Ecuador: Andes to Amazon

/Ecuador: Andes to Amazon

Ecuador: Andes to Amazon

After spending nearly a week cruising around the Galapagos Islands, we flew directly to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  At an elevation of over 9300 feet, well into the foothills of the Andes, we felt as though we were still on an airplane since they are pressurized to just about the same altitude!  But by morning we had adjusted about as much as is possible for us, and had some time to explore the city.

With their usual flourish, the Spanish tore down what was an ancient Inca city and used its rubble to begin construction of what became Quito, all of this happening around 1535 to 1540.  By then the first convent had been built and the city had become something of a focal point and ‘capital’ for the Spanish settlers.

As an important historical city, modern Quito got an early start at recognition, as it—along with Krakaw, Poland—were the first cities named World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1978. Also of interest is that it lies just off the equator, thus the country’s name.  And indeed it is well preserved and distinguished, as this photograph up the main thoroughfare toward the Basilica demonstrates.

Quito, Ecuador

If one looks up the same thoroughfare in the opposite direction, one gets a view of some of the barrios which cover its surrounding hillsides.

Quito, Ecuador_2

This particular hill is called El Panecillo and the monument atop it is of the Virgin Mary, but unique in that she has wings like an angel and seems to be dancing, instead of the usual static and immobile pose we are all accustomed to.  Aware as we are of how much Spanish colonial splendor we have exposed you to in prior postings, we will spare you any more of Quito, lovely as it is.

The next day our group, on a decently comfortable bus, headed out through the Andes toward the Amazon Basin.  First stop was at the village of Otavalo, only about seventy miles from Quito, and famous for its market.  Often considered one of the best for native artifacts in all of South America, we found it almost blindingly colorful.

Otavalo Market, Otavalo, Ecuador_3

And speaking of blinding, can you find the young girl buried in the photo below?

Otavalo Market, Otavalo, Ecuador_2

We also had time for a hike back into the foothills to one of Ecuador’s most famous waterfalls, called Peguche.  Beautiful in itself,

Hike to Peguche Waterfall, Ecuador_4

it is also the source for a wonderful aqueduct which follows the trail down the mountainside.

Hike to Peguche Waterfall, Ecuador

And here we first encountered Ecuadorian llamas, and a wonderful smiling llama herder as well.

Hike to Peguche Waterfall, Ecuador_5

When viewed from the front like this, it is easy to see the llamas as part of the camelid family.

In spite of the inevitable warning from our guide that our nightly lodgings would be pretty deplorable, and on the verge of collapse, they were without exception truly charming, beautiful and worthy of more nights than we had to spend at them.  Here is our first night, perched on the fringe of the lake.

Lakeside Hotel near Otavalo, Ecuador

Early the next morning we were on the road for a day of driving through the Andes.  While the mountain tops were reputedly still covered in snow even this close to the equator and in mid summer, they were mostly shrouded with clouds and invisible for most of the day.  The jungle below, however, was wonderfully green and verdant, and when we were above looking down on the canopy, speckled with various colors.

Devil's Cauldron, Ecuador_2

Hidden away in a valley beneath the Andes, our hotel was bound by courtyards between the rooms filled with pools of hot steaming water, and a spa available with massage for those who chose it.

Termas de Papallacta, Ecuador

We loved sitting in one of those hot pools watching the sun go down behind the Andes with beers in our hands.

By the next mid day we were down and out of the Andes and finally looking out at the Amazon Basin.  Now you will recall that the basin itself covers most of Brazil and a big piece of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, and is fed by hundreds of smaller rivers before forming the giant Amazon itself which flows out to the Atlantic and drains most of the continent east of the Andes.  So the river we were on was not the Amazon proper but one of its many feeding tributaries.  Ours was called the Napo, and was at least half a mile wide over the distance we traveled it.

Napo River, Amazon, Ecuador

Our transit was by canoe similar to what you see above, except when we spent a couple of hours floating in the current on rafts that had just been lashed together from balsa logs as seen at the top of this posting, or swimming next to them to cool down in the heat.

Our hotel was owned and run by a Swiss couple, and spread across a hillside where an island split the Napo.

Amazon, Ecuador_4

The pool area was lovely and inviting,

Amazon, Ecuador_8

and the view from our balcony of the river was spectacular.

Amazon, Ecuador_9

The next day took us down the river for an hour or so by canoe and then deep into the jungle on a trail that was at least rugged.  Overgrown and frequently requiring a guide to machete branches out of the way,

Amazon, Ecuador

it required not only riding a zipline over one huge gully,

Amazon, Ecuador_2

but also salsa dancing across a swaying suspension bridge over another.

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We loved it!

Later we visited a butterfly preserve, a giant aviary-like structure enclosing perhaps an acre of land, and filled with innumerable flowering plants and twenty-two flavors of butterfly.  They were everywhere, on everything, and when offered a piece of fruit, pandemonium resulted among the butterflies.

