The “equator country” of Ecuador is an Eldorado for nature lovers, mountaineers, sea people, architecture fans and coffee junkies. Our blogger Alexandra talks about her extraordinary experiences and highlights that the country has to offer.
Where the northern and southern hemispheres kiss, where snow-capped volcanoes meet white sandy beaches, where you can drift through colonial cities and tropical rainforests – that’s Ecuador. Barely larger than Italy, the “equator country” is one of the most diverse countries in South America.
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1. Highlight of Ecuador: Quito – roam the colorful and white Andean city on the equator
Quito is the perfect place to come and go. The highest capital city in the world at 2,850 meters has a leisurely pace, at least in the historic center. Maybe it’s the thin air that makes you automatically shift down a gear. Elderly men practice doing nothing on the benches in the Plaza de la Independencia, women in indigenous costumes knit, the shoeshine boys under the arcades read the newspapers and wait for customers.
Cathedral, churches and colonial architecture
The cashier at the cathedral doesn’t have change. Instead of looking at the painting of the last supper, where Jesus is served a grilled guinea pig, we start our sightseeing in Quito with a chocolate with cheese cubes. From the café on the steps of the cathedral we can already guess what makes Quito special: one pristine white church after the other, streets with finely decorated colonial buildings whose color palette ranges from vanilla yellow to wine red to turquoise, and everywhere in between views of the green hills, to which Quito nestles. Quito, que bonito!
Of the many churches in the old town, three must-sees are: the Iglesia Companie de Jesus, whose builder covered the interior with tons of gold leaf, the Iglesia San Francisco, built on the ruins of an Inca palace, and the Basilica del Voto National, from which one has a wonderful view.
Interesting neighborhoods in Quito: San Blas and La Mariscal
Otherwise: enjoy the atmosphere on the plazas and drift over the hills of the old town. For example, from Calle La Ronda with its galleries, chocolate boutiques and restaurants down to the Mercado Central and on to San Blas. In the oldest quarter of Quito, colorful colonial houses and bars as well as grandiose views lure you in. Party-goers are drawn to La Mariscal.
2. Highlight in Ecuador: Riding like the Andean cowboys at the foot of the Cotopaxi
“Riding is like dancing salsa, just feel the rhythm of the horse,” says Raphael, who assigns me Carbon, the big black man. Dschooooo. shooshoo. Carbon doesn’t really listen to my commands yet, but we dance our way into it. We pass the pastures with the bulls, swing through the Andean grass bent by the wind, up to the hilltop with the wild horses. The isolated raindrops can’t harm me, I’m wearing the outfit of the Chagras, the Ecuadorian cowboys: breeches made of lama fur and a wool poncho. At the top, it’s time for a hot coca tea. We are at the Mirador de los Guardinas del Volcán, at 3,800 meters. Four of Ecuador’s volcanoes are building up around us, including the barren Rumiñahui.
After riding: Watch the fireplace of the Hacienda or Cotopaxi
The Cotopaxi is shy this morning, just peeking out from behind the gray clouds. Afternoon is more his time. Although I can hardly part from my place in front of the fireplace, the lure is too great. The snow-covered volcanic cone appears like a mirage in the suddenly blue sky above the thatched roofs of the hacienda. I walk through the green meadows behind the house, I would like to keep walking, closer and closer to the mighty, magical volcano.
3. Hot as a volcano: Hike the Cotopaxi
The gravel road stretches like a gray snake through the plateau of the Cotopaxi National Park, which is covered with a sea of wildflowers. Cows are grazing on the right, and an Andean fox is doing his rounds. We drive towards the reddish-brown cone with the white crest, the Cotopaxi, at almost 5,900 meters the second highest active volcano in the world.
The piste winds in serpentines up to 4,600 meters, here we get out, in the middle of the dense cloud that looked so harmless from below. It’s only three degrees. Wrapped up tightly, we trudge along the zigzag path, which is less steep and shouldn’t be that strenuous. But the sudden onset of freezing rain and the strong wind make walking through the lava ash a real challenge. Despite gasping, we reach the Refugio José Rivas an hour later and almost 300 meters higher, a shelter just below the glacier line. From here those looking for even more adventure start the ascent to the summit. Over a cup of cocoa, I ponder how it feels
4. Andean trekking on the Quilotoa Loop: from Isinliví to Chugchilan
On the other side of the Panamericana we wind our way up a pass again, via a gravel road we reach Isinliví. The hilly landscape in which the remote mountain village is nestled looks like a green, fluffy patchwork rug. Everything seems somehow lovelier than in the Cotopaxi National Park. No wonder, we are “only” at 2,700 meters. Isinliví is part of the Quilotoa Loop, a 200-kilometer network of hiking trails that explore the mountains near Crater Lake Quilotoa on foot. A popular three-day tour runs from Sigchos via Isinliví and Chugchilan to Quilotoa.
