Though ten days in a country offers a better feel of what that country has to offer, Ecuador doubles-down on offering the experience of nature at its most extreme and most diverse… If 5 days takes us up and down the Ecuadorian rollercoaster, 10 days is double the fun. So, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Our private tours to Cuenca and beyond
As we saw in our five-day Ecuador adventure, we got to visit the cloud forests of Mindo and the headwaters of the Amazon along the Pastaza River; we also visited the volcanic thermal baths of Papallacta and the popular forest town of Baños. So now it’s time to slowly make our way to the coast. But first, we must truly experience the Andes, understand how varied it really is, and visit Ecuador’s most beautiful city, with several other highlights along the way.
So, let’s begin in Baños. After checking out the beautiful waterfalls and arresting views atop the “swing at the end of the world” we head back towards the inter-Andean valley and discover the sacred lake of Ozogoche. Known for the dramatic suicide of hundreds of Upland sandpipers in September and October, this icy highland lake is thought to have mystical powers that lure the birds to their demise. The landscapes are stunning… and the local community, a wonder to get to know, famous for their lakeside rituals celebrating the sandpipers’ “return” to Mother Nature, which also marks the beginning of the rainy season in the region.
We continue to Alausí, the famous Devil’s Nose viewpoint (one of the most arresting stops on the Ecuadorian train, not currently in operation), and spend the night at the Caguanapamba community, a high Andean ethnic group ready to share and offer a look into their fascinating culture and livelihood.
Next is the Coyoctor archaeological ruins and Ingapirca, the largest Inca ruins in the country, a fascinating window into the past. Not far south, find the picturesque church of Biblián, sitting dramatically against a cliff, and then: Cuenca.
Our morning tour will take us to the craft towns of Gualaceo and Chordeleg, known for fine filigree jewelry, and, of course, a city tour of Cuenca itself, a most spectacular, quaint and picturesque historic center you will certainly want to revel in. We end the day at the viewpoint at Turi for a majestic view of the entire Cuenca valley.
The best tour from the Andes to the Pacific Coast
Cuenca is still located in the Andes, but it is only three hours from the coastal city of Guayaquil. We travel up into the wonderful realm of El Cajas National Park, known for its over 4000 bodies of water and stunning landscape of hills and paramo.
Before reaching Guayaquil, we stop at a local cacao plantation to learn about cacao pods and chocolate-making; and finally arrive in Ecuador’s largest, busiest city.
You’ll quickly notice how different Guayaquil is from the previous Andean cities of Quito and Cuenca. It’s literally like traveling to another country. Hot and humid, palm-tree ridden, with mango trees and iguanas in parks… What portal did we cross to make it from spring-like Cuenca to tropical Guayaquil? That would be the Andes mountains, and its tropical location along the Equator. This geographic phenomenon is unique to Ecuador, and quite an experience in itself.
Heading to the Pacific Coast
As we continue on our 10-day foray in Ecuador, we head out to the equatorial Pacific Coast, towards the surf town of Montañita. The entire coast of Ecuador is known as home to the oldest civilization in the entire Americas! Few people know this, but the Pacific Coast of Ecuador was once a great nation of city-states, a communal society that existed for thousands of years.
One of the great remnants of this culture can be experienced in the tiny town of Barcelona. Barcelona, not the city in Cataluña, but the miniscule Barcelona of the province of Santa Elena, Ecuador, is a tiny hamlet where almost all residents are somehow involved in the process of “Panama” hat-making.
You’ll be able to discover the entire procedure, with weavers working next to their homes on different stages from harvesting the palm, preparing the straw and weaving the final products themselves. As you may already know, Panama hats are actually 100% Ecuadorian, and the process of making them was created by Ecuador’s ancestral coastal cultures.
Next up, the exciting town of Montañita, especially apt for younger crowds looking to surf, bask in the sun, and party at night. There are many activities here, from learning to surf to visiting inland waterfalls and beautiful tropical forests.
As we travel up the coast, we come to more seculded beaches, including Ecuador’s only protected beach: Los Frailes. This spectacular bay, located within Machalilla National Park, its floury white sand and aromatic Palo Santo forest is a joy to spend a day in. We also visit the fascinating community of Agua Blanca, where you will further discover the importance of ancestral cultures within the region.
The town of Puerto López is a great base to get to know Machalilla. From here we can set out to Isla de la Plata, a small islet located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where you may find nesting albatrosses and, if lucky, snorkel among manta rays.
During the months of August and September, you can also couple the visit with the one-and-only opportunity of watching whales from only meters away, as they breach and swim with their families in open ocean. Humpback whales travel thousands of miles from Antarctic and Oceanic waters to reproduce in the warmer latitudes of our Pacific Coast. They’re extremely tame and awe-inspiring at all levels.
This and so much more awaits in Ecuador. Contact Wanderbus and go where no one else goes!