As soon could we get a bird's eye view of the Ecuadorian capital as we descend slowly onto the runway, I could tell I was going to really like it here. First of all, the city is outlined by big, bold and beautiful jade green and cobalt blue mountains capped by the fluffiest white clouds that surround the city's heart that juts out from the center - like a belly button. Tall, gleaming sky-scrapers and modern condominiums are contrasted by the old colonial town center and colorful barrios almost seem to accessorize the mountainside...this is Quito at first glance.
The feel of the city is just as pleasant as the landscape, if not more. As soon as we arrive we meet the man that will become not only our savvy chauffer, but our companion and life-saver for the next 72 hours - Marcos. He takes us to our B&B that is smack in the middle of the Colonial part of town, a big tourist-draw, and very charming. The hotel is surrounded by a plethora of eateries offering excellent Ecuadorian fare at dirt-cheap prices (the $1.80-$2 arroz con menstra y carne's are everywhere) because as much as we loved Peruvian food, the prices were pretty steep when compared to Ecuador. We noticed that Ecuador was considerably cheaper in everything: COL, food, lodging, transport, and even fuel prices! (probably becuase they have their own fuel reserves;)
In Quito we made sure to do the obligatory tourists stops like Mitad Del Mundo and do the obligatory straddle of both the North and South hemispheres as well as enjoy more of Quito's night-life. Part of our group went to see a real live football game at the famous Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa with Quito's star team known as Liga that happened to make it all the way to the finals and beat Brazi. We were told that despite the freezing cold, screaming fans, and utter chaos that is expected in a true South American football game, it was truly a spectacular event. The other part of our group opted to attend a different type of cultural experience by visiting the town plaza for free performance of the Ballet Folklorico Ecuatoriano which displayed a dance and attire indigenous to each Province in Ecuador. Both events turned out to be culturally enriching, as did being able to turn in relatively early that night for the long day ahead of us.
The next day we left Quito to explore the Highlands of the Andes and all it has to offer. Wow! Who would have known that just a few hours from Quito you find yourself in a whole other world of wonder. Our faithful taxi driver Marcos, took us to so many fabulous places, but I'll let the pictures tell the story:
We started our day with a visit to the stunning Imbabura volcano and San Pablo Lake. The Andes here are different from those in Peru, much greener, and conducive for agriculture. And the scenery is breath-taking, to say the least.
We then took a leisurely boat-ride across the famed San Pablo Lake and visited the Posh Puerto Lago Hosteria (a gorgeous place to keep in mind for future anniversaries;)
Not before trying on our own Otavalo-Indian inspired ensemble of course;)
We then head to the famous Otavalo Street Market (the largest in all of South America) for some amazing artisan finds and color therapy galore.
Afterward we drive up to the outstanding Cascadas de Peguche y bosque for some incredible scenery and a dip in the ice-cold waterfall waters. This place is beyond beautiful and we were about the only crazy tourists that got wet that day, everyone else was daunted by the cold. Miedosos!
Finally, we end the day with a drive up to the famous Cotacachi (aka Leather Ville, or what we called it:) town in the mountains that is known for its incredible leather goods and fresh, organic meats. Not only did we have a delicious dinner, but got a great post-dinner workout perusing the shops for some cool leather treats we will don come the cold NY nights, at those prices it would of been ludicrous not to. After heading back to Quito for some drinks and desserts we get some shut eye in preparation for the next day where we will head up to the famous Banos de Papallacta.
This place is straight out of the storybooks. Natural Hot-springs of steaming water nestled in between dripping cloud forests and rivers. Once your there you get so relaxed, you think twice about leaving. We spend most of the afternoon here frolicking in the different thermal baths and then shocking our body temperature by stepping into the artic-cold river water that runs right through the complex. We end the evening with a delicious dinner of Ecuadorian delicacies like Sopa de Locrio and Caldo de Patas de Res .
More pictures of this gorgeous region of Ecuador. (Disclaimer- there are a ton of pics!)
Remember Marcos, our faithful and brave chauffer mentioned above? Well after Papallacta he will remain with us for the next 14 hours or so as we embark in the craziest mission of them all - crossing the Andes into the Ecuadorian Coast and arriving at La Ruta Del Sol y Puerto Lopez.
Stay tuned for our final destination as we complete our Amazing South American Adventure.