Brief Notes on a February in Ecuador

Old Feb 7th, 2016, 05:42 AM
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Brief Notes on a February in Ecuador

Gottravel and I just completed three weeks exploring Colombia before flying to Quito. Our Trip Report may be found here
http://www.fodors.com/community/sout...o-colombia.cfm

Our itinerary in Ecuador which is subject to change is as follows:
Quito 5 nights @ Wantara Suites
Vilcabamba 4 nights @ Madre Tierra
Cuenca 5 nights @ Casa Montalvo Bed & Breakfast
Banos 4 nights @ Aldea Real Eco Resort
Chugchilán 3 nights @ Black Sheep Inn
Latacunga 3 nights @ Villa de Tacvnha Hotel
Otavalo 3 nights @ Ali Shungu Mountaintop Ecolodge
Quito 1 night for flight home

We arrived at Wantara Suites and immediately liked it, but never realized what a haven it would become for us. Andy and Wolfgang have a fabulous place about 300 meters to La Ronda and
1.2 km to Plaza Grande in the heart of the historic district. Marcelo who oversees the suites and serves as a driver is a delight. He picked us up and delivered us to the airport. We used him for one day of sightseeing and he charged $12 an hour. We looked forward each day to returning to the quiet and beauty of Wantara Suites. The fireplace did the trick to warm up the cool Quito evenings and nights. We highly recommend Wantara Suites and Marcelo.

On our fist morning we took a free walking tour with Community Adventures. There were probably close to 30 people on the tour...far to many. the guide was good when you could hear her. The sounds of the city and the large size of the group often made it difficult to hear the guide. The 3 hour tour did give us a good overview of the city. On two other days we wandered around the city visiting the churches and 2 modernist museums, walking the side streets and generally observing life in Quito. While the churches are striking I found their custom of charging admission more than annoying.

For me, for all the cities I've been to in SA, Quito does not rate among the top.
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Old Feb 7th, 2016, 05:48 AM
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The San Francisco church is the one exception and is free. It's up there with La Compañia for gilded baroque excess.

My best memories of Quito are: Riding the TelefériQo to a mountaintop for the fabulous views, the Casa Museo de Oswaldo Guayasamín & his Capella de Hombre, $1.20 humitas, canelazos and and live music in La Ronda, a sole unaccompanied male voice in a glorious colonial church singing a hymn that sounded for all the world like a Nick Cave song and a "ESTA NAVIDAD/COMPRA SU FELICIDAD" graffito on an overpass. It ain't all qrime and grime.
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Old Feb 7th, 2016, 09:45 AM
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Looking forward to more new-to-me discoveries.

One approach to visiting the Quito churches is to pop in on Sundays (or during other services) In the case of La Compania, I went during a free evening opera concert. It was even possible to take photos during the latter time frame (normally prohibited).
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Old Feb 7th, 2016, 10:04 AM
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Here's another trip report for you to enjoy from a frugal fellow traveler to Ecuador.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/02/07....html?referer=
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Old Feb 7th, 2016, 10:41 AM
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LaCombańa is also free on the first Sunday of the month. It's not the money, it's the principle for me. Would have loved a concert in one, but none offered during our time here.
Hopefully we find something new for you, mlgb.

Thanks, Santa. I think we travel in the mid range. Interesting article. I like that guy and dirty he's leaving NYT.
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Old Feb 7th, 2016, 05:32 PM
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Fun to be following you along!
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 05:57 AM
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Signing on for the next adventure! Quito may not have wowed you, yestravel, but be glad you're not here - a couple more inches of snow coming tonight...
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 06:26 AM
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Boo, YG! Sorry for you all. Hope it's not too bad.

WTB-glad to have you along.
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 08:10 AM
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Oh, you will definitely have "new to me" YT...especially looking forward to your reviews on Black Sheep. I went to Latacunga just for the fabulous Mama Negra and didn't have much more time to explore that area.

One thing to note, if you haven't already read about it, with the new highway bypassing Latacunga, some of the traditional eateries perhaps referred to in guide books have had to close shop.
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 08:16 AM
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Did you visit Vicabamba? Didn't see you mention that. I read Crellston great report on it, but not much out there. We're here four days with rain on day 1. Got a couple hikes for good weather days.
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 10:40 AM
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hi YT some really nice hikes around Vilcabamba. Especially the hike up to Podocarpus National Park the views from the top are amazing ( assuming its not raining of course!).
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 12:09 PM
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Crellston- do you recall where you started?
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 01:23 PM
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We also started our trip at Wantara Suites. It's a fabulous place to stay - the owners are great, and the garden is gorgeous. We highly recommend it.

I actually enjoyed our time in Quito. We did the free walking tour with one of the hostels, which was wonderful. The guide was excellent. We had a few good meals, and overall quite enjoyed ourselves.
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 02:45 PM
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Glad you enjoyed Quito, SusaniT. Wantara Suites will go down as one of our fav places we have ever stayed. Truly a great escape for us. Andi and Wolfgang were wonderful and very interesting to talk with. I think we did the same free walking tour as you, Susan. The guide was good, but as I said the noises of the city combined with the sheer number of us made it difficult if not impossible to hear unless you were right up front. I know these tours are free and they live off the tips, but I do,wish they would limit them to some reasonable number. Lots of people seem to love Quito...just wasn't our cup of tea for whatever reason. Much happier now in the countryside.
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Old Feb 8th, 2016, 10:44 PM
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We started our hike from the refuge in Podocarpus Nat Park. We got a ride there on a pick up truck from our guesthouse (http://www.izhcayluma.com/ ) - there were regular pickups to take us back to town. As I recall it was pretty steep and muddy along the way but the views from the mirador were pretty special. It was easy to organise and I imagine most hotels will have something similar. Izcayluma also had some reasonable hiking maps ( although we still managed to get lost on another hike!). A few photos @ http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog...4441/tpod.html
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 05:53 AM
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Thanks, Crellston. Today again, it's rain, rain most of the night and on and off this am. I think we will head to Rumi Wilco Ecolodge and nature reserve. Supposedly there are some nice trails that won't require climbing on slippery rocks. We'll see!
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 10:13 AM
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I wonder if you are getting El Niño-ed? I think Vilcabamba is similar in climate to NW Peru which typically gets more rain than usual in an El Niño year.