Amazon, Ecuador_5

Most of the population comes from massive racks of cocoons where they mature,

Amazon, Ecuador_6

and then finally emerge as butterflies.

Amazon, Ecuador_7

It was simply a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.

Finally leaving the Napo and heading back towards Quito, we again rose up in the Andes and stopped to visit the Devil’s Cauldron, certainly one of the most spectacular waterfalls we have ever witnessed and as well, one of the hairiest staircases we have ever descended and then ascended.

Devil's Cauldron, Ecuador

It is all in a deep gorge, accessible only by the narrow suspension bridge visible in the background which, in turn, leads to a primitive trail scrapped into the side of the gorge, and then to the staircase.  Our dear friend Susie M. recently sent us an article about the scariest staircases in the world.  This one at the Devil’s Cauldron was near the top of the list.

Between the cauldron and Quito, only one night remained, at a remote hacienda across a long valley and near no town at all.  It is still owned and managed by descendants of their grandfather, who emigrated from Colombia over a century ago.  He literally walked across the two countries to find and buy the property, build the hacienda, and turn it into a productive ranch which it remains today with warm fireplaces inside and graceful grounds surrounding the buildings.

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The final day, before we reached Quito again, we stopped for lunch at the Hacienda La Cienega, over four hundred years old, and now a boutique hotel and restaurant.  The building itself, stately and grand,

Hacienda La Cienega, Ecuador

sits among fountains and elegant grounds filled with ancient trees—and grazing horses,

Hacienda La Cienega, Ecuador_2

and even includes an alpaca or two just for the color and contrast.

Hacienda La Cienega, Ecuador_3

We loved our trip through Ecuador and, like Colombia, wished that we could have spent more time exploring it, particularly the Amazon Basin and the Andes.  But Chile and Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay beckoned, and there was no alternative but to push on.

2019-01-02T21:10:10+00:00March 3rd, 2018|Categories: Amazon Basin, Andes Mountains, Ecuador|

15 Comments

  1. Midge Garvey Borchert March 3, 2018 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Absolutely wonderful. We are doing a 21 day cruise in the Amazon in January of 2019. You have given us a taste. Your photos are spectacular as well as your commentary. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Dave Law March 6, 2018 at 6:33 am - Reply

      Thanks Midge. We are interested in well as a cruise on the Amazon proper. Which shipping line are you going with? Does it get to Manaus? Would appreciate any information you have.

  2. jeanne March 3, 2018 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Once again a great vicarious trip to a place I hope I will some day get to. Lovely, lovely, lovely!

    • Dave Law March 6, 2018 at 6:34 am - Reply

      Thanks Jeanne, but look out for the one on Chile coming next weekend!

  3. Ruth Iravani Hack March 4, 2018 at 12:32 am - Reply

    Such vibrancy. Such colour. Such scenic splendour. Thank you. x

    • Dave Law March 6, 2018 at 6:35 am - Reply

      Your comments are always so welcome, Ruth, and thanks. Hope to see you this summer as we will be in the UK part of the time.

  4. mm March 4, 2018 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    I love that you adventure into the unknown parts of these countries and then share it with us. Beautiful writing, photography, choices of subjects and providing the inspiration to explore! Thank you as always! xo

    • Dave Law March 6, 2018 at 6:36 am - Reply

      Thanks to you, Marion and hope we see you and Tom before long! Maybe Anywhere California!

  5. Trish March 5, 2018 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Fabulous!!!!

    • Dave Law March 6, 2018 at 6:36 am - Reply

      Thank you Trish!

  6. Lydia March 5, 2018 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Great pictures! Just wondering how you search for these tours?

    • Dave Law March 6, 2018 at 6:40 am - Reply

      Thanks Lydia. We used Gate One Travel for this trip to the Galapagos and Ecuador and used them as well for the river trip we did in Russia last September. They have been consistently good for us, are moderately priced, and seem to just deliver! Almost every cruise in the world can be found on VacationsToGo.com, which we often use as a starting point.

  7. Margeaux Klein March 9, 2018 at 11:27 am - Reply

    From my desert perspective, the lushness made me long for moisture and dense greens. What a great travel journal… and the trip itself! Thanks xx

  8. Harold Hall March 10, 2018 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    You not only travel the world but seem to maximize your time at each place. I think Gayle and I have much more down time. Today, in Tasmania we will go to town, eat and visit a grocery store… there is a day. I admire your energy. Possibly the two of you ‘feed’ off one another for your energy which has lasted so many years.

    • Dave Law March 17, 2018 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Not sure our pace is really any more intense than yours and Gayle’s, Harold. We have had almost three weeks of downtime in a lovely campground outside Barcelona and are now slowly making our way down the Med coast of Spain toward Torramolinos to meet Bonnie’s brother now, but it is pretty slow and leisurely. Guess living in our ‘home’ as we travel has something to do with it as well. Sure hope we get to meet up with you two before too long!

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