Tag Archives: Ecuador

Sampling Ecuadorian Food

This one’s a bit of a cobbled together post as I kind of sampled Ecuadorian food in a haphazard manner…

My first foray into Ecuadorian food was through the Quito Culinary Tour and Cooking Class, which was followed up by the Friday Night Food Walking Tour offered by Community Hostel in Quito.  There were about 15 of us trying to squeeze onto very narrow footpaths, sharing samples of different local food that could be found around the hostel.

Our first stop was Los Caldos de La Tola and, although I’m not a fan of innards at all, I did try the Caldo con Guagua Mama, which is essentially placenta soup.  Yes, you read that correctly – it is what the lady is holding up in the bottom left picture.   Here we also tried Tortillas con Caucara (which was yum, and not innards-y at all) and Morocho – a warm drink that to me was essentially rice pudding 🙂

Ecuadorian Street Food Tour

The bottom right picture was from the shop across the road and is Tripa Mishka – or BBQ cow tripe.    Again, I’m not a fan of tripe – especially after being inadvertently tricked into trying it the first time by chefs of Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory about 18 years ago (it really wasn’t their fault – it looked like sweet and sour chicken so I took a huge plate.  It most definitely was NOT sweet and sour chicken 🙁 )    Imagine my surprise when I actually really, really liked the Tripa Mishka!

From there we headed up the street a bit to a shop that had lots items made out of corn.    While I’d already tried humitas, empanadas de morocho and pristiños before, I added quimbolitos to my sampling (top right picture) – which were kind of like a humita but with a cake-like texture.  Nice!

Quimbolitos - Ecuadorian Food

At yet another shop across the road, Mr. Pincho, we sampled pinchos (skewers with sausage, potato, mushroom and capsicum) and alitas (chicken wings on a skewer).

Pinchos - Ecuadorian Food

Before heading into La Ronda to try Canalazo (which I’d already had on my mountainbiking trip) and an Empanada de Viento – essentially a very large deep-fried pastry with sugar on top 🙂

Empanada de Viento -Ecuadorian Food

Empanada de Viento

The final stop on the Food Walking Tour was a little further down La Ronda with the best Fritada (kind of roasted then fried pork) I had in Ecuador (and I sampled a lot after this awesome introduction).  Sooooooo good!

Fritada - Ecuadorian Food

Best Fritada I had in Ecuador, plus two types of Aji (spicy sauce). One with peanuts and one without.

That was it for the Food Walking Tour, but based on the recommendations from the Quito Culinary Tour and Cooking Class, I went back to the Santa Clara Market for lunch on a couple of different days.

Once I had fried fish (something I’ve really come to love this year) – I chose the most popular-looking place 🙂

Lunch at Santa Clara market - Quito

Another time, it was the Seco de Chivo – which is beef in a quite flavourful sauce.  Another one of my favourites.

Seco de Chivo- Ecuadorian Food

And both times, to top it all off, I had one of Ecuador’s famous juices that are pre-prepared and ladled straight out of the large jugs.  My favourite combo is Coconut + Blackberry (I’m really on a coconut roll on this trip!)

Batidos - Ecuadorian Food

In addition, on the Free Walking Tour of Quito, we stopped by one of the most famous “sweets” shops in Quito.   So of course I had to sample several of their products as well 🙂  Unfortunately I can’t remember their names – but they were good!

Ecuadorian Sweet Shop

 

Recommendation:

To be honest, the Friday Night Food Walking Tour had potential to be amazing, but fell short.  Not all the samples were included in the price and you only got to have a very small sample of the dishes because it had to be shared between ~15 people.  Also we had to share the drinks we tried from the same cup … which put off quite a few people.

The Free Walking Tour of Quito was really awesome and you should definitely do it if you are visiting.

You should definitely check out the Santa Clara market – it’s a great place to wander around and to eat at – and you can get some awesome Ecuadorian chocolate there!

Cost:

Time:

Perfume solves everything – Ecuador

Something I discovered in the main market in Cuenca on the Free Walking Tour.  If you want to:

  • attract someone
  • get rid of someone
  • get rich

or any number of other desires in life, all you need is perfume!

Perfume - Ecuador

It’s legitimate, quality assured and 100% effective according to the advertising on the boxes, and here I thought things like this required charm, skill and/or a lot of luck!

