The tourism motto for Ecuador is “All You Need is Ecuador” and I certainly agree! Ecuador is a country about the size of the state of Colorado. Here, you can spend time at the beach (or the Galapagos), the mountains, and the jungle. Being on the equator, the weather is mild year-round (not hot!).
Panama was a good first stop for our trip. While Spanish is the main language in Panama, many people speak English and you can find information in English. Not so much in Ecuador. So, Panama was sort of a gentle introduction for us. While our Spanish is improving, we are far from competent. After my parents joined us in the Galapagos, I realized that I had been introducing them as “mi papas” (my potatoes) instead of “mi padres” (my parents).
We stayed in Guayacuil on our way to and from the Galapagos and on our way to Peru. It is an ugly city. It is a bunch of dirty concrete buildings. But, it is a wonderful city! I really like the vibe. It is lively and the people we met there are very kind and generous.
When our plane from Guayacuil landed in the Andes, I was nearly brought to tears with how beautiful it is. We landed in a tiny town near Loja. The town was so beautiful that I didn’t want to leave it. But, we had heard so many wonderful things about Loja that I thought it might be even more lovely than where we were.
Loja is beautiful…in a way. But it is much, much bigger than we had imagined. So, after spending one night there, we moved on to Vilcabamba – “the valley of longevity”. We stayed in an incredible placed called Hosteria Izhcayluma. The views were stunning; the food was fantastic; the buildings were beautifully designed and incorporated into the landscape. We had yoga classes everyday (including some aerial yoga) on an open air platform with wide open views of the Andes. We did some hiking and horseback riding. I can’t remember when I have felt so good!
After spending a couple of weeks in Vilcabamba, we lucked out again when we visited Cuenca. Cuenca is in the middle of the country. It is the 2nd largest city in Ecuador and has a beautiful “old town” with colonial architecture. We arrived in Cuenca on Halloween. Halloween is not widely celebrated in Ecuador, but All Saint’s Day and the Day of the Deceased is hugely celebrated. All weekend long, there were parades, music, and festivals. We were also there for Cuenca’s founders’ day celebrations.
We found out that “Panama Hats” are really from Ecuador. In Cuenca, we visited a “Panama Hat”/toquilla straw hat museum/factory. The hats are made from leaves of a palm-like plant and are woven by hand. There are various conflicting stories of why toquilla straw hats are known as Panama Hats.
One of the most popular versions has to do with a widely publicized visit by US President Teddy Roosevelt wearing a Panama Hat while visiting Panama during the construction of the canal. If you ever see a Panama Hat that was not made in Ecuador, it is not the “real” thing.
Near the end of our time in Ecuador, we visited volcanic hot baths. There is an area of the country known as Volcano Ally. Cuenca is just south of Volcano Ally and hot springs originating from Volcanos run through the area. The spring water is over 130 degrees and has to be cooled down for human use. The water is a cloudy grey color and did not have an odor. Interestingly, everyone had to use a swim cap to be in the water. If you didn’t have one, you had to buy one. I am not sure of the reason for the caps. They were cloth and did not keep your hair from getting wet or prevent your hair-germs from getting into the water. One thing they did do was make everyone look equally silly. So, that was fun.
We were all pretty sad to be leaving Ecuador. But, we were all eagerly anticipating visiting the jungle in Peru!