Leading up to our trip, we most likely could have covered the cost of our flights had we received $1 for each time we were asked: Why Ecuador? In short, this trip basically fell into our laps. One of AC’s ruling tenants is to have several flight alerts set up at any given time; so, when a $170 round trip fare from Miami to Quito appeared, we couldn’t pass it up. After placing the flight on a 24-hour hold, a brief discussion, and very minimal research on our new destination, we pulled the trigger and were Ecuador-bound… no questions asked. After all, spontaneity is the best kind of adventure, right?! With that, here is our brief 10 day wrap-up of the country that straddles the equator.
Day 1: Friday, November 18th, 2016 10:00 PM EST, en route to Baños, Ecuador
We departed from Miami (MIA) late in the evening and landed in Quito (UIO)– which, by the way, is absolutely an airport to write home about. UIO, and the surrounding area highways too for that matter, are brand spankin’ new (not something we encounter too often when traveling in Latin America). Freddy from Baños-based taxi service, Servi Taxi, met us upon landing for our 3-3.5-hour transfer to Baños, the adventure sports capital of Ecuador. Freddy is a stand up gentleman with whom we pre-coordinated all transport (over Facebook messenger no less); we *highly* recommend using Servi Taxi if you’re in the area. At 2:00 AM an exhausted Adventure Club finally arrived at our hostel and crawled into bed.
- Servi Taxi Banos
- Tip: Pack a neck pillow to catch a snooze while en route… purchase one with a snap on it, you’ll thank us later!
Day 2: Baños
We each had our own “I woke up like this” Beyonce moments when we emerged from our hostel’s balcony the next morning. We were in the middle the green lush valley of Baños; all around were mountains with waterfalls trickling down them, it was stunning. We grabbed breakfast at our hostel’s Café Good (which was aptly named) and decided to explore the town by foot. When we had enough of popping in and out of the many coffee and craft shops we were overcome with the impulsive desire to locate the “fin del mundo” (or “end of the world”) swing (Thanks NatGeo!). Remember the pretty mountains from the morning? Well, we never thought we would be climbing one of them, but our curiosity led us on a 12,000-step vertical ascent. Heads up: locals will quote the hike up to the swing as “two or three hours” from the trail entrance up to the top. This is, well, NOT. TRUE. Unless you’re hitching a ride on a drone. If you’re non-drone surfing it’s realistically, a five to six hour climb of steep and grueling incline (…and we mean steep! Pack double the amount of water you normally would because you’re already at an elevation). The panoramic mountain views on the way up almost made up for the frustrating fact that there were absolutely NO trail signs to be found. We failed to reach the swing upon our first attempt, and after a slight detour into some rogue coffee farms, we found solace in a hot cup of coffee in a quaint mountaintop hotel. It was there, nestled within the summit gazing down from the overlook of Baños and beyond, that we realized sometimes the best view comes after the hardest climb.
- Stray Dog Brew Pub (go here for pre-dinner drinks. They have their own craft brews and the decor is canine-friendly.)
- Leprechaun Bar (go here for nightlife and buy a bottle of Aguardiente, dance it off in the salsa room and indulge your local onlookers)
Day 3: Baños
With sore calf muscles (that mountain ascent was steep, did we mention that?), dehydrated bodies and aching temples, it was time to get down to business and put on our extreme sports hats (i.e. the first of many series of helmets that would don the heads of AC). Baños is surrounded by thick rainforest, and its canyons are peppered with tons of waterfalls. Combine this with the mild year-round weather and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an adventure sport spot. AC is always craving a thrill, so we listened to our guts (and not TLC, sorry ladies) and went to chase some waterfalls. Canyoning, or repelling, is one of the most popular activities in the area and we soon discovered why. We spent the afternoon and evening sporting wetsuits, helmets and “canyoning shoes” (aka glorified Keds) repelling down these majestic water chutes (five in total… which is about ten times less than the number of bug bites we ended up with). In true AC form, we dug in the heels of our Keds, expanded our personal comfort zones (@diegosdaughter with a commune of fire ants, even) and fully immersed ourselves in this edgy activity, enjoying the wet scenery along the way.
- Casa Hood (local dinner spot owned by Traverse City, Michigan– HEYO!)