For example, if you want to attract quick luck and money – you buy this perfume.  The small print says:

Perfume - Ecuador

“This perfume is considered an efficient help to obtain financial gains in stock and mercantile activities in general.  Moreover, it generates a good gilt for productive businesses and protects the money obtained”.

Anyone need some?

Cajas National Park – Cuenca, Ecuador

One of the things I was excited to do while in Cuenca was to get out and explore Parque Nacional Cajas.   So I signed up for a day tour with one of the agencies in town and was joined by a family of 3 from the US.

We all crammed into a very small car for the half hour ride to the National Park (fortunately I had the front seat 🙂 ), where our first “hike” was along the Uku path around Laguna Llaviucu (Zorrocucho) – the first time I’ve ever seen signs restricting the number of visitors per day!

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador

It was nice, and the surroundings were pretty, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a hike.  Or even a walk.  More like a very slow stroll around a lake…

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador

The abandoned building in the bottom image used to be a Pilsener beer factory (Pilsener being the main beer of Ecuador)

From there it was back in the car for the drive up to the lookout at Tres Cruzes, named for the crosses that remember the three travelers who died of exposure in these high parts near Cuenca.   Morbid story aside, it has a spectacular view back down over the park – such a pity that the highway cuts right through it though…

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador - Tres Cruzes

The name – Cajas – mean “boxes” in English – and refers to the more than 200 small (and not so small) lakes that store water all year round in the park.   Our next stop was one of the larger lakes – Laguna Toreadora – which is also where the main visitors centre is.

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador -Laguna Toreadora

There we started our very slow stroll around the lake which, again, was very beautiful, but incredibly frustrating.

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador

When I signed up for the trip, I had anticipated some decent walking (at least) that would cover a fair bit of ground … lesson learned – ask for more details when you are told it is a “1.5 hour and 3 hour hike”!

Given how slowly we were walking, I had plenty of time to take pictures of the flora.

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador

Including the bromeliads that created what was a soft carpet for us to walk on.

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador

And the Polylepis (paper tree) dwarf forest that is only found above 3,300m.

Cajas National Park - Cuenca, Ecuador - Polypsis trees

We then had a very late lunch (3pm) at a restaurant 1/2 way back to Cuenca.

For me, I have to admit, it was an incredibly frustrating day and I wished I had come up with another way to explore what is a really beautiful park.  I expected some proper walking and I would have preferred to bring my own lunch and eat it at a reasonable time.   That being said, the family were really struggling with the altitude – so I guess it is all relative (I have done quite a bit of hiking at altitude after all).

 

Recommendation:  If you enjoy proper hiking – I would investigate more deeply the tours offered in Cuenca.   There must be a way to arrange a good hike in the park – there are certainly plenty of trails.

Cost:  The tour I did to Cajas National Park cost $50, and can be booked through a number of providers.  Includes guide, transportation and lunch.

Time: 8 hours, though it could easily have been done in half that time.

La Warmi Cooking Class – Cuenca, Ecuador

Apart from the Culinary tour I did in Quito when I first arrived in Ecuador, other opportunities for cooking workshops have been few and far between.  However, wandering down a random street in Cuenca I saw a sign outside of the restaurant “La Warmi” that was advertising one for that very night.   Must have been meant to be!

The menu was:

  • Locro de Papas  (potato soup – very common in Ecuador)
  • Camarones al Ajillo (garlic prawns – hmmm ok not what I associate with Ecuadorian food)
  • Muchines (yucca dessert – also common in Ecuador)

For a change, I wasn’t the only participant!  There was a couple from France who were also keen cooking-school attendees (I immediately recommended the Uncorked Cooking Workshop in Santiago, Chile – one of my favourite cooking experiences ever), and a lady from the US.   And for the first time ever – we had to wear hair nets!  Not even in the cooking schools I’ve done in Australia have I had to do this 🙂

La Warmi cooking class - Cuenca, Ecuador

The recipes were really easy, and we all helped out with the food preparation and cooking.

La Warmi cooking class - Cuenca, Ecuador

Including picking up some tips around working with yucca, and the secret to making patacónes (use a tortilla press obviously!) along the way.

La Warmi cooking class - Cuenca, Ecuador

And, of course, once the cooking was finished – we got to enjoy eating our creations! 🙂

La Warmi cooking class - Cuenca, Ecuador

Left: Locro de Papas; Middle: Camarones al Ajillo; Right: Muchines

The Locro de Papas was really amazing (will definitely be making it again!), the garlic prawns were nice, but they were just garlic prawns, and I have to admit that the Muchine is not my favourite dessert – it was OK though.

