Small guide to Quito, the Jungle,
the Andes and the Beach
Route: Quito –> Latacunga –> Quilotoa Loop (Andes) –> Cotopaxi (Andes) –> Cuyabeno Reserve (Jungle) –> Otavalo –> Mompiche –> Quito
Length: 22 days
Best time to travel: April (low season)
City of Murals and Steep Hills
Slept at: A hidden treasure I found surfing through tons of sites at airbnb and a perfect spot to get used to the altitude: A two storey loft with a terrace overlooking the city in a secured house. After a long, long, journey we were warmly welcomed by our host Fernando in the middle of the night – our first friend who gave us helpful advice and the feeling of being welcome in the country we were to discover the next three weeks. I felt as if being implanted in a designer’s loft shown in magazines – the home of an aesthete and cinephile.
Getting around town: A taxi in the inner city does not cost more than 2,00 USD so this was our choice or we walked which is quite easy and safe at daytime in the historical center, Mariscal (also called Gringolandia) and La Floresta. The registered taxis have an app which was very helpful. Flagging down taxis can be difficult. Traffic in the historical center is crazy, walking is much faster and there is plenty of tourist police which made us feel very safe till dawn. The registered taxis all have a taximeter, cameras and recording inside the taxi, a panic button and a registration plate.
Here is the contact of a very friendly and helpful taxi driver, who felt like being a friend when we left who knew the addresses of the places we wanted to go, had good stories of the barrios and gave us helpful advice for public transport outside of town to save time: Kleber Iza: 0984186290/ 2604156.
Taxis to and from the Airport cost 27,00 USD. The registered taxi information and booking desk is directly opposite of the arrival door at the airport so you can’t miss it.
Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art)
(Montevideo y Louis Dávilla/ Antiguo Hospital Militar, Tue-Sun 9.00 am – 5.00 pm)
Murals, sculptures of petrol cans, media art… All really contemporary and housed in a beautiful old building. The Museum has a small shop where you can buy artsy stuff.
Barrio La Floresta
My favorite part of town where you can get in touch with Quito’s creative scene, where you find Quito’s only arthouse Cinema ocho y medio, great murals and places to sip a cafe or wonder what else you can do with bikes (Restaurant/Bar La Cleta).
For me the best place in the barrio la Floresta to relax after strolling around the neighbourhood and taken loads of pictures of the great murals. It is one of the rare places in Ecuador where you get a coffee from a proper barrista machine. As non-coffee drinker I can highly recommend the fresh fruit tea made of local fruits (infusion de frutas) or the watermelon rosemary juice (jugo de sandia y romero)
Free Walking tour
It starts at 10.30 am every day in front of the community hostal (Pedro Fermín Cevallos) in the historic district of Quito. Very worth doing especially to get to know the local food in it’s variety, an inside into daily Ecuadorian life and history.
Did you know, people with green eyes are called “gato” (cat) in Ecuador as there are more cats than humans found in this country with this eye-colour. So, I was a rare species here…
Some General tips that could be helpful when planning your trip from Quito:
- Be aware that you might have to unwillingly come back to Quito to get a flight or a bus to somewhere else, so do not plan to much time at the beginning to stay here. The pollution of the city is awful.
- All destinations that are on the Panamericana can be reached comparatively fast. But for all destinations east and west of it, it can take three hours for 60 km as the bus has to wind itself up and down the mountains.
- Count one hour to get from the city to any bus terminal for the buses to reach other regions in the countries.
- Be sure to have accommodation booked upon arriving late at night, as the hostels are according to Ecuadorian law not allowed to let you in otherwise.
- Ecuador is a country for early birds in every sense of the word. Getting up early and getting to bed early. For me life seemed to stop latest 7 pm on the streets after sunset and startet at 5 am.
- European mobile phones with Ecuadorian prepaid cards do not work in most parts of Ecuador as Ecuador runs on the same system as the U.S. If you choose to buy a prepaid card in Ecuador be aware that it will only work in Quito and the other huge cities of the country. Moviestar and Claro are the main services with Claro being the preferred one in the jungle.
- Prepare yourself: You will get the next hot shower back at home.
Quito – Latacunga – Saquisili – Latacunga – Isinlivi -Chugchilán – Quilotoa – Zumbahua – Latacunga
One good option to start the loop is on Thursday. Taking a very early morning bus at 7.00 am from Quitumbe terminal in Quito (taxi ride from the city center for 12,00 USD) to Latacunga makes it possible to see the massive market of Saquisili (20 min with the bus from Latacunga; Or: Many people ask the driver to be dropped of at the crossing to Saquisili and walk down the street until they flag down the next bus, but beware: The buses are crowded on market days). The market is spread all over town on eight plazas where you can buy nearly everything.
Back in Latacunga take the bus to either Sichos or directly to Isinlivi. If you do not want to do the hike with all your luggage you can leave it in a hostel in Latacunga until you come back. They won’t charge more that 5,00 USD for storage. I did the hike with my whole luggage (10kg backpack) which can be challenging in parts if you are only a hobby hiker.
The hike from Isinlivi to Chugchilán takes 4-6 hours. Walking without heavy luggage and only doing a short break you can make it in four I think (or you are a local). Well it took me 6 hours where I had enough time to enjoy the beautiful landscape, take pictures and rest on my way. Start early as the daily rain comes at 3.00 pm!
Slept at: Llulu Lama Hostal: After dinner you can chat with other travelers sitting around the fireplace on comfy couches. Do not expect private sphere in the private rooms though as all rooms in the house open their door towards the common area. As the hostal is run by volonteers from around the world you have to be lucky to get helpful advice for your trip. What I found disappointing: the locals have to do the cleaning. That gave the hostal a bitter colonial touch.
