Tony and I have just returned from a 6-week trip to Ecuador in Jan-Feb 2017. We did not bring our bikes. Nonetheless, a trip report is in order.
- Amazon jungle!
- Beautiful Andean landscapes and volcanos
- Gracious people and amazing soups
- Ecuador’s main roads and much of its infrastructure are surprisingly good
- A few nice archaeological sites
- Extended periods offline — a break from US politics, including the inauguration and 45’s immigration executive order debacle
Why no bikes?
It is certainly possible to tour Ecuador by bike. We saw a half dozen or so bike tourists, and obviously the “Arctic circle to Tierra del Fuego” crowd pass through. Several times we missed having our bikes but 95% of the time we were just as happy not having them. Biking challenges include:
- Ghastly heat on the coast or 9-12k feet altitude and many steep climbs (though pleasant temperatures) in the Andean highlands
- While the main roads are mostly very good, with low traffic and tolerable shoulders, it’s very common for vehicles to ignore double yellow and pass on curves. Not an awesome experience for a cyclist.
- Secondary roads are often cobbled or unpaved and very rutted. This would have been very hard on my arthritic hands.
- There are a noticeable number of “black smoke belchers”, which tend to climb steep hills at approximately the same pace as cyclists. Imagine breathing that for hours on end.
- Property theft is very common — I’d always be worried about theft of our gear.
- You’d need to bring camping gear, which we are not so much into any more.
Even though we chose not to cycle Ecuador, don’t let us discourage you. It is totally doable.
What we saw and did
We saw a lot of Ecuador in 6 weeks. Except for our trips to the Galapagos and the Amazon basin, we just kind of “winged it” in terms of where we were headed. Often, we were booking hotels only a day in advance. Yet, we managed to stay in some magnificent places including staying in three haciendas, each built in the late 16th century.
We spent 10 days north of Quito exploring the high Andean volcanos around Otavalo. One day we visited three different volcanoes. Our hikes took us through condor country. We weren’t lucky enough to see any but we did see lots of birds of prey.
There are many small pueblos there and each pueblo specializes in a handicraft such as weaving, knitting, leather, or hats. The indigenous population of each pueblo has its own specific way of dressing involving a particular colored skirt, poncho, or hat.
Otavalo itself is famous for its Saturday markets where locals from the nearby pueblos gather to buy and sell livestock and foodstuffs. There is more than you could imagine for sale, most for less than $10. Roses are ridiculously inexpensive ($1 / dozen, I am not exaggerating) because a huge portion of the world’s roses are grown here.
We spent a few days in the Intag cloud forest. Several strenuous hikes through mid-calf deep mud netted us a zillion bird and insects sightings, including the unbelievably red cock-of-the-rock (Peru’s national bird). The cock-of-the-rock is famous for the male’s competitive courtship behavior which involves death-defying “falls” from the tree tops.
After a quick visit to Quito we headed to the Amazon basin where we stayed in a jungle lodge appropriately called “La Selva.” This was awesome. From Coca (a horrid little town), a motorized launch took us 2 hours down the river. After a short hike we transferred to canoes for a 30-min paddle to a lagoon and our lodge. For 4 days a naturalist and indigenous guide led us on early morning walks and then usually a sunset paddle and night walk. We spent the middle of each day in siesta. Hot! Bugs! Oh yes, and amazing wildlife like monkeys, parrots, and toucans. And insects. And more bugs (many of which feed on Joy’s blood).
After a second pass through Quito we arrived in the Galapagos for the undeniable highlight of the trip: 10 nights on a boat with Galapagos Travel, during which we visited all but 3 of the archipelago’s islands. Island count is important as the land-based critters have all evolved from island to island. Tony created a 3 minute video that highlights some of what we saw. Click on the arrow to watch the video.
After our 3rd visit to Quito, and a quick visit to the Equator, we ventured south in a rental car. We stayed a few days at a beautiful hacienda (the third of the trip) near Cotapaxi volcano. This hacienda is built on an Incan ruins so each night we ate dinner inside what once was an Incan temple. One day we hiked (very slowly) up to the Cotapaxi base camp at 16,000 feet.
Next, we visited Cuenca, which is a much smaller city than Quito. We liked Cuenca quite a bit, especially the nearby Cajas national park. We spent several hours at the fascinating Ingapirca ruins which is a mixture of Inca and Cañari cultures.
And, of course, everywhere we went we saw llamas! This baby llama and her mama were just outside our room at an ecolodge we visited. Click on the arrow to watch the video.
All in all, a pleasant trip. Especially the Galapagos!