Recommendation:  Not sure if they usually run this in English (I think they do), but because the French couple and I all spoke spanish, it was actually done in spanish (we ended up translating for the lady from the US).   Perhaps ask first before signing up.

Cost:  $25

Time: About 2.5 hours.

 

Ziplining – Baños, Ecuador

Although ziplining has become really popular over the past years,  I’d never actually tried it.  It never looked like something that would get the adrenaline going (I’m not afraid of heights), though it did look fun, so I thought I’d give it a go in Baños.

Chose to do the 6-zipline trip at Puntzan – because, well, why not 🙂   They have 2000m of zipline to explore and you get to do a little bit of walking in between as well.

Ziplining Puntzan Baños Ecuador

Basically ziplining is like a very large flying fox that you are harnessed into – here’s a video made by Puntzan that gives you an idea.

And it was lots and lots of fun!     First line (150m in length) we did upright to get the idea of what to expect.  For example, it’s not entirely obvious how you actually stop at the other end – but all became clear when the pulley smacked into a wooden block that one of the guides could control to slow you down.

Ziplining Puntzan Baños Ecuador

The next line (300m) we could choose to do upright up upside-down.  Of course you know what I chose!

Ziplining Puntzan Baños Ecuador

Third line (250m) was our first go at “superman” ziplining – which really is the closest thing you can get to flying (unless you are willing to die in a squirrel suit).   Supermaning is definitely the favourite – and it is incredible to look down at the ground far below you as you glide over.  I’m not sure what the drops were, but some were at over 100m at least!

Ziplining Puntzan Baños Ecuador

Rain shower on the 4th line (350m) which I again did upside down.  Perhaps not the best option in the rain as it tended to go up the nose…

Ziplining Puntzan Baños Ecuador

5th line (450m) was a dual-superman that I shared with Eric.   This one took you seriously high off the ground and along the river – spectacular!

Ziplining Puntzan Baños Ecuador

And finally, the 6th line (550m) was upright again.

Ziplining Puntzan Baños Ecuador

Brilliant fun!   And although they don’t necessarily have the longest ziplines around Baños, being able to do 6 of them is really awesome!

 

Recommendation:  Do the 6 ziplines at Puntzan.  That way you get to figure out what it’s all about on the first line and then really enjoy the others 🙂   Most agencies in Baños offer it – we went with Geotours simply because that is where we had to return the bikes to after cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas in the morning.  You can arrange with about an hour of advance notice.

Cost:  $20.  Includes transport, equipment, guides.  $5 extra for photos, though it is possible to take your own.   All the photos that appear here were taken by the Puntzan guys.

Time:  Depends on the number of people, but about 2-3 hours.

Pailón del Diablo – Baños, Ecuador

One of the most popular things to do in Baños is the Ruta de las Cascadas, or Waterfall Route.  This is a 17km trip that takes in several waterfalls and ends up at the most famous of them all – the Pailón del Diablo.

There are a few different ways you can do it, including by taxi or car, by Chiva (open sided truck), by quad-bike, by walking (though it is a fair way) or by bicycle.  My original plan was to join the “Free biking tour” of Baños that follows this route, and although Eric and Wayne from my dorm room in Hostel La Chimenea came with me, turns out we needed 5 people for that to go ahead.  Unfortunately nobody else showed up 🙁

So we decided to rent bikes and do it ourselves!

Ruta de cascadas - Baños, Ecuador

Bike or Chiva. I recommend the bike!

The route is basically along the main road that links Baños to Puyo at the start of the Amazon in Ecuador, so it turns out there is a lot of traffic on the road. Most (including buses and trucks) are great about giving cyclists enough room, though having a separate route specifically for cyclists would be much, much nicer.

That being said, the valley that you ride through is really beautiful and the best parts of the route were where the main road cut through tunnels and we could take the less-travelled “old road” around the side.

Ruta de cascadas - Baños, Ecuador

There are several tall waterfalls you can see from the road and various ways to get closer to them if you want.  Tarabita, ziplining, bungee jumping…  Yes, there are no shortage of things to do along the route, but we had other plans for the afternoon so stuck with the biking.

Ruta de cascadas - Baños, Ecuador

The most famous waterfall, the Pailón del Diablo (or Devil’s Cauldron), lies at the end of the route and you have to walk to access it.  The (very well maintained) path is a little steep, but it is totally worth it!  Especially if you have never seen a powerful waterfall before.