The stage from Isinliví to Chugchilan
We are accompanied by Oswaldo and Corina on our five-hour, almost thirteen-kilometer hike from Isinliví to Chugchilan. Oswaldo is a farmer and works a few fields in the high valley with his wife; Corina, the horse, is responsible for transporting our backpacks. The path leads past small farmhouses, fluffy sheep and magnificent viewpoints to a river that Corina prefers to walk across than to take the shaky wooden bridge like we did. Ahead of us lies a steep climb over a sandy path in the blazing sun, but it is rewarded – the green Cañon del Toachi stretches out below us for kilometers. And somewhere beyond the last mountain range lies the legendary Laguna Quilotoa.
5. Emerald highlight: the Quilotoa Lagoon in Ecuador
Depending on the incidence of light, it shines light turquoise, sparkles emerald green or appears in unfathomable pitch black – the Quilotoa crater lake, which was formed after the last eruption of the volcano of the same name and which the Quechua believe has no bottom. It is said to be about 250 meters deep. We caught an emerald green day to visit one of the most spectacular natural beauties of Ecuador. Icy wind blows around our ears as we let our eyes wander over the glittering water surface at the crater rim. Maybe it’s a good thing that there isn’t enough time to walk around the crater once, that would mean five hours of shivering. Instead we descend to the lagoon, it gets warmer from turn to turn, not least because we have to plow through sand and ash. The two orange kayaks on the water, which turns turquoise below, compete with the yellow and purple of the wildflowers on the rim of the crater. A riot of color that joins the rush of endorphins that the sight triggers.
6. Highlight of Ecuador: Riobamba – worthwhile stopover with colonial flair
Even when we have urban pavement under our feet again, the mountain world of Ecuador does not let us go. It seems almost unreal how the Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, is colored orange-red by the setting sun and rises above the roofs of houses. We are in Riobamba, the cradle of Ecuador, where the state of Ecuador was founded after gaining independence from Greater Colombia in 1830. Most travelers to Ecuador use the city, which is characterized by pastel-colored buildings with Republican, French-inspired architecture and lively markets such as the Mercado de San Alfonso, to embark on what is probably the most spectacular train journey through the Andes – to the Devil’s Nose. For us, Riobamba is a worthwhile stopover on our onward journey to Cuenca, a five-hour bus ride away.
7. Cuenca: The most beautiful city on the Route of the Volcanoes
Cuenca and Quito compete for the title of the most beautiful city in Ecuador. All three of them – Quito, Riobamba and Cuenca – have me wrapped around their fingers.
Coffee, cookies, panama hats and a colorful flower market
Cuenca is a tranquil beauty. Time is spent strolling the cobblestone streets, past houses that could be in Paris: with cast-iron balconies and stuccoed arches. Past colonial houses with incredibly beautiful floor tiles and courtyards with cafes where coffee junkies like me find their paradise. Let yourself be dazzled by the color of the flower market in front of the Iglesia del Carmen Junto and wonder who will eat all the biscuits in the dozens of stalls lined up around the Calderon Park. You can’t get lost in Cuenca, thanks to the blue-tiled domes of the New Cathedral, which tower over the city’s reddish-brown tiled roofs and are visible from afar. If you are wondering about the many hat shops:panama !
8. Highlights Ecuador: Hiking in cloud forests – the El Cajas National Park
The dark lake and the mountain range behind it, shrouded in fog and clouds, have a mystical effect. We encounter a mixture of Scottish Highlands and “Lord of the Rings” scenery in El Cajas National Park just outside Cuenca. Lake Llaviucu is one of nearly 300 lagoons in the tundra-like landscape that was once formed from glaciers and makes for great hiking territory with its lakes, granite cliffs and cloud forests. Our rubber boots are used at Lake Toreadora. Passing llamas and across damp daisy meadows, we reach a quinua forest, as the moss-covered paper trees are called.
The Cañari, who lived here before the Incas, once prayed to the gods on the Tres Cruces pass at 4,100 meters. At the “Three Crosses” is also the continental divide – one water flows east into the Amazon Basin, the other west into the Pacific.
9. Highlight Ecuador: Relaxing in a hammock on the Pacific beach
From the Tres Cruces pass, the road then leads down to the port city of Guayaquil and from there to the Ruta del Sol on the Pacific. The coast of Ecuador stretches two thousand kilometers north. Surfers stay in the party stronghold of Montañita. If you want peace and quiet, choose one of the small villages in the direction of Puerto López. From my porch at Azuluna EcolodgeI only hear the roaring surf of the Pacific and the screeching of the chickens. Anyone who manages to part with the book and hammock can drive to the white beach of Los Frailes or explore the Isla La Plata, also known as “Little Galápagos”. Sea-savvy visitors board one of the rocking boats in Puerto López hoping to catch a glimpse of the mating whales that frolic off the coast of Ecuador from June to September.
Los Frailes beach paradise in Ecuador
The dream beach of Los Frailes is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador and is located between Machalilla and Puerto López. It can be reached via a 3-kilometer gravel path from the Los Frailes park ranger’s cottage on the coast road. The beaches of La Tortuguita and La Playita line the main beach of Los Frailes, which is one and a half kilometers long.
Whale Watching on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador
Whale-watching tour operators are plentiful in Puerto Lopez, but Palo Santo Travel offers a “money-back guarantee” if no whales are spotted .
