We asked environmentalist and adventurer, Dr. Pablo Jaramillo from Ecuador to set us up with a list of 10 amazing places you have to see in his home country of Ecuador. What he provided us with is amazing!
1) Nariz del Diablo
After reaching the town of Alausi in the highlands of Ecuador, you will encounter a beautifully restored train station that will take you back in time. This will mark the beginning of your incredible train adventure on the “most difficult train track in the world”. As your train ride continues you will feel engorged by the Andean mountains and start wondering how were people able to build this track on such difficult terrain and under extreme environmental conditions. The train zig-zags down the mountain going back and forth when it reaches the end of the track. This is absolutely amazing and you will understand why this mountain is called “the devil´s nose”. Not only because it is shaped like a nose but also because many workers lost their lives while building this impossible train track. When you reach the bottom you will see the magnitude of this engineering accomplishment and will feel very lucky to have had the chance to enjoy this ride. Be sure to have your camera ready and allow yourself to feel like a bird flying over the mountains.
2) Cotopaxi Volcano
Because you are on the equator, this volcano is the highest active volcano from the center of the Earth. The snow-caped summit is so shy that it rarely lets you witness its beauty. There is a saying that it only shows itself to locals and rarely allows tourists to see it. If you are lucky enough, you will be able to see this postcard worthy image on a blue sky contrasting with the white summit covered with snow that never melts. If you want to climb to the top of the volcano, you must prepare yourself and get acclimated to the altitude. Sometimes this process takes several days but reaching the top of the mountain will make you feel that you have conquered this giant and that you have the whole world at your feet. While visiting the Cotopaxi Reserve, you will find Llamas and Alpacas (South American Camelids) and if you are lucky enough you can even see wild horses roaming through these highlands.
3) Yasuni National Park
Lush vegetation and incredible wildlife will be your hosts while hiking through the tropical jungle at the Yasuni National Park. If you love nature and enjoy seeing various animals and plants all in one place then this is the right place for you. While walking through the jungle, you could see various species of monkeys and over 100,000 species of insects. You can also try to identify over 500 species of birds and over 4000 different species of vascular plants. Yasuni is one of the most biodiverse places in the world so do not be surprised if you see organisms that nobody has seen before. Because of the countless rivers you can enjoy extreme sports like white water rafting or canyoning or even enter some of the caves entrenched deep in the jungle. If you enjoy learning about other cultures, you could also visit some of the local indigenous communities and learn how they live with very little money while hunting, fishing but more importantly while protecting and respecting nature. They can teach you how to hunt with a “cerbatana” which is a hand-made blowgun that can be quite accurate if you learn how to use it well.
4) The Cloud Forest of Mindo
Only 1.5 hours away from Quito and 2500 feet lower in elevation you can find an amazing ecosystem known as the cloud forest. It is unique because you need two components in order for it to form. On one hand you need very tall mountains and on the other hand you need lower elevations covered with lush vegetation. But that is not all, you also need lots and lots of water that luckily come from the snow that melts high up in the Andes Mountains. Because of the warm winds that rise from the lower grounds which mix with the cold winds from the higher grounds, this area is always humid and you will feel like you are literally walking in the clouds. Mindo is a birdwatcher´s paradise and you will notice this very early in the morning while having breakfast in one of the various ecolodges that are perfectly suited for your comfort. Many of these lodges have bird feeders and you can enjoy your morning coffee while being surrounded by hundreds of hummingbirds and many other species of colourful birds.
5) The Galapagos Islands
Would you think it is possible to swim with wild penguins, sea lions and sea turtles all in one place? Would you think it is possible to find marine iguanas that dive into the ocean to feed on seaweed and giant land tortoises roaming through terrain that looks like they are walking on Mars? Would you also think that it is possible to walk along the nests of breeding seabirds without making them fly away? All of this is possible while visiting the place that inspired Charles Darwin to propose his amazing evolutionary theory back in 1859. The reason why this is possible is because the animals that inhabit the islands do not have natural predators and do not feel threatened by people. Of course, people should never try to touch or feed the wild animals but it is perfectly fine for these creatures to come close to you and meet you. The Galapagos Archipelago is comprised of 19 islands and each one is a natural laboratory where life is evolving as we speak. A long time ago birds, mammals and reptiles reached the islands and have been adapting to the special conditions of each island. New species evolve because the organism that faces new environmental conditions needs to adapt and each island presents this conditions. This is the basis of the evolutionary theory and you can witness all of this while visiting Galapagos.