Pailón del Diablo - Baños, Ecuador

You can get up very close to it and even stand behind it if you are prepared to crawl through some tight spaces and get very wet 🙂

Pailón del Diablo - Baños, Ecuador

These weren’t the tightest of the spaces we had to crawl through on our way to the back of the waterfall.

It’s really amazing to feel the energy of the water!

 

Recommendation:  Although you have to cycle along a fairly busy road for the most part, exploring the Ruta de las Cascadas by bicycle is a really nice way to do it.  It is mostly downhill going from Baños to the Pailón del Diablo waterfall, and you can get a lift back in a truck.

Cost:

  • $5 to hire the bike, helmet, lock and repair kit from GeoTours
  • $1.50 to access Pailón del Diablo waterfall
  • $2 (if 6 or more people) to put the bikes in the back of the truck to return to Baños

Time: We took our time and were out for about 4.5 hours

Hello Huaraz – Peru!

I still have a few blog posts to come from Ecuador, but I have already crossed over the border to Peru.  Just had to tell you about that epic trip!

Yes, I finally sat down the other day and figured out a plan for Peru after procrastinating about it for a long time.  I knew I really wanted to spend a lot of time hiking near Huaraz and I was dead keen to do a vegetarian cooking and yoga retreat that I’d found online some time ago.  Enquiries revealed that I could do the cooking/yoga retreat starting 19th September at the earliest, and that there was a group doing the 10-day Huayhuash trek that I wanted to do starting the 4th September.  There were a couple of “buggers” about this:

  1. I would have loved to have spent another week in Ecuador in Vilcabamba (love Ecuador)
  2. Huaraz is a lot further south than Tarapota (near where the cooking retreat is). I would have to go south, backtrack significantly to the north (~20 hrs on bus) and then re-backtrack to the south in order to do both.

In the end, I decided to bite the bullet, suck it up and spend inordinate amounts of time on buses (at least it saves on accommodation costs!).    Here’s a summary of my last 2 days:

Tuesday, 4:15am – wake up in Cuenca and get to the bus station.   Only to find out that they’d just sold the last seat on the 5am bus and I would have to wait another 45 minutes to get the next one.  It’s too early for this crap!

4hrs Cuenca – Guayaquil.  Was supposed to be 5hrs and we even stopped for ½ hour for a baños break.  We were absolutely flying down the mountains to the point where it was hard to stay in your seat!

On the road from Cuenca - Guayaquil

On the road from Cuenca – Guayaquil. There’s an ocean (not of clouds) down there somewhere…

4hrs wait Guayaquil bus terminal.   One of the most amazing bus terminals I’ve ever been in.  It is HUGE and right next to the airport (yay for logistics)!  OK, so the WiFi only kind of works (actually it stopped working for me after ½ hour – it’s an open network and it wouldn’t let me back on for fear of security attacks), and there aren’t very many powerpoints, and you can’t exchange money to buy Peruvian Nuevo Soles (seriously Ecuador – you need more money exchange places or get your banks to do it – it was impossible in Cuenca too!), but it has a big food court as well as other little places to eat, and lots of (not terribly interesting) shopping.  I was really impressed with the terminal.  I was really not impressed with the Pizza Hut Express girl who insisted that a supreme personal pizza cost 4x the price of a salami one.  Yes, I admit it, I crave crappy pizza when sitting in airport or bus terminals.   I ended up with soup and roast chicken and fried rice (which was surprisingly good and no doubt much healthier).

4hrs Guayaquil – Ecuador-Peru border.   Listening to music and musing while staring out the window from the luxury of my full-cama (full bed) seat 🙂  It’s kind of equivalent to between 1st class and business class on a plane (the seat doesn’t quite lay flat, but almost).  Gotta love how Peru and Chile (at least) have this long-distance bus thing figured out!

full-cama bus

If you are going to be stuck on a bus for >24 hours, full-cama is the only way to go!

2hrs Ecuador-Peru border crossing.  It was actually very efficient, even though this timing doesn’t make it sound so.   You lined up to exit Ecuador, then moved about 10 metres to your right to line up and enter Peru.  Not sure why we were stopped for so long given we’d all done our bits and pieces quite quickly.

