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Advice? First SA experience in Ecuador has so far been disappointing

Advice? First SA experience in Ecuador has so far been disappointing

Old Jul 12th, 2016, 07:40 PM
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Advice? First SA experience in Ecuador has so far been disappointing

I'm a month into a two-month stint in Ecuador (enjoying a nice break between assignments). It's my first time in South America and unfortunately I've been disappointed so far. I need to decide whether to stick it out in EC, go elsewhere in South or Central America, or perhaps cut the trip short and return home.

I'm having a hard time dealing with the air pollution, poverty, and sprawl. I've spent the past month in Quito and Cuenca. I left Quito because of the air pollution. I'm happier in Cuenca but was really looking forward to taking a scenic drive through the countryside today to see some unspoiled wilderness and breath fresh air. The scenery was nice in parts but my clothes reek of exhaust after spending the day driving. And while I saw some nice scenery I also saw some truly horrid buildings amidst the countryside.

I've been to several less-wealthy areas of the developed world, and while those places can be rough around the edges, I was easily able to find scenery and architecture to more than compensate. I just haven't had the same "wow factor" in Ecuador.

I chose the Andes of Ecuador because I like mountain scenery and I'm not a fan of heat or humidity (not a beach person). But this isn't working out. Are there places in Ecuador or elsewhere in C or S America I should consider?

I feel like an ass for saying it, but I think somewhere more "European" might be more in line with my preferences (I know that probably brings to mind Argentina).

Any advice on how to proceed is greatly appreciated.

SV
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Old Jul 12th, 2016, 08:41 PM
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Maybe Banos. It's got more of a tourist vibe although not sure what the weather is up to right now. Maybe too rainy? If you get lucky you might glimpse Tunguruhua. If is rainy and cool you can soak in the baths. There's also an excursion to the Devil's Throat waterfall that's fun, whether it's rainy or not. A wider range of restaurants than many towns and it feels fairly safe.

For June and July I would have recommended that a first time visitor to South America go to Peru, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu. They have a more developed tourism infrastructure. I think though that the airfare between Quito-Lima is going to be expensive on short notice.
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Old Jul 12th, 2016, 09:33 PM
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We left Ecuador about three weeks ago after travelling up for Peru and into Colombia. I have to say I have been less impressed with Ecuador this time a round than when we were there in 2013 for a couple of months.

Pollution - a fact of life in much of South America. I was very uncomfortable with it in Cuenca a few weeks ago. However the real beauty of South America I out in the the countryside rather than the cities. The skies are amazing and the air clear out of the cities

Poverty - get used to it. Everything is relative. In the cities the disparity between rich and poor is far more apparent than in the countryside where subsistence farming is the norm by it is, by and large a chosen lifestyle ( and long may it continue!).

Given your comments, which I dont necessarily agree with entirely, but do understand, I would cut your losses and head elsewhere. Please do visit Cajas national park near Cuenca before leaving though!

Argentina or Chile are the obvious choices but the cost of travel are much higher. Both have the mountain scenery you look for in droves. Expensive flights from where you are.

Bolivia is possibly my favourite place in SA. it is one of the poorest countries in SA, but also one of the most beautiful. Salar de Uyuni should be on everyone's bucket list. It is however the least European country on the continent.

But as mlgb has suggested, Peru really does offer what you are seeking. In your position, given the time of year, I would head there. If flying is too expensive you can get the Cruz deal Sur bus from Quito to Lima - takes c 36 hours and yes, it is is a PITA but cheaper than flying and you can always stop along the way. We did it in a few stages. From Cuenca to Piura took us around ten hours. From there to Lima, maybe 10.

From Lima it is entirely possible to cover Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca , Arequipa in the south and thence into Bolivia. Alternatively as you are in ten north. Consider, Trujillo. Chachapoyas and Huaraz in the north.

A blog of our current trip covers some of Ecuador and Peru https://accidentalnomads.com

Just click on the destination tab for the individual countries.

Good luck with your decision.
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Old Jul 13th, 2016, 06:26 AM
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I third the opinion. Peru- Cusco, Lima, Sacred Valley for what you are looking for.
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Old Jul 15th, 2016, 11:36 AM
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I'll fourth Peru. Peru has everything.

Take the bus--stop along the north coast to see Trujillo and its ruins (Chan Chan, Las Huacas del sol y de la Luna)and architecture, and you might want to go Cajamarca in the mountains--where the Pizarro captured and held the Inca during the Conquista. If you're into archaeology, visit the Museum in Sipan for the Lord of Sipan exhibit. It's near Chiclayo, which is north of Trujillo.

Then Cusco and the area around there.
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Old Jul 15th, 2016, 12:51 PM
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Have you been to Cajamarca, dwdvagamundo? It's on my radar for an upcoming trip.
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 07:41 AM
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AND I recommend read either Turn Right at Machu Picchu or Last Days of the Incas (at night as you go so as not to miss any scenery).
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 08:09 AM
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Many thanks to all the helpful responses. I'm off to Peru and Bolivia based on the advice given here.

