view from the bottom. from the top? view of the entire city.
About 80 miles from Quito, this eco lodge in the sky is owned by 12 campesino families, who are regenerating 1800 acres of now-protected forest. Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve offers lodge accommodations as well as beautiful wood-and-glass cabins, stilted out over dense jungle that's once again dripping with life.
I am usually an adventurous eater, but I must confess I felt a bit squeamish when Andrés Dávila, the chef at Casa Gangotena, told me he would be serving llama as part of the evening's tasting menu. I figured if I was ever going to eat llama, then it might as well be prepared by a talented chef. Dávila's menu features both traditional Ecuadorean dishes, such as fritada (fried pork with potato patties, hominy, fried corn, and avocado cream) and more innovative twists on Ecuadorian dishes such as our llama spring rolls that were actually quite delicious. The llama tasted like lamb and the fried spring roll was stuffed with fresh herbs. Ecuador is known for its soups and Dávila's versions are not to be missed, particularly his locro Quiteño, which is a traditional potato soup. Dávila has started to take guests to the local market to help familiarize them with Ecuador's native ingredients. Trips can be arranged with the front desk ahead of time.
Quito has some of the continent’s best examples of colonial art and architecture. Must-stops include the National Museum of Colonial Art and the Guayasamín Museum, dedicated to contemporary artist Oswaldo Guayasamín. The Manuela Sáenz Museum, named for Simón Bolívar’s mistress, showcases the couple’s love letters. Book a room at Casa Gangotena, a newly restored historic mansion with a prime setting that overlooks Plaza San Francisco.
For spectacular views of the sprawling city of Quito, take a ride in the TelefériQo, which takes you up the east side of Pichincha volcano. Don't worry, the active caldera is on the western side of the mountain! You'll rise almost 1000 meters in 8 minutes. In addition to hiking trails and lookout points, there are shops and cafes at the top. On a clear day, you can see 13 volcanoes. The most challenging hike from the top is the Volcano Route, going to the summit of the Rucu volcano. Unless you're doing one of the hikes, consider going in the afternoon, when there's less chance of fog.
My 3 best friends and I recently started practicing yoga. We discovered it independently - Ellen in Alaska, Anna in Michigan, Katie in Ecuador, and me in NY. While visiting Ecuador this past June for Katie's wedding, we came up with the brilliant plan to practice yoga together on the Equator! The day before the wedding, we headed outside the city to the Mitad del Mundo site and found 'balance' at the center of the world!
Boca del Lobos is a funky little restaurant in the Mariscal neighborhood of Quito. The decor, as you can see, is a bit surreal with bright colors, abstract art and a tree growing up through the floor. The food is tapas style and a mix of Spanish, American-ish and Ecuadorian ethnicities, the most successful of which are the Ecuadorian dishes. I loved their little empanadas and the atmosphere and would recommend it as a fun food adventure.
Ecuador is known for its volcanoes, but a hotel that sits right next to one? No one I talked to had heard of it. Not only does El Cráter offer large suites with whitewashed stone interiors, igloo-style domed skylights, and big heavy wooden doors reminiscent of an old (well maybe renovated) monastery, the place is situated right on the edge of what I’m told is the only inhabited crater in the world. Venturing 30 minutes outside Quito for the night was nice enough, but a view of the active Pululahua Volcano from my bed was another story. When the cab pulled into the property, the area was cloaked in the thick fog that’s common to the highlands during evening: no volcano visible. But sure enough, when the sun shone through the wall-length window the next morning, the deep green peak and patchwork caldera beneath it came into focus. Good morning! If that’s not enough volcano for you, the restaurant was built by hand from lava rock and serves crater-themed specialties, such as a tower of ham and cheese atop a grilled steak. A spa is being constructed, which will probably add some volcanic ash to the mix, and hiking trails take you all the way to the pyramid’s lid. But don’t expect any flowing lava or smoke: the volcano hasn’t erupted in 1,500 years. El Cráter, Mirador del Pululahua, Quito, From $70, 593/ (0) 2-2439254, elcrater.com Have you every stayed in or near a crater? If not, what was your most memorable themed lodging?
