Ecuador in 9 days: Quito, Tena, Banos, Lasso
South America has long been on my list. The culture, history and landscape fascinate me. Our search for an ideal South American destination brought us to Ecuador. The country seemed to be the perfect mix of culture, beautiful scenery, adventure and an overall safe place to visit.
We decided to join the G adventures “Ecuador multisport” tour, which promised lots of activities and many cities to visit. Our tour looked like this:
We flew into Quito airport then took a 40 minutes taxi ride to Hotel Quito. We pretty much passed out for the night after a short walk around the hotel around midnight (after the hotel staff told us not to walk to far from the hotel). After a lovely breakfast in the hotel, we spent the early morning walking through the gardens behind the hotel. The air was crisp thanks to the high altitude in Quito, but the sun shown overhead promising a great vacation.
To get to Tena, we took a chartered bus to a bus station, where we transfer to a city bus to Tena. The ride was long, but comfortable. It was tempting to nap the four hour trip, but the mountains were beautiful with ever-changing scenery. In true Ecuador style, the clouds crowded out the sun and rain pounded the bus roof.
We arrived in Tena to find it hot, humid and wet. Our guide, Henry, told us that Tena is a very safe city, as the local population has a sort of self-governance that mostly eliminates crime. Our hostel was a few blocks away from the city-centre among local homes and close to the rain forest. We spent the afternoon walking around the city and shopping for summer clothes, as we had packed for the colder climate in the following days.
After breakfast at the hostel, we headed out to white-water raft. We were told that the local’s respect the river and think we are crazy for rafting it. The rapids turned out to be more exciting than I expected! We stopped for a lunch along the river before continuing on with a few thrills and spills.
On our guide’s suggestion, we paid $20 USD to get a private bus from Tena to Banos. This was a fantastic idea and allowed us to stop at local markets, waterfalls and a cable car.
Banos was my favourite town. It is safe to stroll at night, but has a lot more going on than Tena. It has old-winding cobblestone paths, set at the base of the mountain that gives it a charming local feel. While tourists are drawn to this town because it is the “adventure capital” of Ecuador it also has many schools, keeping the local feel alive.
We spent the afternoon Canyoning, which exceeded my expectations. The two hours were spent repelling waterfalls, swimming down rivers, jumping from waterfalls and ziplinning under a beautiful rainforest-like forest canopy. The tour bus was running late, so we jumped in the back of a pickup truck with our guides to catch dinner. Sitting in the back of a truck, under a slowly darkening sky has a way of being so peaceful. It really makes you reflect on your place in the world.
Llanganates national park
In Banos we met the tour group Jose & Two Dogs for a two day trekking adventure through Llanganates national park. Another morning dawned sunny and crisp.
We spent a short time in the national park before crossing into villages and farm land. The vegetation and temperature change as we climbed the mountains was impressive. We came across a small isolated village and stopped to give the school children toys and sweets. Another reflective moment as I found myself becoming choked up. Our guide told us he grew up in a similar village and remembers the trekkers coming through when he was young.
We camped that night on a beautiful local fish farm, beside a roaring river, after catching our own fish for dinner. We hiked out the next morning and started the most technical portion of the journey hiking downhill towards Banos.
About three hours later we arrived and were on a bus back to the quaint town. We spent the afternoon paragliding in front of Tungurahua Volcano before returning to Banos for dinner. The paragliding was to the backdrop of a setting sun, as the clouds cleared for a view of both Tungurahua and Cotopaxi Volcanoes.
Day seven in Banos was a free morning, so we decided to go on a horseback riding trip. We again went with the tour company Jose & Two Dogs. Jose took my boyfriend and I on a tour up Tungurahua Volcano that had been active only three weeks before. The ride was fast paced, but left time for good conversation.
After the horseback ride, we got on another bus to Lasso. We arrived at a beautiful little hotel in the mountains surrounded by farmland. There was little to do in the area, so we spent the afternoon playing Frisbee outside and card games into the night. The hotel room was lovely, but cold with the overnight low dropping near 5C. A huge change from 30C in Tena.
On the way to Cotopaxi volcano (the highest active volcano in the world), we stopped at a local Saturday market and had tea for altitude sickness. Advance warning? That it was.
Since the day was relatively clear, we hiked to the base camp of Cotopaxi around 16,000 feet high. Altitude slowed down our progress, but we finally reached the base camp through the clouds. It was really a sense of achievement and delight I will not forget.
We mountain biked near the volcano, which I did not care for. At no fault of the guides, the weather had made a turn for the worst and an ill-fitting bike made the ride difficult. We had lunch at a local shop before returning to our first hotel in Quito for the night.
Travelling with G adventures was an amazing experience that allowed us to see a huge portion of Ecuador in a short period of time. My preference when travelling is to do it solo or with a few other friends, so I found the group atmosphere challenging at times. I still enjoyed it and would recommend the trip to anyone.
I think Ecuador ignited a passion for South America in me. The scenery, the locals and the small towns were unlike anything I have experienced before in my travels. The nine days were action packed, so stay tuned for more blog post on the individual adventures during our trip.
Read more about our Ecuador trip: Ecuador volcanoes: sometimes you listen to the horses