Exploring Ecuador, Part 1: From Quito to Banos
My husband and I are traveling around Ecuador for the next three weeks on the Ecuador Experience tour through G Adventures. I'm going to be blogging throughout the trip, journal style. Enjoy!
Wednesday, June 7th
Hola from the Ft. Lauderdale airport where we've been delayed for 3.5 hours. What a great start for our trip. It could definitely be worse though! We are set to depart at 11:00 PM now. The weather is pretty bad down here, delaying almost all departing flights. We're just chilling in the lobby trying to keep ourselves busy.
Currently reading: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Currently watching: Gilmore Girls on Netflix to drain out the noise of the terribly annoying kid sitting next to us.
Update: We didn't actuallly take off on our flight until 12:30 a.m.
Thursday, June 8th - Quito, Ecuador
We finally arrived in Quito! We are staying in the Eugenia Hotel. It is a very quaint and comfortable place close to restaurants and shops. As soon as we got to our hotel, we napped for about 3 hours. After waking, we readied ourselves for the day, and went downstairs for a complimentary breakfast of coffee, eggs, fruit and toast with jam. After breakfast, we went out to explore the city of Quito. Quito is a very high city and if you're not careful, you can suffer from Altitude Sickness. Walking around can be difficult due to the high level so we definitely took things slow. We started off by walking to the Old Town to see the Basilica del Voto Nacional. We paid $2 per person to take an elevator up to the towers to see a beautiful view of Quito.
Little did we know, taking the elevator did not bring us all the way to the top. We also had to cross a bridge and then climb up three flights off very steep and very open stairs to get to the top. I'm terrified of heights so I let Michael make his way to the top by himself.
After a brief rest (and a half a peanut butter sandwich) we continued on our exploration of Quito. We walked to the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus and continued down Garcia Moreno Street. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant for a lunch of hearty soup, rice, and our choice of meat plus two glasses of juice, all of this for $4 total. It was delicious. We walked around a bit more and then took a taxi up to the Teleferico, which is a cable car that goes straight up to the top of a mountain. Being afraid of heights, it was a bit terrifying but I did enjoy it. We rode up, which takes approximately 18 minutes, got off and walked around a bit at the top. It was very tranquil at the top of the mountain with only a few people and some babbling streams. I got a delicious coffee and we rode the Teleferico back down. It did unexpectedly stop 3 times on the way down, which made me think that was the end of us, but we made it out okay. I would definitely recommend doing this if you're in Quito. On clear days you can see the Cotopaxi Volcano from the top.
After heading back to our hotel, we met our G Adventures group around 5 o'clock. We have a very mixed G group. Our leader's name is Maria Sol and she has been leading tours for over 15 years. Our group is made up of Germans, Irish, British, and only a few Americans. We had dinner at a restaurant called The Magic Bean. While this dinner was good, it was more of a tourist restaurant and if you're looking for something local, I would not recommend this one
Friday, June 9th - Tena, Ecuador
Today we left our hotel at 8:10 AM. We took a private bus to the bus stop where we caught a public bus to Tena, Ecuador. Our bus driver arrived more than an hour later than he was supposed to (he was on Ecuadorian time.) Our drive to Tena lasted about 4 hours and it wound through the mountains of Ecuador. It was pretty bumpy and if you suffer from motion sickness, I would suggest sitting in the front of the bus if it's available.
After a second truck ride, we arrived at our hostel. We stayed at La Casa del Abuleo. This was an adorable rustic hostel with a lot of wood accents and a stocked "help yourself" fridge behind the bar. We had enough time to drop our bags, crack a beer, and then hop in the car for another short ride to a drop where we were set to have a canoe ride down the Rio Napa. We also enjoyed a delicious Ecuadorian ice cream during the ride. Along the river we saw quite a few species of birds, Caymans, and many different insects. We really enjoyed this canoe ride!
When we returned to the hotel, we met the rest of the people from our tour group and walked to a local spot for dinner. We had a traditional dish of Tena called Maito de Tilapia, which is a whole Tilapia wrapped in large leaves served alongside yuca and heart of palm and cooked over coals for an hour. It was absolutely delicious. You do have to be rather careful when eating it because of the fish bones, but it's well worth it. After dinner we chilled at our hostel and enjoyed the $2 beers and each other's company.
Saturday, June 10th - Tena, Ecuador (further into the Jungle)
Today we had breakfast at our hotel. It consisted of eggs, toast with jam and butter, yogurt with granola and fruit, and coffee. All for $4. After breakfast, we set off to explore the city of Tena. We walked to the streets and found the largest supermarket in the city and purchased only the necessities--deodorant for Michael and wine (duh). We then walked through the Tena local market and looked at all of the delicious things being sold including fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, snacks, and more. We also found some delicious churros being sold on the street. I don't have a picture of this because I devoured them too quickly. Sorry guys. But I do have a picture of the lovely people who sold us the churros.