I've spent the past few days near Vilcabamba/Loja, and loved it. Much, much more to my liking. If you're ever in Vilcabamba I highly recommend taking a couple of hours driving along Río Vilcabamba through the hamlets of Cucanamá, Caranango, Quihara and ending up in Yangana. Not a horrid structure in site.

On a different note, the drive south of Vilcabamba gets a bit hairy as the roads are full of landslide debris and washouts, but I was able to make it no problems with a tiny two-wheel drive and it was great fun.

Some pix of the my drive drive generally between Cuenca and Palanda (south of Vilcabamba) are at https://imgur.com/a/O8PGT.
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 03:13 PM
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If you go through Vilcambamba, Loja, you might want as well continue to the Amazonas region in Northern Peru. Here you have the Andean mountains, the Chachapoya culture with the Kuelap fortress or the Sarcophagi of Karajia, you can go for treks and then continue through to Cajamarca.

Happy travels!
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Old Jul 17th, 2016, 07:26 PM
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I agree! I wonder if OP is already in that area. I hope so.

One of my favorites.

The photos of the road conditions are interesting. I think those are considered "good" compared to the stretch farther south.

Phima, how is the weather in Northern Peru now? How has El Niño affected the roads in that area, especially inland?
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Old Jul 18th, 2016, 05:39 AM
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I can still recall the road to Chachapoyas via Zumba and La Bolsa the roads were terrible. I can only imagine the effect El Niño may have had and that is partly the reason we didn't go that way on this trip.

We saw it all, landslides, waterfalls on the road, rivers flowing across the road, at one point a long dead donkey blocking the road that no one could be bothered to move! The worst roads I have seen outside of Africa. Took us two days from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas but still worth the effort!
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Old Jul 18th, 2016, 07:56 AM
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mlgb--yes, many years ago. Very interesting place. I encourage you to go, especially if you're into history.

I was going to suggest that Sottovoce consider Huaraz as well, as there are many spectacular national parks in the area and of course the mountains. And, speaking of landslides, Yungay.

Sottovoce, you've really got balls to drive yourself in the mountains of Ecuador and Peru. Please keep us informed of how it's going.
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Old Jul 18th, 2016, 02:55 PM
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Yungay was horrifying, but it was a result of a big quake and not rainfall.

But we should not be talking about earthquakes because crellston IS going to make it to Colca Canyon this time!
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Old Jul 20th, 2016, 03:55 PM
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Well, actually El Nino had rather the contrary effect, it hardly rained during the last rainy season and we had to water the gardens...

But just last week the road from Pedro Ruiz to Chachapoyas was blocked overnight because of landslides - what do you want me to say ?
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Old Jul 21st, 2016, 07:44 AM
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My Peruvian friend and her family were caught in the earthquake that destroyed Yungay--they were living in Huaraz. She was just a little girl then, but it's quite a horror story. As many of her family as survived moved to Lima after the quake.
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Old Jul 21st, 2016, 12:09 PM
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Thanks, Phima.

I've been wondering about Leymebamba to Celendin and perhaps on to Cajamarca.

I think it's been paved but if it has been raining a lot, I still may not go up to Chachapoyas at all.

Do you have a business up there or just a local?
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Old Jul 21st, 2016, 12:44 PM
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Never mind, I see you posted your business website link in your profile, thanks.
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Old Jul 24th, 2016, 10:59 AM
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Hello! My thanks again for the advice in this thread, I just finished touring Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, and had a great time. Very much my thing.

I was planning on renting a car from Cusco and touring Titicaca area this week, but none of the big rental agencies have cars available. And prices in La Paz are really expensive. In contrast, Lima prices are much more reasonable and there's lots at availability, which opens up all kinds of opportunities to travel north of Lima as discussed here.

Two questions.

1. Any suggestions on securing a rental car in Cusco or La Paz, at a reasonable price?

2. dwdvagamundo mentioned I had "huevos" to be driving the Andes around Ecuador and Northern Peru. In the context of renting a car from Lima and heading north, am I taking more risks than I realize? I know Lima is crazy, but I just want to make sure I'm not engaging in something much more dangerous than I realize, either in the city or in the mountains.

As always, any input is greatly appreciated.
SV
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Old Jul 25th, 2016, 01:51 PM
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To get to Lake Titicaca from Lima you'd have to go south to Arequipa and then head into the mountains.

There's a tourist train that goes from Cusco up to Lake Tititcaca (Puno) and from there back to Arequipa or you could probably fly from Puno to Lima. The tourist train is supposed to be quite nice.
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Old Jul 25th, 2016, 04:26 PM
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We took the Inka Express from Cusco to Puno a few years back it is a great trip with stops along the way. Great value at $50. We are doing it again in the opposite direction next month. It is a great drive with stunning scenery and an excellent way of seeing the sights along the way.


Re the driving in Peru. I probably wouldn't bother with a car in Cusco or to drive to Puno. The chances of getting a car stolen are pretty high in both places and I can't imagine trying to park anywhere in Cusco. It is pretty straightforward to jump in a collectivo to get around the sacred valley and the buses are pretty efficient

I can see the advantages of having a car to visit some of the sights around the city but again, in the city I think it would be a liability. Even getting in and out of the city can be a nightmare.
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