6) Montañita Beach
Do you like to surf? If so, you will love this hippie town on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. This is the best place to surf, enjoy the beach and party with people from all over the world. Because Montañita is so popular it has become a world-renowned destination for surfers. You can spend a couple of days in Montañita without spending too much money because most of the lodges are rustic but comfortable. While visiting Montañita you can enjoy wonderful fruit cocktails prepared right before your eyes in the various thatched roof bars that are spread along the beach. While walking through the streets of Montañita you will hear lots of reggae and hippie music and if the timing is right you can even be part of one of the various music festivals on the beach. Come to Montañita, you will just have a great time.
Baños is Ecuador´s mecca for extreme sports. You can rent a bike, a horse, a buggy and explore the region and even jump off a bridge or cross a zipline while riding your bicycle. Only your imagination is the limit to the extreme adventures you might have in Baños. Traditionally, Baños used to be a place to visit because of its ferric hot springs. But more recently, it has gained touristic momentum and more and more extreme sports are practiced. Because of its location it is the bridge between the highlands and the tropical rainforest. You can reach the jungle very quickly and start exploring the area. Because Baños has become such an important touristic destination you can find food from all over the world and this means that you could also meet other tourists that have come to enjoy this city. Another reason why Baños has become so popular is because of the Tungurahua volcano. This volcano has become active again and it is constantly releasing pressure which can be witnessed almost on a daily basis. The most impressive sightings have been reported at night which is when one can see small volcanic eruptions from this giant.
8) Otavalo market
The “Poncho Market” of Otavalo is the largest open indigenous market in South America. This wonderful open market is famous for its woven textiles that are used to make all kinds of clothing and even decorative items for your home. Not only textiles can be found in Otavalo, you can also find hats, rugs, musical instruments, traditional jewellery and all kinds of indigenous art. The Otavalo people are quite entrepreneurial and have managed to deliver their goods all over the world. You will enjoy shopping at this market, not only because of the wide variety of items that you can find but also because you will be trying to get the best deals from the Otavalo people.
9) Quito´s Historical district
You will really enjoy your visit to Quito, a city that lies entrenched high in the Andes Mountains at 2850 meters (9350 feet) above sea level. UNESCO declared Quito as a World Cultural Heritage Site back in 1978. It has the largest and best-preserved historic district in America and walking through its narrow streets will make you think that you went back in time. Try to visit the various churches in the historic district to see religious art at its best. Some of these churches have gold-plated façades that will make you wonder where did they find so much gold. On a clear day you can see all of the snow-caped mountains that make this a picture perfect moment for your trip. At night, the historical district becomes alive with music and you can try interesting beverages made out of Andean fruits and sugar cane liqueur. You can also try a sweet purple broth that is made out of black native corn and red Andean fruits. Quito will be the cultural highlight of your trip to Ecuador.
10) Las Peñas in Guayaquil
The newly renovated Peñas neighbourhood is so picturesque and nice that you will love to spend a lot of time listening to music and wondering along its narrow streets. Las Peñas is famous not only because of its beautiful houses but also because traditional musicians would serenade the beautiful women of Guayaquil when they were sleeping in their homes. Las Peñas oversees Guayaquil´s riverfront and you will really enjoy a cold beer while seeing the beautiful port city in all of its splendour. You can visit Guayaquil´s riverfront and enjoy delicious crabs that are prepared with a very tasty garlic sauce. This is something that you will remember for the rest of your life and will tell your friends that you had crabs that grown in the mangrove.