As someone who has spent approximately five months in Ecuador over the past 2.5 years, I have enjoyed varied experiences and appreciated many types of stunning landscape. My travels have taken me as far south as the favorite expat city of Cuenca, and as far north as the border with Colombia. I’ve been as far west as the Pacific beaches and as far east as where the Amazon Jungle enters Peru. Most of this time was spent traveling alone as a middle-aged American woman, whose poor Spanish language skills are languishing. I have enjoyed nearly every moment and still crave more.
A few months into the Covid pandemic, I became too antsy at home and needed to get away. Ecuador was one of a handful of countries open to Americans (with certain requirements), so after a hastily made decision, I boarded a plane bound for Quito. Since this was last-minute, I arrived at their modern airport without any reservations or plans of any kind. Fortunately, one of their lounges is open 24 hours, so I made myself comfortable and researched things to do. Four hours later I was on my first of several buses, heading high into the Andes near the border with Colombia to volunteer at a farm, accessible only by climbing a mountain. Now THAT was an experience – documented in an informal blog entitled “Lisa’s Travel Adventures” on Facebook.
Traveling around the country is easy and relatively inexpensive. An hour’s ride in an Uber or taxi may cost around $40 (buses are even cheaper). As lovely as Quito’s state of Pichincha is, a visit to Ecuador isn’t complete without seeing more of the country.
When you are in the capital city of Quito, do not miss the following sites and experiences.
Stand in two hemispheres at the same time at the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) attraction on the north side of the city. This small theme park lies on The Equator and is home to fun magnetism exhibits, native art, a lookout tower and a living history display.
Take a taxi up the mountain near the historic district to admire El Panecillo up close, the famous angel statue guarding the city, and take in the sweeping views of Quito. If you’re there on a clear day, be sure to look towards the south (back side of statue) and see the Cotopaxi volcano.
To see Quito and surrounding areas from another place high above, take a ride on the Teleférico cable car. This gondola runs from near the city center up the side of Pichincha Volcano and is one of the highest gondolas in the world. The panoramic views are unbeatable, and if you aren’t scared enough already, try the swings from atop the mountain.
The Basilica del Voto Nacional is Quito’s most famous basilica. Massive in size, this neo-Gothic structure was built in the 19th century and is a popular site among tourists. Be sure to check out the gargoyles standing guard outside.
If you have time to leave Quito, here are some day trips that I highly recommend.
Visit the city of Otovalo to see largest indigenous market of its kind in all of South America. Here you will find everything from handmade jewelry, art, clothing, fabric, and household goods to just about anything else you can imagine. Saturday is the best day to visit, but also generally the most crowded.
From the National Park, Cotopaxi Volcano, pictured below, is an impressive and fun site to tour on horseback, though hiking is also popular.
Looking to relax? Visit the Termas de Papallacta resort for the night or simply indulge in spa treatments and relaxation in the hot springs. This place is beautiful, and the restaurant is good, as well.
Looking specifically for some adventure? I recommend jumping off a roughly 10,000-foot-high Andean mountain with a paraglide instructor on the outskirts of Quito. I want to do it again when I’m back in early February.
For more information on visiting Ecuador or to join one of my adventure or dental tourism trips, please email me at Lisa@footloosetravelandtours.com.
By Lisa Osborne Blalock
Footloose Travel & Tours