Ecuador, a country located at, you guessed it, the equator in South America is a relatively small country compared to its neighbors like Colombia, Peru, and Brazil but don't let that fool you like it did for me. Ecuador was the biggest surprise of all for my South America trip.
I started my trip in Ecuador through the border-crossing in the north and since I had no clue what to do in Ecuador except the Galapagos, I initially planned to travel through the country in no more than 2 weeks. To my biggest surprise, it took me a month and a half before reaching Peru. Why?
Well, follow me and I'll show you Ecuador!
For more information about Ecuador, here is my suggested itinerary and how to travel to the Galapagos on a budget. If you are also interested in this type of photography, check out my Follow Me and I’ll Show You _______ original series.
First surprise for me was the realization that Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, stood at the altitude of 2850m and are surrounded by some deathly volcanos. So my first order of business was to climb the 4784m volcano (Vulcan Pinchincha)
From the city, I took the gondola up to the trail head and started hiking toward the summit. The hike started off easy enough but then the path became steeper and the ground became less and less stable. Before the summit, I was climbing up a steep wall of rubbles with my hands.
It was all worth it though as I found this little guy on the summit greeted me with its friendliness. It instantly became my best friend. :)
Cotopaxi is a very active stratovolcano at an elevation of 5,897 m. Its location is not too far from Quito and made for a great day trip. I left early in the morning, and found a guy that would be willing to guide me up the mountain. He drove me up to the trail head and stopped at an alpine lake along the way.
Unfortunately, the volcano was still pretty much active and summiting was prohibited so we were able to reach on the mountain hut, which was only 1,000m away from the summit. It was snowing heavily too so I think it was good we didn't go to the top.
From the alpine environment of Quito, it was time to change it up a little. I went to Mindo, a village in the middle of a cloud forest 2 hours away from the capital. Here you can see the drastic shift in the environment. Mindo is well-known for its many waterfalls and bird species.
Me and a couple of friends went on a hike to discover the many waterfalls scattered in the cloud forest.
After hiking 2 volcanos, this was a much needed break for me.
It sure felt like I was reborn! It was amazing how I was able to go from the alpine environment of Quito to a tropical one in Mindo in only 2 hours. It was such a dramatic change in the nature, my body was still processing it.
The hike took us around 2 hours and we were able to hit up around 4 waterfalls .We didn't complete the entire trail though as we had an appointment to go do this...
Tubing! You always hear about the relaxing tubing experience in Laos drinking beers and floating your days away. Not this one. We wanted adventure and we had it!
I really enjoyed Mindo. It was an adventure stil but was a relaxing one. Unlike climbing volcanos, Mindo offers you enough adventure but also enough time to soak yourself in the nature and relax. A highly recommended destination if you are traveling in Ecuador.
It is like the saying goes, "if you haven't seen the Amazon, you haven't seen South America". Maybe that is just me saying it but still, Amazon rainforest is a must for a South America trip. For one, the rainforest stretches over 9 countries in South America so you can plenty of entry points here. I went with Ecuador because it was quite easy to organize from Quito and my friends only had time to go from Ecuador so we went together.
When I was in the Amazon, I was reading a book called the Lost City of Z and the book talked about how the independent explorers of that time mapped the Amazon and how unforgiving the environment in the rainforest was. Stuff like flesh-eating bats and maggots that live inside your skin had me terrified but also appreciate how far we have come. With Google Maps in hand, I no longer take it for granted.
It was a 4-days trip so there was plenty of time to explore the forest. We went on multiple forest walks, night safaris, swim in the lagoon and visited the native Amazonian village and got to talk with the chief.
At sunset we were always going to the lagoon trying to track down pink dolphins with no luck... until I looked up and saw one. :)
On our last day, we went n a forest walk and 2 minutes in to our walk we stumbled upon an Anaconda feasting on the turkey-like bird! We were very lucky since not many people get to see the Anaconda while on a jungle walk.
The guide told us this was a baby one. Still, it was 3 meters long and I couldn't imagine what the full grown one would look like in real life.
I have seen photos of people swing off a cliff overlooking a volcano before on Instagram but I didn't know that that particular swing was in Banos, Ecuador! I was excitedly surprised to find that it was only an hour hike away from my hostel.
Baños, the place with the highest concentration of swings in the most dangerous places in the world.
The Tungurahua is another active stratovolcano hovering over Banos. Seriously, is there any villages in Ecuador without a volcano hovering over them?
It had always been a dream of mine to travel to the Galapagos and experience wildlife up close and so when I was in Guayaquil, I took that opportunity and flew to the island.
On my first day on the island, I spent the entire day planning and looking for a cruise to go on. There were so many options with so many routes it was almost too overwhelming. Eventually, I found one that fits perfectly with my schedule and off I went. The first day we spent exploring the main island (Isla Isabela), hiking up a lookout point, walking through volcanic caves, and visited the tortoise breeding ground.
The reason why I went with the cruise to explore the Galapagos is so that I could have access to the most remote part of the islands. This was one of the volcanos on the remote side of the Fernandina island.
Nothing grows here any more due to the volcanic activity. Such a drastic difference between the dead landscape and the untouched wildlife that made it their habitats.
This is one hell of an earth-shattering view! Get it? No? Ok, I'll show myself out...
We stopped briefly at the black sand beach. You see, the thing about Galapagos is that the animals here are not used to having predators so they no longer fear you no matter how close you are to them. I have never seen anything like this since!
Just a regular day on the Galapagos 🤣🤣
The wildlife under water were as impressive as the ones on land.
In between stops, we also went snorkeling with sea turtles, seals and sharks. It was one the most memorable moment of my life despite to freezing cold water.
Vilcabamba was the last stop in Ecuador for me before I went down to Peru. I was initially thinking of taking a slow day and just sitting in cafes but that would not be fair for the country so I decided to do a small hike, which turned into a long hike, got lost in the forest and eventually got chased down by 2 ferocious dogs. Let's just say the day went well. Haha!
Mandango is a peak in Vilcabamba that was very important to the Inca warriors back in the days. Legend goes that the place has regenerative power and it was used often by the Inca warriors for that reason. Needless to say, that was enough of a reason for me to hike up to the top.
Despite the fact that I got lost afterward, accidentally trespassed into people's home and got chased by 2 dogs, the hike was definitely worth the sweat. Be warned though that the weather down here is a lot more humid and hotter than the rest of Ecuador so prepare enough water.
You will not be able to appreciate the landscape of Vilcabamba until you saw it from the peak. The layers of rock sediments and colorful orange, brown and red stripes across an entire face of a mountain was quite a sight to behold.
And that is is for the "Follow Me and I'll Show You Ecuador" photographic journey. I hope you enjoy this one! If you have any questions, feel free to put down your thoughts in the comments below.
Do you enjoy this type of photography? Check out other entries to our “Follow Me and I’ll Show You ________” series. If you have any suggestion on what I could improve, do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below or tweet me here: @peachananr
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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