14hrs Ecuador-Peru border – Chimbote.   WiFi kicked in on the Peruvian side of the border … but I couldn’t get it to work no matter how many times I tried 🙁

I discovered bus meals are even worse than airline meals – even when you are in 1st class.  Vaguely luke-warm meal with not a vegetable in sight and a gelatinous dessert with apple that would have been fine if it were completely solid, and fine if it were completely runny … but I could not bring myself to eat it when the texture was in the middle. And it takes a LOT for me not to eat a dessert!

2 hrs after the border crossing, we all had to get off the bus again and do another border check.  No idea why.  After that, I didn’t know much else about this part of the trip – thank you once again full-cama buses in South America!  Slept really well actually 🙂

Unfortunately, breakfast was even more disappointing than dinner – a packet of biscuits and a small white bread roll with 1 slice of ham on it!

2hrs waiting in Chimbote.  At least it wasn’t 14hrs waiting, which was my fear (only buses I could find online left at 11pm)!  Also sorted out how I’m going to do the 20hrs bus trip back to the north of Peru for the cooking retreat when I’m done with the 10 day hike 🙂

6hrs Chimbote – Huaraz.  Went semi-cama this time given it was the afternoon and I was wide awake.  Bus was almost empty – more listening to music and staring out the window musing.  It really is a very, very impressive trip up the Andes!  Saw a bus that must have literally just overturned before we passed (there were still shell-shocked passengers there).  At least it overturned away from the side of the road with the sheer drop down about 1000m!   I decided to re-buckle my seatbelt at that point!

Wednesday 5:30pm – arrived Huaraz.   ~38hr epic bus trip – Done!    And to be honest, it wasn’t that bad, and I arrived feeling quite lively (I’m sure it wasn’t delirium)!  Have I mentioned how much I appreciate full-cama buses?

And this is what I’ve come to experience — I hope I get some clear weather on this hike!

Huaraz - Peru

More Canyoning – Baños, Ecuador

I visited Baños when I was in Ecuador ~13 years ago and it was quite a sleepy little place where the main attraction was the Pailon del Diablo waterfall.

Whoa – culture shock when I stepped off the bus this time!   It has grown enormously and every shop is offering either food (of course), adventure tourism options or massages.   Given that it has become the adventure capital of Ecuador, I was certainly anticipating some changes – but not to the level that I encountered – it is staggeringly different to how I remember it!

I didn’t really have any plans for Baños, so looking at the offerings I decided that although I had a great time Canyoning in Mindo, it was way too short and I’d just gotten into the groove of it when it was all over.   So I decided to go again 🙂   I wanted to do the more intense canyoning trip offered by Imagine Ecuador (there are 2 types, most people choose to do the shorter one), but needed at least one other person to join as well.  Fortunately, 2 Swedish guys signed up later the same afternoon and we were on!

It is a 40 minute drive from Baños to Casahurco where we met up with the Swedes who had been rafting earlier that morning.   The guide was curious as to where I learned my spanish, and out of interest, I now always turn this question back on the person asking to see where they think I learned my spanish.   The last two times I’ve done this, they have both said “Ecuador” (the time before that – Chile).  My accent can’t be too bad then 🙂  Though I suspect it is more of an “international latin american accent” that is difficult to put a finger on,  similar to what my accent is now in English.

After lunch (still loving fried fish – mostly trout here in Ecuador), we changed into full-length wetsuits (mine was about 3 sizes too big for me), shoes, harnesses and helmets and headed out for some instruction and practice on level ground.

Canyoning Baños Ecuador

That done, it was off to tackle the canyon!    The reason I wanted to do this trip rather than the regular canyoning trip was that in addition to rappelling, you got to do other things as well like jumping and ziplining.  First up was basically a “trust fall” off a small waterfall.

Canyoning Baños Ecuador

This was quickly followed by a ~3m jump

 

Which was followed by a ~10m jump off a waterfall.    Given that I’d found jumping off a 5m edge into the Somoto Canyon in Nicaragua scary – this was positively terrifying, and I have to admit it took me some serious psyching up before I eventually did it.

But, I did do it 🙂  It was the sticky-out bit of rock just under where you jumped from that was really freaking me out!

 

Surprisingly, unlike the massive adrenaline rush I got in Nicaragua once I’d passed the point of no return, when I finally left the ledge here – I was reasonably calm … perhaps my brain had simply shut down and refused to acknowledge the craziness of what I’d just done 😉

There was lots of wading and boulder scrambling down the river as we moved from one waterfall to the next.

