I visited Ecuador right before the world shuddered to a halt in December 2019. Early summer in the southern hemisphere is the perfect time to visit, but then again, when is it not perfect in the ‘Land of Eternal Spring.’
Mountains and jungles and beaches, oh my. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. But really, I had never experienced such geographical diversity until visiting Ecuador. Watching the Pacific Ocean lap against the sandy shore one day and driving high into the mountains, drinking coffee above the clouds the next is just scratching the surface.
So, come along for the ride.
You’ll get to see volcanoes. Lots of volcanoes.
Cotopaxi, Tungurahua and Chimborazo just to name a few. Tungurahua in particular is the volcano that gave Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador its name. Baños de agua santa means “baths of sacred water” in Spanish, which come from the natural hot springs flowing from the volcano. Baños, for short, is a subtropical wonderland perched right before the Amazon rainforest. Whether you want to wander the picturesque town with a cup of local coffee in hand, bungee jump and zip line, or dance the night away at a local bar, Baños has it all.
Of my five favorite moments in Baños, my second favorite was sitting in a café, looking out the wall-sized window as rain clouds danced over the rainforest with Tungurahua in the distance.
And oh yeah, don’t forget to swing 8000 feet off the edge of a cliff on Columpio Fantasías de Volar. Big fun.
Visit a golden city in the mountains
Okay, Cuenca, Ecuador may not be made of gold, but it’ll leave you second-guessing as the sun sets over this mountain town.
Cobbled streets, European architecture, and epic views are nestled in a southern valley of the Andes. My first experience with Cuenca was loud traditional music, dancing, children singing, and bubbles the size of my head floating in the air. The city was celebrating Pase del Niño Viajero, to honor the birth of Jesus. Climbing the tour of La Catedral Inmaculada to get a better view, I saw a breathtaking city, alive and bustling.
Outside of the city, is El Cajas National Park. There, you can hike through cloud forests, swim in high altitude lakes, and meet some llamas. If you become peckish from the hike, be sure to try a local dish called mote pillo (moe-tae pee-zho), made from hominy and eggs.
You can live in a treehouse with hippies if you want…
Montañita is a surf town like no other. The town proper is a backpacker’s party haven, with delicious food and tourist shopping galore, while the outskirts of town are a cluster of chill hippie hostels and relaxed beaches. The chill hippie hostel I stayed in -Balsa Surf Camp -made my jaw drop. Mere feet from the ocean, Balsa Surf Camp feels like a small community. Enclosed by muraled cement walls, trails through palms and soaring ciebo trees lead to stunning treehouses and adobe cabins, yoga huts, gardens and a projector movie theater complete with hammocks. As an added bonus, the food is incredible.
Then, waking up to the sound of the Pacific and walking 40 yards to drink mimosas at the beachside café is ‘living the dream’ epitomized.
You can stand on the actual Equator
Secret time: the “official” equator isn’t the real equator. While Cuidad Mitad del Mundo is a beautiful park with an equatorial photo op, the actual point zero latitude is 750 feet away. A French expedition in 1736 marked the wrong spot and the flaw was not recognized until the development of GPS hundreds of years later. However, a 100-foot-tall monument had already been erected, so the Ecuadorian government said que será será.
While the capital city Quito is only 30 minutes away, the hour and a half drive to the tropical mountainous watershed Mindo, Ecuador is a greater adventure. Drive -or skyrocket, if you have my tour guide -down tropical mountains to a sleepy town with whitewater rafting and a butterfly conservatory in the cloud forest.
You can fall asleep to the sounds of the Amazon
While not the most popular Amazon tourist destination, Puerto, Misahuallí comes equipped with wild monkeys that steal your jewelry and love eating grapes. The white-fronted capuchins like shiny things, so hide anything you don’t want to be tugged or stolen and buy grapes from the local vendors to give to the monkeys.
While I spent my time in Misahuallí resting -from a stomach bug -and visiting the town, the boat tours and hikes through the Amazon -ranging from 1 to 7 days -aren’t to be missed. Then, stay in any one of the beautiful eco-lodges just outside of Misahuallí -my suggestion is the Banana Lodge — and fall asleep to the sound of Amazon rain and tropical birds.