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Baños and Tungurahua volcano
The gateway to the Amazon
In the weekend this little mountain town (1800m) turns into a funtown for local tourists, who pour in to fill up the concrete hot springs and karaoke bars. In the rest of the week it is a bit more quiet, where adventure seeking backpackers can get an adrenalin fix. Anything from whitewater rafting to horseback riding, jungle trips and downhill mountain biking all the way down to the Amazon are being offered. Adding to the thrill is the town's location, which is on the lower slope of one of Ecuador's most active volcanoes, the Tungurhua volcano (5023m). A big erupted in 1999 forced an evacuation of Baños. Today Tungurahue is still active and is occasional belching smoke and lava out of it's cavity. It can be quite a terrifying experience to see (and hear) one, but cloudy weather will often obstruct the view.
A beautiful drive from Riobamba
The volcano Chimborazo (6310m) is not only the highest mountain in Ecuador, but the summit is also the farthest point from center of Earth. It is inactive and can be scaled year round on a climbing tour. In the summer when the snow has receded and only the ice cap at the summit is left, it is possible to drive all the way up to the first refugio at 4800m. Even if you are not planning to climb Chimborazo, it is worth taking the journey out there for the surroundings are beautiful rough Andes highlands with grazing vicuñas (a kind of llama).
45km south of Quito
Cotopaxi's prefect shaped, snow capped cone has made it the most famous volcano in Ecuador. Though the height is impressive 5897m, it is only the second highest summit in the country after volcano Chimborazo (6310m). Though Cotopaxi is still considered active (last eruption was in 1975), the summit is a very popular climbing peak that can be reached by altitude fit people in company with a mountain guide and suitable gear.
Cayamba Solar Clock
How cool is it to cross equator?... Well, not very much for you will hardly noticed it. Luckily Ecuador has a handful of monuments that will remind you of the fact that Equator goes through the country. Most of the monuments does not actually lies on the Equator, which of course have only given risen to disrepute and contempt from the ones that actually does. The Cayamba Solar Clock does actually lies right on the Equator line (we checked with GPS) and you can even observe the fact twice a year, when the sun is vertical over equator, with their orange solar clock. Interesting there exists an ancient Equator monument on Catequilla mountain, which is precisely on the Equator line... way better than the most famous monument, "Mitad del Mundo", which is off by several hundred meters.
From the Andes to the Amazon
Riobamba - Macas (or reverse), 160km
This piece of road is the hidden gem of road trips in Ecuador. From the soft rolling hills surrounding Riobamba, it will lead you up into the mountains, through patched farmland and rugged villages. When the peaks turn hard and pointy, the road will cling to the mountainside, while winding its way to the pristine alpine lakes of Atillo at 3500 m. From here it rolls down to the Amazon basin through the lush Sangay National Park, with spectacular views over the forest canopy and with waterfalls in the distance. This is the "real shit", so if you thought the touristy trip from Baños to Puyo was pretty, this rough journey will knock your socks off.
1000 km out in the Pacific Ocean
Galapagos Islands are famous for their unique wildlife, which was the inspiration source for Darwin. But what will strike you the most are not the differences between the species on each island, but the fearless attitude the animals have. Due to the lack of serious predators the animals will hardly lift an eyebrow when visitors go ashore. You will get really close to iguanas, sea lions, tortoises and birds, though the crabs seem a bit shy. If not careful, you can easily end up stepping on the wildlife. All the islands offer different wildlife experiences, but a visit to islands like Santa Cruz (main island), Espanola, Floreana (both part of the southern loop) and North Seymour (part of the northern loop) will give you a good taste of this truly unique place. Though any visit to the Galapagos Islands will be pricey, it will be totally worth it.
15km from Zumbahua
Laguna Quilotoa is an impressive crater lake at the elevation of whooping 3800m. The diameter of the volcano crater is 3km and apparently the depth is 250m. The water is deep green which turns to psychedelic wasabi green along the shore. Just to top off the picture-perfect view, several snowcapped volcanoes are dotting the horizon. Getting here can be rough, but the trip goes through the most lovely high altitude countryside, where the mountain slopes are cultivated by tough farmers. Not just a place at altitude, but also attitude.
The huge Saturday market in delightful Otavalo is popular with locals as well gringos. The town square is packed with small stalls offering an massive range of knitted and weaved souvenirs in all colours of the rainbow, some more authentic looking than others. Down the side streets more local goods are sold by the beautiful dressed indigenous people. Both the men and women still wear their traditional clothes, which for women is a white embroidered blouse and a folded scarf on the head, and for the men white trousers and shirt. Both have long hair that is plaited and hanging down their back.
In the Amazon rainforest
A small settlement on the river bank where Rio Napo and Rio Misahuallí meet. The road does not ends here, but if you want get any further into the jungle a canoe is necessary, which luckily can be hired along with guides. Puerto Misahuallí is not as popular as Tena, the rafting capital of Ecuador 20km away, as a launching place for trips into the Amazon, but it is far more charming. The peace in town is very slow (to the point of boredom) and the most exciting activity is monkey watching at the square. Things to visit in the area include caves, waterfalls and tranquil village life, but don't expect any naked natives, beside the cheeky monkeys.
Capital of Ecuador
Nobody will claim that Quito is pretty, but it does have its charm if you scratch the ugly concrete surface. The city is spread out along the valley at the foot of the Pichincha volcano, which certainly gives you some nice views. The old town (centro historico), which has been an UNESCO heritage site since 1978, has its fair share of colonial buildings and more than a handful of wonderful old churches. Check out the unfinished and rather drape neo-Gothic church, Basilica del Voto Nacional. Instead of having the usual mythical figures, the spires are decorated with Ecuadorean fauna, like Galapagos tortoises and penguins. Quito is not the best place in Ecuador, but neither is it as horrible as its bad reputation.