I did not make it to Vilcabamba. I wanted to, but it was one of the places I had to scrub thanks to Road Scholar.

I would still like to take that route into Chachapoyas and then on to Tarapota, but not during rainy season!
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 11:01 AM
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Supposedly not. El Niño is effecting the coast pretty badly, but the highlands are not supposed to be impacted. But who knows? We're not getting heavy downpours, just showers and drizzle then it's fine. It has rained overnight more heavily. Folks here said "always rain at Carnaval." Still gorgeous and glad we came.
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Old Feb 9th, 2016, 01:52 PM
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Vilcabamba in the Rain with an Occasional Ray of Sunshine

From Quito, we took a quick flight to the "Loja" airport in Catamayo. Given our earlier experiences with Avianca in Colombia, we felt a moment's discomfort when we saw the Catamayo airport sign. Had we boarded the wrong plane? But all was well. We picked up our checked bags and shared the spectacular ninety minute cab ride ($40) to Vilcabamba with two French Canadian women. You haven't lived to you've heard " Vilcabamba" pronounced with a French accent. It began to rain as we left the airport and rain continued on and off all the way to our destination.

Our destination was Madre Tierra, a homey lodge a kilometer or two outside Vilcabamba. We were to spend the next four nights here in a nice suite amid the gorgeous flowering grounds, assisted by friendly helpful staff. There's also a restaurant on the grounds. Because we'd arrived Sunday halfway through the long pre-Lenten Carnaval weekend, the Madre Tierra was booked to capacity and the kitchen was only offering one three-course special each night. Sunday was soup, tilapia with rice and vegetables and a dessert. Monday was soup, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and the same vegetables (steamed green beans and carrots) and a dessert. The food was good, if bland and retro; it was reminiscent of a better version of junior high school cafeteria food.

It continued to rain on and off overnight. We awakened to clouds and mists in the verdant mountains surrounding the high valley town. After breakfast and repeated eyeing of the ever-changing skyscape, we decided to walk into Vilcabamba in the late morning. Carnaval was in full progress. Playful Ecuadorians were throwing balloons and buckets of water at each other or spraying each other with canned goop that resembled shaving cream. There was also a substantial presence of hippie/new age expats from Europe and North America. Hippies had come here for the San Pedro cactus and had stayed for the (usually) perfect climate and laid back atmosphere. They had a tent set up that sold everything from scones to (good) BBQ to craft beer. Beads, beards, gray ponytails and Indian clothing abounded. A string band played folkie standards and two middle-aged women twirled in circles. We felt like we'd been transported back in time to 1970. We wandered the town a bit, bought bus tickets for Cuenca and some duct tape for GT's damaged duffle, and suffered as collateral damage from exchanges of goo and water. Then we made our way back to Madre Tierra before an afternoon rain shower. Later that night we went to bed optimistic that Tuesday would bring sunshine.
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Old Feb 10th, 2016, 05:05 PM
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Hiking, Hiking in the Rain

Tuesday dawned gray, dismal and wet, after a night of on-and-off rain showers. Fortunately, however, the skies slowly cleared as we had a late leisurely breakfast. We'd already decided that the steep slippery trails of the cloud-shrouded Podocarous National Park were not for us. On the advice Madre Tierra staff, we instead opted for the nearby Rumi Wilco Nature Reserve & Ecolodge ("Rumi Wilco" is the teeth-grinding Anglicization of "Rumihuilco"). We took a cab ($4) cross town and into the foothills where the Ecolodge was situated.

The Nature Reserve trails were great. The landscape was lush, trees and plants had identifying signage, the trails were well-marked and the guidebook (available at the entrance) was informative. We took the Main Trail to the end and were returning on a trail by a river when the skies opened up. We hurriedly unpacked and donned our rain gear. We'd been planning to use one of the "gully trails" to ascend to higher trails, but both the guidebook and signage advised against doing this when the trails were wet. Instead, we made our way back to the entrance. By the time we arrived, the rain had ended.

We walked back through Vilcabamba on the return to Madre Tierra. By now, the Carnaval had subsided and people were leaving town. The tents around the square had been taken down and the music had fallen silent. We spent the rest of the day at Madre Tierra reading and trying to use the dodgy wifi. Periodic drenching storms passed through. We ate in again. I had a salad and some spaghetti. Both were good. YT's veggie burger wasn't. We liked our desserts.

The next day, Wednesday, had our first good weather. We got in a nice hike in the hills behind Madre Tierra. Then I wandered into town by myself to take photos and hit the ATM. It seemed deserted except for two groups of expat hippies. The younger, more serious group seemed congregated by the juice bar. An older group was seated outside a bar on plastic stools and seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

We spent the rest of the day at Madre Tierra. YT had a massage. I packed and read. We had some juice smoothies. We ate dinner - salads, lasagna and chicken wings - early. We watched the day end in spectacular colored clouds. We talked at length with another traveling couple. Vilcabamba is beautiful, incredibly scenic. But, other than hiking, there is little to do there. We were looking forward to moving on to Cuenca.
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