Ecuador

My boyfriend (Zach), one of my best friends from undergrad (Alex Ewen), and I decided to go on a trip over New Years Eve. We settled on Ecuador for a few reasons:

  1. Cheap(ish) flight. Everywhere is on my list, so this is generally a driving factor in answering the question “Where should we go on our next trip?”
  2. Cheap(ish) country: You can see a breakdown of the costs for this trip at the bottom of this post, but, overall, accommodations, travel (i.e., buses), and food in Ecuador are really affordable, especially for budget-type traveling. As an added bonus, Ecuador uses the dollar, so we did not have to deal with money transfers or foreign currency!
  3. Volcanos. Zach has been an avid rock climber for years, and both Alex and I enjoy outdoor activities. Ecuador has quite a few high altitude volcanoes that are great for mountaineering, so we thought Ecuador would be a great place to learn some basic mountaineering and glacier travel!

We arrived in Quito at night on December 28 and went immediately to our hostel, Discovery Quito. The hostel is in the Mariscal Foch area, with quite a few restaurants and bars close by.

The following morning we woke up and headed to the Quito bus terminal. We were able to find a bus leaving for Banos within the hour that only cost about $6! The bus left on time and was quite comfortable (it was a tourist bus, not a local bus). After about 3-4 hours in transit, we arrived in Banos!

Banos de Agua Santa, more commonly referred to as Banos, is a city in central Ecuador in the eastern Tungurahua Province. The city is situated within the Andean highlands, directly beneath volcano Tungurahua. From the town, you can see several large waterfalls, hike through the lush surroundings, and relax in the hydrothermal springs that the town is named after (“Banos” means “Baths” in Spanish). We stayed in a great hostel, Hosteria Llanovientos,which had amazing views of the city and the surrounding mountains. We stayed in Banos for two nights (from December 29 to December 31).

On our first day in Banos, we set out on a hike to Casa de Arbol. The hike itself was really beautiful, but quite demanding considering the altitude. We got lost a few times trying to find the correct way (most people take a bus or car to Casa de Arbol), but we eventually made it right as the sun was setting. Casa de Arbol, also referred to as “The Swing at the End of the World,” is a small treehouse in the Andean Highlands with a large swing that enables you to swing out over the edge.

On our second day in Banos, we did something called “puenteing,” or bungee jumping off of a bridge (“puente” means “bridge” in Spanish). There are several places to go “puenteing,” but we chose the San Francisco bridge on the edge of town because it was the largest bridge. The jump itself consists of a bungee-jumping type platform over the side of a bridge. After jumping from the platform, you free-fall down for about 30-40 feet, at which point the rope pulls taught and swings you under the bridge in an arc. It was quite a thrill!

After eating lunch in the center of town, we rented bikes and headed out to bike along “La Ruta de las Cascadas.” This route is about 18 km long, with several stops along the way to view different waterfalls in the area. The majority of the route is right alongside a main road, and, as I had not biked in quite some time, I was rather nervous. Zach and Alex, however, really enjoyed this part of the trip.

On the morning of our last day in Banos, we decided to go to the hydrothermal springs. There are two main hot springs open to the public - Las Piscinas de la Virgin and El Balneario. Las Piscinas de la Virgin is located in a very touristy part of town and is usually quite crowded, so we decided to head to El Balneario instead.

The hike to El Balneario from Banos was beautiful and very easy to navigate, winding past several neighborhoods and across a river. The hydrothermal baths themselves were relaxing, and it was a great way to end our time in Banos!

After relaxing in the baths, we gathered our things from our hostel and caught a bus back to Quito to arrive in time for New Years Eve celebrations! The bus again left on time and was clean and comfortable (and again only cost $6!). During our taxi ride from the bus terminal back to our hostel in Quito (we again stayed at Discovery Quito), we began to get a taste of Ecuadorian New Years celebrations.

The above picture shows a group of Ecuadorian boys and men dressed as women. This was only one of several blockades along our drive in which cross-dressing men would stop cars and flirt with the drivers and passengers!

Another Ecuadorian New Years Eve tradition is to create paper mache dolls or stuffed dolls made with straw that everyone burns in large bonfires at midnight. The idea behind the tradition is “quemar el viejo” or to burn off the old. The dolls are burned in order to leave behind the bad things that happened in the previous year in order to welcome in the new year. I bought a stuffed doll on the street prior to midnight in order to participate!

New Years day was our only full day in Quito. Most of the city was closed for the holiday, including many shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions. We did manage to find several great restaurants near our hostel, however, and also had a great time just walking around the city and enjoying the beautiful day and lovely architecture!

The next day, January 2, we began our mountaineering adventures with an acclimatization hike. Our guide from Andean Face, Diego, picked us up from our hostel early in the morning, and we drove to the base of Guagua Pichincha. Pichincha is an active stratovolcano, with several peaks. The two highest peaks are Guagua Pichincha (15,696 ft) and Ruku Pichincha (15.413 ft).

Diego dropped the three of us off at the base of the hike and met us at the base lodge. He then guided us from the base lodge to the summit of Guagua Pichincha, reaching 15,696 ft! We felt that the hike was challenging, yet manageable, and were excited for the upcoming Glacier School!

On January 3, Diego again came to pick us up from our hostel, with a second guide who would be joining us for the Glacier School, named Marco. After renting some equipment from a nearby shop, including mountaineering boots, crampons, and ice axes, we were on our way!

The Glacier School, run by an Ecuadorian company called Andean Face, is a three day school that takes place at the base lodge on Cayambe. Cayambe is a 19,000 ft volcano located in the Cordillera Central, a range of the Ecuadorian Andes, and is Ecuador’s third highest peak. The first two days of the school involved learning some beginning knots and rope management, as well as some crampon, ice axe, and glacier travel techniques. The third day involves a summit attempt on Cayambe, depending on the weather.

The school was grueling, partly due to the fact that we were located at the Cayambe Refuge, which is 15,092 ft in elevation. We were unable to make a summit attempt due to humid weather, but we did reach 17,000 ft! Here are a few pictures from our three days on Cayambe:

Overall, we had a fantastic time in Ecuador! We are hoping to return to make another attempt on Cayambe, as well as Ecuador’s first and second highest peaks, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, respectively.

The trip itinerary:

The total breakdown of costs for the trip:

Travel insurance is SO important. See this post for more information.