Canyoning Baños Ecuador

And even a short zipline off a waterfall, which was pretty cool!

From there it was more rappelling, a few small jumps, and boulder scrambling to the end.

Canyoning Baños Ecuador

All up, we were in the canyon for about 2 hours, and despite being absolutely freezing cold (it was a chilly day to begin with and being soaking wet wasn’t helping), it was an awesome time 🙂

 

Recommendation:  If you want to have a more rounded canyoning experience (and aren’t petrified of jumping off ~10m waterfalls) I’d go with this trip rather than the regular one.

Cost:  $65 per person ($50 per person for 4 or more).  Includes transport, lunch, all equipment, guides, photos/videos of the experience  (I didn’t take any of the photos/videos used here – thanks to Imagine Ecuador for providing!)

Time:  About 4-5 hours (2-3 hours in the canyon)

 

 

The Devil’s Nose Train

After hiking the Ecuadorian Inca Trail, I got the guides to drop me off in Alausí on the way back to Riobamba so I could take the most famous train in Ecuador – La Nariz del Diablo or “Devil’s Nose”.    When they were constructing the railway from Quito (capital city) to Guayaquil (most important city) over a century ago, it was easy to do on the highland plateau and easy to do on the coastal plain, but how to connect the two?

In the end they decided to tackle what was known to locals as “the Condor’s Aerie” between Alausí and Sibambe – later renamed “The Devil’s Nose” due to the sheer difficulty of the task and the number of deaths that occurred in its construction.   Here, the train drops 500m in only 12km, enabled by a series of switchbacks that go down the mountain.

The carriages of the train are really nice and quaint and each car has its own guide who explains the history of this section of railway and what you can see out the windows on the journey down the mountain to Sibambe.

Devil's Nose Train - Ecuador

There are actually only 3 switchbacks on this journey of 30 minutes, so I was surprised about the hype around this trip.   My vague memories of catching the local train out of Cusco 15 years ago is that we were switchbacking forever climbing the mountain out of the city…

Devil's Nose Train - Ecuador

Switchback views

But anyway, once at the bottom, you stop for 10 minutes (more like 20 minutes) at a triangular junction for the best view of the Devil’s Nose that you’ve just descended, including the switchbacks.

Devil's Nose Train - Ecuador

The Devil’s Nose is the shadowed mountain in the background. You can just make out where the railway goes.

There is a man with a pony here (which most of the locals seem to want to get on to get a photo), the train attendants sit picturesquely in front of the train for photos, and there were a few supermodel shoots happening with the train as a backdrop as well.   Then it was onto Sibambe station where we stopped for another hour to visit the museum (tour in Spanish) and watch local dancing.

 

We ended up at Sibambe station for about 1.5 hours because there was something wrong with the engine, but once that was fixed it was a much faster (20 minutes) ride back up to Alausí station along the same route.

Devil's Nose Train - Ecuador

 

Recommendation:  To be honest, I’m not convinced it is worth the cost to do it, but perhaps that’s because I’ve done the aforementioned switchbacks out of Cusco…    If you do decide to do it, make sure you get a window seat on the right hand side of the train as it leaves Alausí.  I’d probably also take the 11am train rather than the 8am train for photography purposes, though there is the danger that clouds will roll in and obscure the views…

Cost:  $30

Time: 2 hours

Hiking the Ecuadorian Inca Trail

I wanted to get some hiking in while I was in Ecuador and my first idea was to hike El Altar to see the 5 lagoons.   However, one of the biggest problems with travelling alone is that most excursions only happen with a minimum of 2 (or 4) people, and unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to do that trek with me.

So then I stumbled across the website of Julio Verne Travel who had a guaranteed departure listed for Ecuador’s Inca Trail, right at the time I was looking to do the hike.  So I signed up for that one instead 🙂

The hike is about 45km long and follows the remnants of the Inca royal road that linked Cusco in Peru to Quito in Ecuador.   It’s an interesting fact that it took the Incas several years to conquer Ecuador – such was the resistance of the Cañari people.   And when they did finally succeed, they were only in Ecuador for about 30 years before the Spanish rocked up and stole the show – so there is not the abundance of Inca sites that you find in Peru.

Ecuador Inca Trail

There ended up being 8 of us on the hike (Belgian family of 3, Belgian couple, solo French girl, solo German girl, me) + 2 guides + the support crew of 4 guys and 6 donkeys who carted all the tents and stuff for camping!