- Natural Magic Travel Company (go here for canyoning, the boys who staff this joint are, well, boys but they’re absolute professionals. Our actual tour guide was a seasoned canyoner and a total maniac, but in the best way possible)
Day 4: Baños
Our final morning in Baños would include, obviously, another helmet and more physical activity in search of the renowned Pailón del Diablo. Haven’t heard of it? Neither had we. We grabbed some (squeaky) wheels from our boys at Natural Magic and biked down the Waterfall Route, coasting down what was largely a downhill route to this stunning natural waterworks wonder aptly named “the Devil’s throat”. How did we tell Baños good-bye? We’re so glad you asked! By swinging over its valley on the “fin del mundo” swing (the one we attempted to find on day one, we’re no quitters). A taxi roundtrip from the city was about $20 USD, which paid for itself in the number of Instagram likes our photos got… if we’re being honest. That evening, our buddies from Servi Taxi took us to Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge in Cotopaxi National Park, where we would spend the next couple days of our journey.
*Note that the signage in Cotopaxi National Park is nonexistent, it took us a few wrong turns before we located the lodge, but once we did it was all worth the nausea-inducing car ride in the dark…
Day 5: Cotopaxi National Park
Guided solely by the moonlight the night before, we had no idea the beauty awaiting us outside the Chilcabamba Lodge when we got out of bed that morning. When we walked down for breakfast we could see one of the world’s highest active volcanoes on the horizon known as Cotopaxi (we’d be lying if we said we didn’t have another “I woke up like this” moment here, too). After a nice breakfast made by the Chilcabamba Lodge’s Chef (who also acted as the grounds caretaker, housekeeper, and guest relations manager), we left for a four-hour hike towards the Cotopaxi volcano (we don’t only chase waterfalls, volcanos are fair game too).
We trekked through streams, waterfalls and blinked with our jaws dropped at the stunning views surrounding us and our lungs filled with the freshest mountain air you’ll ever breathe. AC and our hiking buddies, Jessie (from @tropiceco), and a nice Swedish man (we forgot your name, but please reach out to us if you’re out there!) were seemingly the only humans in the park. After our hike we were needing our helmet fix again, and were driven to the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park for an afternoon horseback ride. Our outfits were on point, clearly, with cowhide chaps and all, and we had a peaceful afternoon gallop through the picture-perfect open range.
We came back to the lodge for a delicious dinner with soup for starters (@LauritaCambios’ favorite), followed by steak and potatoes (one of Ecuador’s top agricultural products) and wine (one of AC’s top agricultural products, which the lodge allowed us to cock ourselves for a small fee). Our meals were a reminder of how remote and out there we really were. At Chilcabamba, you eat what you’re given, nothing more and nothing less as there’s no menu or other lodges or restaurants within walking (or driving, for that matter) distance. But, no complaints from us as it was all delicious! After dinner we braved the subzero temperatures outside and roasted s’mores and stargazed (one of AC’s all-time favorite recreational activities).
Day 6: Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
After roughly a four-hour drive from Chilcabamba to the Quito airport we were ready to start our adventure to a long-standing bucket list item: The Galapagos Islands.
So first of all, there are a few moneythings you should know about. We haven’t mentioned this yet but Ecuador takes the US dollar, so no stress about exchanging currency, etc. Also, upon leaving Quito you must purchase a $20 immigration transit control card to enter the Galapagos, and then after that you must pay a $100 entrance fee when you actually arrive in the Galapagos. Both of these fees are, of course, cash only. However, if you have Mercosur nationality you can bring your passport to save $50 (which worked to no one’s benefit except @cobraescobar, our resident Colombian queen).
After fawning over the Panama hats (which are inaccurately named, by the way, as they originated in Ecuador) at the airport shops on the way out, we sauntered out of the Baltra (GPS) airport to find our transportation. Lucky for us, our hotel had pre-arranged our travel, which consisted of a complicated web of logistics including a 10 minute shuttle ride to the dock, a five-minute boat ride to Santa Cruz Island, a 40 minute private ride to Puerto Ayora, a three-minute water taxi (known fondly by the locals as “Pangas”) across the way and finally a five-minute walk to the hotel.
After getting on and off of on all the planes, trains, and automobiles in the Galapagos Archipelago we finally arrived to our hotel where we were warmly greeted by the staff of Finch Bay Eco Hotel (and a fresh juice cocktail). We cannot stress enough how helpful the hotel’s staff was and how much of a dream the hotel was overall. This eco-friendly property has simple, clean and beautiful rooms (if you can do it, absolutely splurge for one with an ocean view). The drinks and appetizers on the Happy Hour menu also did not disappoint, and were the perfect accompaniment to a picturesque sunset by the pool. The hotel offered other conveniences like wetsuit and kayak rentals and a variety of yacht tour options (ranging in price), but what has us sold were the hammocks that were perched on the porches of every guest room 🙂
Day 7: North Seymour Island, Galapagos
Is there a better way to spend Thanksgiving Day than yachting through the Galapagos?! No, no there isn’t. After over-indulging in the breakfast buffet we rented wetsuits from our hotel and set off on our maritime trip aboard the Sea Lion Yacht. We were bound for North Seymour Island, and after about an hour of cruising the uninhabited island came into view. By the way, when we say uninhabited we mean only by humans, as there were plenty of local critters that call the island home. While stretching our sea legs on our walking tour of the island saw most of the “Big 15” including Sea Lions, Blue Footed Boobies, Land Iguanas, Magnificent and Great Frigate Birds and tons of different species of finches.
