Hey Boo-Boos; been a while. Since I last wrote to you, we’ve had almost several nuclear wars, the world has learned that sometimes men commit sexual assault, Nick has forced me to listen to Britney Spears’ greatest hits 1 or 23 times, Peru has advanced to its first world cup ever, and at least 16 sorority girls dressed up as cats for Halloween. And all the while, my fiancé and I have been having a blast in a little country known as Ecuador (that’s Ecuador, to those of you who don’t speak Spanish).
Ecuador is a tiny country located between Colombia and Peru, famous for its hot chocolate, volcanoes, and terrifying public trash cans that serve as the basis for at least 46% of Stephen King’s work. So where to begin?
Nick and I hopped on a casual 24 hour journey to get from Colombia to Ecuador. “What? OMG! 24 hours?! That’s a crazy and improbable number!,” is most likely what you’re thinking right now. And you’re right. It was crazy. And improbable. Apparently South America thought so, too, because they tacked on another 3 unexpected hours on top of that, so that by the time we disembarked in Quito our travel time was a whopping 27 hours. On a bus. That rationed out leg room like bread during WWI. And smelled questionable. And thought that “full blast” was too low a volume at which to play a shitty movie at 3 am (LOL JOKE WAS ON US GRINGOS WHO WANTED TO SLEEP). Actually Nicholas had noise cancelling headphones so he was fine. Fuck that guy.
ANYWAY bus #1 dropped us off at this little town like 10 minutes away from the border in Colombia. We then had to take a taxi to the border. Only once my ass was firmly sandwiched between the noise-canceller himself on one side and my entire backpack on the other did I realize I had no Colombian money left because I saw a really attractive looking bag of cookies back at the bus station and decided to go for it (I regret nothing). For a rule follower like me, you can imagine the amount of panic this induced in me as I began scrolling through my brain all the images I could conjure of what I would look like in a Colombian prison uniform. I persevered though, and when I asked the guy if he took American coins he said: “Yea.” CRISIS AVERTED. So we got our passport stamped out of Colombia, walked across the border and got ourselves stamped into Ecuador, and then caught another cab, then another bus on our way to Ecuador’s capital: Quito.
Nick and I enjoyed our time overall in Quito for the most part, but it still wasn’t our favorite. The neighborhood where the hostels are located is full of cobblestone streets and old buildings; it really reminded us of La Candelaria in Bogota. Overall, like La Candelaria, I would say the plus is that it’s gorgeous and the downside is the safety factor. This is undoubtedly the place to stay if you’re a backpacker (it’s where the vast majority of hostels are located) but it’s not the best place to walk around aimlessly and stroll.
We spent two days in Quito; and they were days well-spent. One of them was a lazy Sunday that was spent catching up on work and reading in our hostel (you need these days when you’re doing long-term travel. It’s impossible and exhausting to be a tourist every day for a year). The other was spent doing a free walking tour and going out to eat and drink with new hostel friends.
After 2 days it was off to Cotopaxi National Park. Our hostel in Quito runs a sister hostel at the base of several volcanoes in the area. The area is absolutely stunning and the hostel prides itself on operating a relaxing nature-filled getaway for guests; while staying there, all meals are provided (they’re delicious), 2 really fun excursions are included in the price of booking, and guests stay in wooden cabins with working fireplaces at night. Nick and I did 2 rigorous but breathtaking hikes together before splitting off for different ones on the third day (Nick tried his hand at horseback riding, I climbed up a volcano to see the glacier that covers it). We were really, really upset to be leaving by the third day because, well, look at these insane pictures…
From there it was off to Baños – a small city in Ecuador named for its natural thermal baths that are open to the public. We ended up spending several days here. The town was lovely and we were still traveling with 2 Aussie friends we made in Cotopaxi. During our time there, 3 things stand out:
- The thermal baths: The baths themselves were relaxing – it is literally a natural hot tub. That said, it’s a public facility so they were incredibly crowded and not maintained in the nicest fashion. Still worth a visit but as a recommendation I’d say go during the daytime. We went at night, which is apparently when the entirety of Baños decides they’re also going to go.
- Pailon del Diablo waterfall – y’all. Trust me: this shit was crazy. Our little group decided to hike to this waterfall and we were NOT disappointed. For $1 we took a bus to the entrance, where you hike down to the waterfall. Then, you pay an additional $2 to enter the actual waterfall area. We didn’t expect much because TBH who hasn’t seen a waterfall in their time on this planet, right? WRONG. IDIOT. Let me paint a picture for you:
We paid our fee and started the trek to the fall, and felt a little sprinkle. “Oh, this is a normal occurrence in and around waterfalls!” thought the 4 weary travelers. Took a few more steps they did, and met with some MORE water they were. “Still norms,” thought the travelers. As they proceeded to make their way through the cavernous pathway to the Devil’s waterfall (the name serving as a major FUCKING WARNING SIGN they would later kick themselves for not heeding) the spray from the waterfall continued to grow in strength. And grow. And grow. And GROW UNTIL THEY WERE ALMOST DROWNING IN THE DEVIL’S WATERFALL.
Being rainy season and all, this waterfall was less nature’s equivalent of a fair maiden whose pleasantness offers a nice respite for weary travelers on a summer’s day and more of nature’s John McEnroe when it doesn’t get its way. Suffice it to say – we looked at the end like we had gone for a swim because this waterfall was so powerful. The experience was awesome. Just maybe wear a poncho.
- The worst Mexican restaurant in the world – I’ve blocked out the name by now but if you’re ever in Baños don’t go there because you will get sick. And die.
Montañita is Ecuador’s Sayulita…or so people would like you to think. It’s haled as the greatest party beach town in South America by some, and as a nice relaxing place to catch some waves by others. Unfortunately for us, however, all of these aforementioned people are liars with scars on their rear ends because of the precipitous amount of fire perpetually in their pants. Montañita sucked. Granted, we went at the off season, but the place was a ghost town, it rained the whole time, and neither of the restaurants to be found in this city was of much value. We later found Montañita’s prettier sister in Peru, so it all worked out, but Nick and I literally went and left after one night because I only have one life to live. So on to Cuenca we went!
Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage site – a gorgeous old colonial city in the south of Ecuador. We spent a long weekend here to close out our time in Ecuador. The night we arrived, one of the city’s pubs was hosting an Oktoberfest event. After 2 months of cheap hostel beer, tasting an IPA again was honestly like drinking the nectar of the gods…if the gods only let you have 2 at a time because the nectar was overly alcoholic. From then on, the weekend was honestly a blur of good coffee, finally finding great Mexican and Thai in South America, 50 cent pastries, and winding narrow walkways amidst a mass of colonial architecture. Cuenca might not be the most action-packed place on your Ecuador, to do list, but it’s a fantastic place to chill for a few days. 10/10.
Fun Facts About Ecuador
- I wasn’t lying about the Stephen King trash cans. They’re everywhere. And they will find you.
- Coffee in Ecuador is, for the most part, shit. Expect a lot of instant coffee and Folgers for breakfast when you go out to eat. I know, I was horrified, too.
- Ecuadorians are lovely people! Super friendly and willing to help.
- Doritos offers a “mega queso” option here. You’re welcome.
- Ecuador’s economy tanked a while ago, so they decided to switch the American dollar as their currency. Super trippy to be using dollars in a foreign country.