We left our hostel at 12:30 and traveled the 45 minutes to a homestay further into the Jungle. We were served an amazing lunch of soup with potatoes, carne (beef), rice, lentils, and fried plantains. SO AMAZING. After lunch we found our rooms. We are staying in sort of a hostel with a multi-share bathroom and a common area. The only place with electricity is the common area. We do not have electricity in our rooms. We relaxed in the hammocks next to our rooms until we participated in a cultural demonstration given by the owner of the complex. He showed us the blow guns that were once used to hunt along with some of the music played at the marriage ceremonies and more. He also described the role of the Shaman in the community. It was wonderful learning about this different culture. After our cultural experience we had dinner consisting of soup, fried tilapia, rice, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and fried plantains. It was a lovely meal. We fell asleep in our room listening to the bugs, running water, and other amazing sounds of nature.
Sunday, June 11th - Tena, Ecuador
We began our day with another delicious breakfast of eggs, mashed plantains, fruit juice, and coffee. After breakfast we set off on an hour long walk/hike to Luguna Azul or blue lagoon. It was a beautiful day for a walk, not too hot, not too cold, and the sun was shining. We saw quite a few butterflies along the way. When we arrived, our guide showed us around the area and pointed us in the direction of the "safest" pool away from the rapids of the river. I quickly hopped in the freezing cold water. It was great, once you got used to it. We had a blast swimming and watching locals jump in the lagoon from up above for about 30 minutes or so. Michael, of course, did not get in due to his fear of cold water.
We then walked a short bit to a great view of the river.
We also had a delicious snack of sweet plantains with cheese. We walked 30 minutes back to our homestay before a truck came to pick us up. We ate a scrumptious lunch of soup, rice with stewed chicken, green beans, carrots, mashed potatoes and fruit juice. As you can tell, we ate very well in the jungle. After lunch, we had a bit of resting time before our jungle walk. We put on some rubber boots and set off into the jungle with Delphin (the owner of the homestay and the surrounding jungle area where we stayed). He taught us all about the plants found in the jungle around his home and how they use them in their everyday lives. He even showed us how they pan for gold in the river.
After walking through the jungle, we came back to the homestay and made chocolate! We used the beans straight out of the cacao. We roasted them over the fire, waited for them to cool, peeled off the skin, ground them, mixed them with milk and sugar, waited for it to reduce over the fire, then devoured it. It was outstanding. I absolutely adore chocolate and while it was a lot of work, the outcome was totally worth it.
After we made our chocolate, Maria (our guide) explained all of the activities we could do in Banos, Ecuador (our next destination) and then we had dinner. Our dinner tonight was a stewed beef, rice, beets, avocado, juice, tea, and strangely popcorn. It was very delicious. We also tried a Ecuadorian delicacy of grubs or Jungle Shrimp. We stayed up chatting about politics, our jobs, and more before heading off to take a cold shower and to make sure all of our stuff was in order for an early morning tomorrow.
Monday, June 12th - Banos, Ecuador
Today woke up at 6:30 AM to be packed and ready for breakfast at 7:00. Our breakfast was simple yet scrumptious. We had coffee, tea, scrambled eggs, and a bowl of mixed fruit. After breakfast and a sad goodbye to our amazing hosts, we set off on the 45 minute bus ride back to Tena to catch the public bus to Banos. The bus left at 9:00 AM and arrived in Banos at 12. We dropped our bags at our hotel and went to Casa Hood for lunch. Michael had the lunch special set menu and I had huevos rancheros. This restaurant was very delicious but touristy. We are staying in the Jardines de Chamana hotel. It is absolutely stunning with a gorgeous garden full of succulents, catci, birds, and even turtles. It even has a view of the active Tugurahua volcano.
After meeting again with our guide Maria to review all of the activities Banos has to offer (there are a lot!) we put on our tennis shoes and went for a 45 minute walk up to a famous waterfall near our hotel. It was a beautiful day for hike.
We also went to Las Piscinas de la Virgen, or the famous hot springs. The hot springs were about 5 minutes from our hotel by taxi. It cost us $3 to enter and $1 for a mandatory swimming cap. We also had a place with a guard to store our belongings while in the springs. The first pool we entered was absolutely scalding. It was legitimately the hottest water I've ever been in. I lasted for less than one minute before having to get out. It turns out that this was the hottest pool. We had a great laugh trying to stay under the water. We did eventually find the medium temperature pool, which was packed with people. We did stay in this pool for about 20 minutes, at which time we decided we were brave enough to try the hottest pool again. We managed to stay in for about one full minute this time. If the thought of taking a steaming bath with 30 strangers sounds fun to you, I would highly recommend this. If not, maybe you could skip it. However, Banos does mean bath so coming here and not experiencing the hot springs might be breaking a rule.
After our bath, we had dinner at a touristy restaurant. The food was okay but nothing to holler about. Tomorrow Michael is planning to zip line while I travel to the spa. We will also be horseback riding in the afternoon.
I hope you've enjoyed this blog post. Make sure to keep following along as we continue to travel through Ecuador. Don't forget to subscribe!