Our hike was followed by lunch on the yacht before we quickly wetsuited up for our snorkel adventure. Despite the *freezing* cold water (wetsuits are non negotiable here) we were able to enjoy (through chattering teeth) the swim with an array of tropical fish. We even encountered a few white tip sharks, but sadly, Nemo was nowhere to be found. Back at the hotel, we had some Happy Hour mojitos, a romantic candlelit dinner for four, and partook in our annual Adventure Club’s Thanksgiving proclamation, rattling off the many blessings we were thankful for (#blessed). We were also thankful for @jilianicoleg and @cobraescobar’s sweet, suite room upgrade which set the scene for a champagne pop-off to cap off the night. As the saying goes: It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.
Day 8: Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
A stroll down Santa Cruz’s main street took us down a windy road of local art and jewelry shops. Lots of restaurants boasting local seafood fare caught our eyes too. Some of our favorites we stumbled across:
- Galeria Aymara, which was a gallery and jewelry store in one, has one-of-a-kind pieces created by local artists
- Galapagos Joyeria has some fun jewelry and is a great spot for gift-shopping.
The main road ended at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), a nonprofit research center dedicated to conservation efforts of the environment and animals in the Galapagos Archipelago.
- Tip: Definitely go here, and when you do, take your passport with you. The Visitors Center at the CDF will stamp it with a Galapagos Tortoise, and it’ll be the cutest passport stamp you’ll ever get.
After hanging out with the gigantic Tortoises, we decided to catch some rays and sniff out some local snorkeling at Tortuga Bay Beach. The walk to Tortuga Bay was no stroll in the park. Tortuga Bay was bout an hour from the entrance of Galapagos National Park (have a taxi drop you off here for $2 USD), and across a large beach teeming with Iguanas (we encountered no less than 100 of them). These “imps of darkness,” as Charles Darwin rightfully called them, are endemic to the islands and by far one of the most spectacular species found on the Galapagos (@cobraescobar almost brought one home).
- Tip: Don’t even think about eating food on the beach. Within seconds, you’ll be surrounded by swarms of new and unwanted finch friends.
- Charles Darwin Foundation (don’t miss it)
Day 9: Santa Cruz, Galapagos Island/Quito, Ecuador
Time flies when you’re having fun, and that is no joke. With still so much left to see we sadly hung our hats on the Galapagos and packed our bags to begin the journey back to mainland Ecuador. On the way, we had to stop by the Highlands and Tortoise Reserve to meet some of the true locals in their natural habitats. These majestic reptiles are larger than imaginable and hands down a sight to see. Try to incorporate this stop into your trip to or from the airport in Santa Cruz (you’ll only need about 45 minutes).
Though we were only in Quito for a mere 20 hours, we experienced a memorable Ecuadorian culinary experience at URKO that blew our gastronomical minds. URKO’s tasting menu has diners choose between nine or 11 courses, each more unexpected and bizarre than the next. A word-of-mouth recommendation by our waitress led us down the street (however, it should be noted that locals recommend taxis over walking in Quito, especially at night) to El Pobre Diablo where we caught the end of a live jazz performance. For a groovy time, however, we recommend stopping into Strawberry Fields, a Beatles-themed music bar (Quito surprises you with the darndest things) with so much memorabilia it could give the Beatles Museum in London a run for its money.
- URKO (dinner spot)
- El Pobre Diablo (jazz bar/live music, go here for a mellow time)
- Strawberry Fields (hillarious Beatles themed music bar)
Day 10: Quito
With only six hours to take in Ecuador’s capital city before ending our Ecuadorian adventure, we had to get moving. We grabbed a quick breakfast and hitched a taxi ride out to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, where latitude 0, our trusty equator, lies. We put our feet in the south, our hearts in the north, snapped an AC photo and scrambled back into the taxi for the hour ride back to the Historic District of Quito, a UNESCO world heritage site. The cobblestone streets carved the path through this restored historic city founded in the 16th-century on the ruins of an ancient Inca city. This was our last chance to soak in some history while filling up our suitcases (to the brim) with brightly colored souvenirs. Check out this cute boutique, Wava!
So, why Ecuador you ask? Really, the question is… why not?