First up was the ~3 hour drive from Riobamba to Achupallas – the starting point for the trail.  We actually had to take the long way round due to a recent landslide that had blocked the regular route to the town.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

Massive landslide blocking the most direct route to Achupallas

Had a quick lunch of a felafel roll (very tasty!) sitting in a field with an indigenous family while waiting for the donkeys to be loaded, and then we headed off along the Inca road.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

This section right at the beginning was the only part that retained any trace of the walls that used to line the road.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

The first 1/2 day of hiking took us from Achupallas (3300m) up a long valley of paramo grasslands with spectacular views and the remnants of a couple of Inca buildings.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

Inca ruins in the photos in the second from bottom panel

We came across a few locals along the way, but mostly it was just a beautiful, and surprisingly easy (Pichincha was a million times more difficult – really!) walk in a remote region of Ecuador where you could become lost in your thoughts.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

The donkeys carrying all our camping gear overtook us about 1/3 of the way along the walk and the guys had started to set up camp before we arrived.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

Second from bottom panel – what a beautiful place for a campsite! You can just make out the tents around middle of the image in the bottom third.

This included a dining tent – lit by a couple of candles “glued” to the top of a water bottle, and a cooking tent (the only warm place apart from inside your sleeping bag).  Camping at ~4000m is bloody freezing, but the cold does make the food taste very, very good!

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

Left: cooking tent – yes my camera was fogging up! Right: dining tent with our makeshift candle holder.

Day 2 saw us rise relatively early and again keep heading up hill to the highest part of the walk – Cuchilla de Tres Cruces – passing the Laguna de Tres Cruces along the way.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail - Laguna Tres Cruces

At the Cuchilla de Tres Cruces there was a large pile of rocks that reminded me of an ovoo in Mongolia but without the prayer flags and without the requirement to walk around it 3 times.  Raul (one of our guides) said a little prayer to the ancient people to protect us on our journey and grant each of us a wish, at which point we all added a rock to the pile along with our wish.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

From there it was hiking down over some very, very boggy ground in the valley of Quebrada Espíndola (they gave us gumboots to hike in during the second day), though every now and then the actual Inca trail would appear out of the bog to provide a little firmer footing.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

Inca trail making a reappearance in the bottom panels

By lunchtime, we had reached the next valley, which was again truly beautiful.

incatrail 8

The route then took us along this valley past Lago Culebrillas to another Inca ruin – Paradones (3,980m) – a resting place for Inca couriers.

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

Paradones in all its glorious surroundings in the bottom panel

We followed the lead of the Incas and stopped for a while here before heading further along the Inca road that was much more visible now than it had been to this point.  Here it was at its full width of ~7m.  We passed yet another lake – San Jose -before arriving at our second campsite at 3800m – smack bang in the middle of a swamp.  Hmmmmm….

Ecuadorian Inca Trail

Top and Middle panels: various views of the Inca Trail

Day 3: After another cold and very, very wet night we headed off for the last leg of our hike down to Ingapirca (“Inca Walls”) – the most important of the Ecuadorian Inca (and Cañari) ruins.   It didn’t take us long after leaving camp to enter back into civilization and the majority of this part of the hike was through farmland.   I definitely missed the remote beauty of the previous day and a half, and ended up walking this part in a total daydream about something completely different.

Arrived at Ingapirca after only a few hours, had some lunch, and then entered the ruins to discover more about the history of the Incas in this region and their relationship with the Cañaris who were here before them.   Basically, when the Incas conquered the Cañaris, they didn’t destroy their culture, but rather subsumed it as part of their own.   For example, they left many Cañari tombs and buildings intact while they went on to build their own structures on the same site.

Ingapirca - Ecuador

Top: Cañari tomb; Middle: mixture of Cañari and Inca construction, Bottom: Inca road with aqueduct leading to the Sun Temple

The most impressive of which is the Sun Temple, built in the classic mortarless, fitted-stones method of the Inca empire with trapezoidal niches.   It is believed that this was used for religious and/or ceremonial purposes.

Ingapirca - Sun Temple - Ecuador

 

Recommendation:  This is a really lovely hike through some remote parts of the Sangay National Park, and not difficult if you have done some hiking before and are acclimatized.   The most difficult part is dealing with the cold at night – so take plenty of layers!

Cost:  $330 per person ($360 if between 2 and 4 people) through Julio Verne Travel, which included everything.

Time: 3 days