General information and tips about Ecuador
- You should plan at least 14 days for the route described.
- The stay and the activities at the Cotopaxi and in the Quilotoa region was supported and organized by “Erlebe Fernreisen”. You can also take public buses from Quito to the next larger cities of Machachi and Latacunga, but the onward journey is time-consuming. For the Cotopaxi National Park you need a driver.
- By bus from Quito via Latacunga and on to Isinliví: From the Terrestre Quitumbe terminal in Quito, buses leave for Latacunga every 30 minutes. The journey takes an hour and a half and costs around US$2. From the Saquisili Market in Latacunga there are two buses to Isinliví every day around noon (bus companies 14 Octubre and Reina de Sigchos), the journey takes another 2 hours.
- The routes Riobamba – Cuenca (5 hours), Cuenca – Guayaquil (4 hours) and Guyaquil – Puerto López (4 hours) can be covered easily and cheaply by bus (between 4 and 12 US dollars, depending on the route and bus company). . There is no need to reserve in advance, the buses run frequently and it is easy to walk to the bus station. Most accommodations will be happy to provide information on departure times. From Cuenca to Guayaquil there are also minibuses like Operazuaytur . Tickets can be bought in a travel agency.
- The Ecuador Bus page is also helpful , unfortunately it is only available in Spanish.
- The road conditions in Ecuador are generally very good, the Panamericana and the off-road roads are well developed. Only the last few meters to the accommodation may be over cobblestones or a gravel path. Since Ecuador is a mountainous country, you often drive through switchbacks. However, even the bus is not breakneck.
- There is no one best travel time for Ecuador because the country is so geographically diverse. In general, a distinction is made between the dry season (June/July to November) and the rainy season (November to May/June). Pack warm clothes for the mountains.
Hotel and restaurant tips for Ecuador
- Restaurant Vista Hermosa: The goat ragout can be enjoyed high above Quito, which is lit up at night. If it gets too chilly on the roof terrace, simply order a Vino Hervido, the Ecuadorian version of mulled wine.
- Restaurant Lena Quita: terrace restaurant with a nice bar area. Those who dare to try grilled guinea pig can do it here – it comes with tortilla and peanut sauce. Address: Guayaquil S1-76 y De la Ronda
- Restaurant Galletti Boliva: Ecuador and coffee simply belong together! The café next to the Teatro Bolívar has excellent roasts.
- Galería Café Restaurante: A little oasis in the party district of La Mariscal. One sits between green plants in a glass-enclosed patio and savors the savory picaditas – corn flatbread filled with salsa – and the freshly baked banana bread. Address: N2-263 Reina Victoria y Lizardo Garcia, La Mariscal
- Hotel San Francisco: The patio of the 17th-century building used to house cows, but is now a place to relax after sightseeing. Unbeatable: the 360-degree view over the roofs of the old town from the roof terrace.
- Hacienda El Porvenir: On the Hacienda, 60 kilometers from Quito, you live in the nicely renovated former stables. Warm up in the fireplace room, furnished with colonial-era furniture, with a canelazo – a hot cane liquor with naranjilla juice and cinnamon. In addition to riding excursions, you can also book hiking and mountain bike tours or set off on your own.
- Hostal Llullu Lama: Old farmhouse with cozy lounges, morning and afternoon yoga, garden cottages with fireplaces and premium mountain views. Sustainability is a top priority.
- Hostal Mama Hilda: Lots of brick and wood, after a hike it’s perfect to swing in the hammock on the veranda. In the main house living room with antiques and views.
- Vintage House Restaurant: A retro dream with Louis XIV chairs and a huge menu of waffles and crepes. Address: Avenida 10 de Agosto
- Bonny Restaurant : This historic building on the outskirts of town was once a hacienda and a gas station. Today you can get excellent Ecuadorian and South American specialties here. Address: Primera Constituyente y Darquea
- Hotel Casa 1881: The stuccoed rooms are furnished with antiques and colonial furniture. The oven-fresh banana cake for breakfast alone is reason enough to spend the night in this historic house.
- Restaurant Sofy Glocal Cuisine: Colorful potpourri from the kitchens of the world – from delicious quinoa salad with goat cheese to spicy Thai fish curry. Address: Benigno Malo 5-112 and Juan Jaramillo
- Restaurant Le Bistro: Delicious baguettes, croque monsieur and salads in the inner courtyard of the San Luis seminary, right next to the New Cathedral. Address: Benigno Malo, Sucre y Bolivar
- Yaw Ecuadorian Café : Also in the courtyard of San Luis, excellent specialty coffees. Address: Benigno Malo, Sucre y Bolivar
- Café Libre : Insider tip for vegetarians and vegans! A bit hidden, but away from the hustle and bustle and surrounded by art galleries and cool murals. Delicious, unusual dishes. Address: Calle Larga 5-14 and Mariano Cueva
- Hotel Casa de Aguila: Restored mansion almost like a museum with the 19th century salon with the chandeliers and the original furniture. Address: Mariscal Sucre 13-56