Landing in Quito, the city looked mostly as I’d expected: a mixture of grime, bright colors, enticing street food, and the general feel of dust & humanity. But what I didn’t expect was how amazed I’d be at the mountains. I’ve been around mountains before, but always in the context of nature & preserved parks. Those mountains seem deliberately placed - on display for appreciation. This was my first time in a city that melds right into mountains. And more importantly, this place blends mountains, city, country, and clouds. I can only begin to imagine the wonder and awe of ancient peoples, as they discovered land that touched the skies! We took an afternoon from the trip down to Banos to ride horses along the side of the Tungurahua Volcano. The experience of riding a horse up the side of this mountain was lovely. There is a difference sense of quiet … the rhythmic thumping of the horse’s hooves, the droop of leaves heavy with the rain, and the soft crackling of twigs below my field of vision. Near the top, I stood on aromatic ground - the air thin with new sediment from the depth of the earth, cool with the mist of a translucent cloud. We took in the fresh greenery, the bright lava rocks, the fresh mineral water, and the sensation of standing inside a cloud. Looking across the valley to other clouds perched in nests of the valleys and floating along the sides of neighboring mountains eye level, it was truly the meeting of heaven & earth.
Who knew this view of Pululahua Volcano exists from a hotel bed just 30 minutes outside Quito. Not many people, which I discovered on a recent visit: http://www.afar.com/afar/staying-on-the-edge-quitos-volcano-hotel.
Achiote is not your typical Ecuadorian restaurant. It does include some standard Andean items on the menu, like roasted guinea pig, but their speciality is reinventing old-time favorites adding a gourmet twist. One could say this is Ecuadorian fusion food, with influences from different tastes from around the world. One of the dishes that stands out the most is the ceviche. Although ceviche is a favorite of coastal areas in Latin America, at Achiote they reinvented this dish: not only they present chicken ceviche (not just the common fish one) they also use other juices to marinate the meats, going beyond the usual lemon and lime. Passion fruit juice, for example, adds a new exotic flavor to ceviche, beautifully sided with chocolate infused rice and crispy fried plantains and corn. This is one of the speciality dishes you'll find at Achiote, but with a diverse menu, you'll be able to taste other creations, that will feel like half your palate is in Ecuador, while the other half is taking a voyage somewhere else, perfectly complementing each other. Great food is paired with friendly service in a simple yet lively atmosphere, with views out to touristic district La Mariscal in the center of Quito.
San Francisco, built in 1534, is the oldest church in Quito. For me, it is the most beautiful city monastery. Legend says it was built by the devil
Have a bit of time to spare in Quito's old quarter? Maybe a hankering for something fresh and organic? The Kallari Cafe + Store is an oasis. With an excellent, fresh, and homemade menu, superb coffee selection, a small chocolate gift shop, wifi and outdoor seating, we could have spent all day here filling our bellies & writing those last postcards.
I have a small (to medium) fear of heights and any activity that requires me to fly unsupported through the air sounds terrible. But I’d never ziplined before so I figured I should try it before I hated it. Our guide Jorge drove my friend Jules and I to the zipline site, which was actually 10 lines set at various heights and lengths. We started with the first line, got the basic run down (sit, put your hands here, cross feet, go) and off we went. And it was shockingly fun. I flew through the air thinking “Ziplines, pshaw! Who’s scared of this?” 3000 feet off the ground and no terror whatsoever. We saw the jungle canopy and the mountains, we took pictures; it was lovely. At the next line they said “Want to go upside down?” and I said, “No. What kind of question is that?” 3000 feet in the air I can handle (apparently) but upside down is for crazy people. Jules said “Yeah! Of course!” Darn her. I couldn’t let her do it and not do it myself, so, we strapped in, feet up by the wire, looked up at the sky and flew upside down. It was amazing. I even let go for a few minutes, which was definitely the hardest part (isn’t it always?) until I got the adrenaline rush. That's why people zipline! Overall, ziplining is a great time. Now that I’ve done it I don’t have to do it again but I really enjoyed checking it off my list.
