating in the Mama Negra fiesta, festival of the Black Mother
↑ A 4-day alcohol induced Indigeneous/Catholic celebration with a parade of sacrificed pigs: That’s how I’d define in one sentence.
A festival with deeply indigenous beliefs, celebration of the native African population and Catholic/Spanish influence on top, the Mama Negra Festival in Latacunga lasted for 4 days. It was a crazy parade and a party, and I loved every moment of it. Overall, there are lots of stories and legends of trees and lakes elsewhere in Ecuador.
4. Walking in historic downtowns and plazas
↑ Cuenca’s central plaza
The historic centers of Quito and Cuenca are UNESCO sites. Can you believe it? An entire section of city is a world heritage site! My favorite day in Quito was walking from old Quito to the new part of the city.
5. Negotiating in indigenous markets
↑ If you need tips for buying animals, baskets, knives, guinea pig roasters, etc. contact me
Otavalo’s animal and craft’s market is the largest in South America. On Saturdays, the entire city gets transformed into a market with rows and rows of stands selling stuff. I found it interesting but overly touristy. Later in my trip, I went to a Thursday market at Saquisili, which was more “real”, sans tourists and therefore much more fascinating. It was fun to shop at the more mainstream leather market of Cotacachi and the ceramic market of Cuenca.
6. Hitchhiking in Ecuador: It’s very easy
↑ It seems one can travel all over Ecuador by hitching rides. A foreigner with a backpack can get a ride easily. (“Almost as easily as a single woman would” I heard someone say).
Hitchhiking in Ecuador is pretty straightforward. People love talking to gringos. The longest I had to wait was 20 minutes in Quito. PS: If you only speak rudimentary Spanish, its even better. Otherwise there are always the buses…
7. Eating local food, like a carnivore
↑ Seco de pollo (Chichen breast with some kind of sauce, fried potatoes, bean salad, rice and an almost empty glass of juice.)
Good and cheap food is easy to find in Ecuador. Though not as flavourful as Mexican or Indian food, I enjoyed trying new types of soups and entrés. The selection of fruit and juices is enormous… I think the country survives on potatoes, meat and fruit. The flavours change as you travel from the highlands to the Guayaquil coast.
I mostly ate in communal eateries but there were times I simply couldn’t take it… for example once I saw a a chicken’s head and feet in my soup…
Wait, I missed something…
8. Visiting the equator
You can get a touristy picture at the equator like this, with half of your body in the northern hemisphere and the other half in the southern hemisphere, in two locations near Quito. The popular “Mitad del Mundo” is inaccurate by 250m, so I had to visit the “Quitsato Mitad del Mundo” to get it accurate.