From Chugchilán you can either hike the way up to Quilotoa where the highlight of the loop, the blue lagoon is situated or do a day trip on a horse. A one day horse trip to the lagoon and back to Chugchilán costs 20,00 USD. It is an authentic experience to gallop on narrow little paths winding up and down the hills and on the crater lip. I recommend this route only for experienced riders though as it can be really exciting galloping on the little paths next to the slope on a horse you do not know.
From Quilotoa you can either hike to Zumbahua, where there is a picturesque market each saturday, take a bus or private transport. How about buying your own lama for 60 USD or a baby lama for 20 USD? The crafts and textiles they sell are mostly imported from Otavalo and therefore more expensive here. I did not hike to Zumbahua and Tigua for the rest of the loop as the landscape on this side of the mountains is pretty paltry.
Slept at: Cloudforest hostal. The place feels like a mountain refugio with a great host: José, who sneaks from table to table at dinnertime for a small chat but also for giving you great advice and connecting travelers with the same plans to save money. I also got an inside taste of the ecuadorian cuisine. Best value for money on my whole trip.
Slept at: Secret Garden Hostel Cotopaxi: A magical place. I felt like in my anthroposophical student home with a hint of luxury. If you get the chance to stay in the honeymoon suite: Do it! You have your own round iron stove that has been heated for you, a bath tub and warm water (!). Plus a huge bed on the first floor after climbing a steep staircase overlooking the Cotopaxi while lying under the rooftop in your bed. If not, the dorm beds are very comfy and the dorm houses also have a round iron stove. After a daytrip climbing Ruminahui you can sit in the jacuzzi watching the mountain you just climbed. All meals are included as well as coffee, tea, bananas and fresh cake. The waterfall hike is for free (running every day at 2.00 pm). The other tours cost betwenn 10 -40 USD. A summit hike to Cotopaxi is 260 USD.
Flight: Quito –> Lago Agrio (40 min) and then 3,5 hours to the Cuyabeno Bridge by public bus, then pick up with the boat and transport to the lodge (10 min) or night-bus from Quito.
All of a sudden I wasn’t scared of tarantulas, big insects and other animals any longer. These normally set me screaming… I was caught by nature’s daily life, everything seemed so peaceful around me. No problems with mosquitos thanks to my 40% DEET insect repellent. The nightly rain and the cicadas where my lullaby and thanks to full board I did not have to care about how to get fed. My only task: Enjoying the beauty of nature and getting my senses sharpened for the vibrant life around me.
One highlight besides nature was baking Yucca bread in an indigenous community.
Slept at: Cuyabeno River Lodge: Small, very friendly lodge where you get the feeling of staying with friends. Each guest has an own litte hut on stilts. Very good value for money. I payed 260,00 USD for a 4 day trip that included all expenses except of 5,00 USD extra when baking Yucca bread in an indigenous family. I booked the tour on the day I left Quito via Ecomontes. On our way back to Lago Agrio the owner of the lodge gave us a direct shuttle back to Lago Agrio without charging any costs.
I went to Otavalo to get the chance to buy some local crafts to take home. Otavalo is a nice, little town with a really amazing food market and beautifully dressed locals. The textile and crafts market did not impress me though. I did not find the products neither authentic nor hand-made. The market is said to be best and largest on saturdays. I was there on Tuesday, maybe that was the reason.
After two weeks of adventures I felt like relaxing on the beach, although Ecuador is not famous for beautiful, remote beaches. But I found a really nice spot. It is a nightmare to get here, but you won’t think of the journey one second after you arrived in this little treasure on the north coast of Ecuador. To get here you have to take a bus from Quitumbe terminal in Quito to Atacames (if you want to safe money take the night bus that leaves round 11.00 pm every day). From Atacames it is another 3,5 hours bus ride to Mompiche.
Well, as Mompiche was not remote enough I chose to sleep in a little beach house on stilts a 20 min walk down the beach which is only accessible at low tide.
I spent the days lying in the hammock on my veranda watching the ocean coming and going, enjoying the isolation, swimming across the river into town because I urgently needed to get the best chai-tea ever at Choclata, observing crayfish, going for a surf every once in a while (what a luxury having my own waves!) and ending the day with a sunset swim.
Getting back to Quito is astonishingly comfortable as you can book private transport for 30,00 USD. It is a 6,5 h ride. Ask for Jenny in downtown Mompiche to organise the shuttle.
La Chocolata: Tasty home-baked cakes, bread and salty snacks, best chai-tea ever and free WiFi.
Sully’s (100m north of T-junction): Seafood and steak where you can be sure of the freshness and hygienic preparation. Very delicious. Sully himself is very caring, glasses get magically refilled and showing tiniest sign of being teased by the mosquitos and he brings the insect repellant. But beware: He is not open every day!
Slept at: Yarumo Lodge: as close as you can get the ocean! Hammock on the veranda, nature 360 degrees, delicious breakfast! 40 USD per night/beach house including breakfast and very friendly hosts! If this is not enough why not let yourself be professionally massaged by Katharina, one of the hosts?
Ecuador is a place where you can experience four climate zones in one country, travel to latitude zero and climb the highest point on earth (measured from the earth center). A must for adventure lovers and people who want to leave their daily life far behind. On a budget you can’t expect European standards, with money you can enjoy eco-friendly luxury. I meet the most friendly travellers ever on this trip.