In Mindo we decided to try canyoning, which is rappelling down a waterfall. At the top of the narrow muddy jungley trail next to the falls a guide strapped me into a harness and put me on a rope. He showed me how to belay myself with my dominant hand, stressed the “sit back, legs wide” rule of rappelling and then took me to the edge of the waterfall and I walked off of it backwards. I walked off a cliff backwards over an 80ft waterfall. Once over the cliff I was actually IN the waterfall with millions of gallons of water falling into my eyes, trying to remember to release the rope bit by bit with my right hand, sit back until my legs were parallel to the ground, keep my knees straight and then, oh yeah, find somewhere to put my feet so I could walk down the side of the mountain in tennis shoes without seeing anything because I have a waterfall in my face. That was one tricky business. At the bottom of the fall I had the most extreme adrenaline jitters, shaky hands and knees and had to sit down. It was completely astonishing and totally terrifying. We did an 80ft fall, a 75ft fall and a 70ft fall and all in tennis shoes because to my knowledge, no one makes shoes for rappelling in a waterfall. I’m really glad we didn’t know what we were getting into because even though my pulse is still elevated thinking about it, canyoning was the most scary exciting thing I did the whole trip.
Ecuador’s vibrant capital city reaches new heights with its dining scene—one that embraces its culinary history and takes it in new directions. A walk around its Centro Historico in particular will bring you to farmers’ markets and artisanal food shops where cooks shop for locally grown guaba, limes, and locally raised pork. The surrounding streets teem with upscale eateries, where chefs are putting a modern spin on traditional Quiteño dishes like locro, mazamorras, rosero, and fanesca to critical acclaim.
Outside the gates of the presidential palace in Quito stand guards dressed in ceremonial attire. These are actual soldiers who are picked for the honor of standing guard while the president is in the palace.
I am a Flight Attendant and I had been in Quito a few times that month. After doing quite a few of things over the month, I decided to play tourist and go on a Red Bus City tour. It's a hop on , hop off type bus and tour. It turned out to be a great and inexpensive way to see so much of the city. This was the view from the open air top going down a street....and I do mean down. It was extremely steep and narrow. How that bus driver got that double decker bus through those streets still amazes me. Quito is a great city, rather inexpensive and full of interesting squares, statutes, artisans, and culinary experiences.
The Feast of Epiphany – Three Kings Day – is an important celebration in many Catholic countries in Central and South America. This is especially true in Ecuador, where the celebration of the arrival of the three kings also served as an opportunity to reenact traditional Ecuadorian folk themes, many of which originated to mock Spanish colonialism. Rather than a religious event, the celebration of the arrival of the three kings becomes a popular folk festival. I was fortunate to be in Quito, Ecuador, in 2006 and accidently happen upon that year’s festivities. Along with the three kings (tossing candy to the crowd), there were marching bands and street performers of all types. Periodically the parade would come to a halt and a scene – most of which were inscrutable to me, but clearly had a social and political message – was acted out. It was colorful, chaotic, and a bit dizzying, but a great way to join in the festivities. And it happens every year.
A somber afternoon in Quito should definitely go towards the Guyasamin museum. Oswaldo Guyasamin was an Ecuadorian artist of mixed ancestry who created artwork to illustrate human and social inequalities. This poem mounted on the wall in rough brass touched my heart - I cried because I had no shoes, Until I saw a child Who had no feet
A nice and quiet night in old town. I stayed at La Casona de la Ronda, which I highly recommend. It is located in the heart of old town, the hotel is gorgeous and you are treated like family. http://www.lacasonadelaronda.com/
Limpia is a cleansing procedure which is typical of Andean medicine. It involves the use of natural herbs, oils and rubs to bestow blessings of peace, harmony and prosperity, to cure diseases and ward off traumas. You can get a treatment for $10 at one of the clinics located at Mercado de Santa Clara in historic Old Town or arrange for a personal limpia session in the privacy of your hotel room. Even if you don't believe in the ancient practice, it is still interesting to experience it.
A definite highlight! Snorkeling with penguins. We had a few lucky snorkeling sessions where they swam right up to us. The guides from the Lindblad national geographic expedition ship knew just where to take us for some incredible wildlife sightings each and every day.
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