Day 41: Quito, Ecuador
Our plane touched down in Quito in the afternoon, with still plenty of daylight to watch the scenery during the hour long taxi to our hostel.
Without knowing much about Ecuadors capital city other than it being on the equator, we were a bit surprised by the cold and rainy weather.
The climate here is dictated mostly by altitude rather than season, which is currently spring in the north and fall in the south. Quito, like Cusco, is high in the mountains and shares some of the same characteristics—like frequent rain and potential altitude sickness.
Fortunately we’ve become used to making the transition, and spent the evening enjoying the view of the city from our hostels rooftop.
Like every new country, there were no plans or activities booked in advance, though we knew (by word of mouth) we wanted to visit a town called Baños as well as a trip into the Amazon jungle.
Day 42-44: Baños, Ecuador
The next morning we found ourselves at a bus station waiting for a ride to Baños, where we decided to spend the weekend before a four day jungle trek we booked the night before.
The only safety precautions we’d heard of in Ecuador were on the public buses. They’re notorious for robberies, and even the driver warned me to guard my bag.
For the next three hours we clutched our belongings as a rotation of locals hopped on at each stop, selling local toffee and breaded, fried sugary foods. We had front row seats to an excessively loud Spanish movie without subtitles, and I passed the time watching the landscape shift from children selling toilet paper between highway lanes, to pastures of cows and small mountain villages.
Finally, we ended up at the Baños bus station and walked through the streets with our belongings until we found our home for the next two nights.
Baños is a small town located in a canyon at the base of an active volcano. Home to countless waterfalls, hikes and hot springs, it’s a popular local vacation spot and destination for adventure enthusiasts.
With limited time, we rented a buggy and spent a day cruising the wet and windy main road through tunnels and bridges along the gorge, stopping at waterfalls and roadside attractions along the way.
We took a cable car at the first stop, paying $2 to be suspended above two large waterfalls which converged into the river below.
Other waterfalls had hiking trails, so we made our way through the canyon, listening to the powerful roar of the falling water and enjoying the perfect weather. With May being off-season there was hardly anyone in sight, so we practically had these amazing waterfalls to ourselves. It was one of the most memorable days of our entire trip.
After a day of chasing waterfalls, we stopped into one of Baños’ many local restaurants for our first taste of real Ecuadorian food. It was packed with families all eating the same dish, so we asked for the same thing. For $2.75, we were served a huge bowl of broth soup, rotisserie chicken, rice, beans, cabbage, fries and fresh squeezed juice. After Brazil and Peru, we were thrilled to be in a country with cheap food. It was quite delicious, too.
My only complaint, as with the rest of South American cuisine, is lack of vegetables. I’m not sure how the locals survive on carbs and sugar, but they do and they consume it like water. Their “salad” is a couple spoonfuls of purple cabbage and one slice of tomato—it’s the same dish everywhere and there are no alternatives. Two weeks into our trip I became sick and still don’t feel 100%, and I am sure poor diet is the cause. Anyone on a gluten free/paleo/low carb diet here would starve. Perhaps there are better options in the fancier restaurants but not on our backpackers budget.
I thought Brazil and Peru were extreme with their bakeries and ice cream on every corner but Ecuador takes the cake (no pun intended). Toffee shops line the streets, each one identical to the next, and the candy makers stand in the doorway with giant ropes of melcocha, handing out pieces as you walk by. There’s also carts selling this stuff, along with pure sugar cane, at every bus stop and terminal. It’s a national obsession.
Of course we had to see what all the fuss was about, so we bought a bag of assorted sweets to sample. After chipping my tooth on one, we left them behind. I’d rather save my sugar intake for ice cream!
On our last night in Baños we paid a visit to the hot springs, which consisted of several pools ranging from freezing cold to burning hot, packed with locals of all ages. The hot and cold shock therapy was the perfect way to reset and reenergize our bodies for the jungle days ahead.
Our hostel was home to a host of stray animals—protective dogs who would guide us into town when we left to make sure we were safe, and sweet cuddly cats who’d curl up onto your lap and purr for hours. I’m missing Susie terribly these days—it’s hard to deal with spending the rest of this year without her.
When in Baños, a ride on the “swing at the end of the world” is an absolute must. I remember coming across photos of this treehouse on Pinterest years ago, and didn’t realize where it was until recently.
It had rained all morning so we were lucky to have a small crowd when we arrived. There was plenty of time to take photos and enjoy the view of the volcano.
We could have easily stayed in Baños longer—it’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited and has everything we love in a town—safe, affordable, plenty of activities, good nightlife but also quiet and friendly locals. If you’re in Ecuador, you can’t miss it.
At 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, we walked to the bus station to catch a ride on another public bus back to Quito. The 3 hour journey turned into 5, and after a long taxi back into town, we finally stepped foot into the hostel lobby at 9pm. Starving and tired, we realized there were no food options nearby open on a Sunday night, and had to resort to another healthy dinner from the mini-mart: fried sugary empanadas, bananas and chips.
We waited in the lobby until another bus picked us up at 11pm, and after a wild and bumpy overnight ride with intermittent sleep, we found ourselves in a parking lot at 5:30am in the town of Lago Agrio, one of the gateways to the Amazon.
Day 45-48: Cuyabeno, Amazon rainforest
The owner of a restaurant called us upstairs, where we napped in hammocks and ate croissants until a van arrived.
The Andes mountains had given way to flat land covered in tropical greenery, and we became more excited by the minute as we approached our destination.
After a few hours we pulled up to a river bed lined with motorized canoes and met a man named Jorge who would be our guide for the next four days.
The canoe took us through a narrow river surrounded by a large variety of trees and plants, and we stopped frequently to spot monkeys, snakes, birds and reptiles.
After another two hours, we finally pulled up to our lodge—24 hours after we began our initial travel from Baños.
The next four days make up the most memorable of this trip so far. Being in the Amazon, with nothing but jungle and wildlife surrounding you for miles, completely disconnected from the rest of the world is unlike anything else. I’ve been to jungles in Costa Rica and Southeast Asia but it’s different when you’re sharing it with the person you love.
On our first night we were broken into the jungle with a nocturnal walk—a hike through the forest in the darkness to hunt for poisonous spiders and snakes. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Drenched in bug spray with our rubber boots and flashlights, we walked single file through the bushes, calling out when we spotted a web or pair of glowing eyes. The spiders were massive, with webs as big as my body.
At one point we turned off all the lights and stood silently as Jorge communicated with a monkey in the tree. It was more exciting than scary—that is until Jorge came across tracks in the mud, stopped to analyze them, nervously told us all to wait there as he took off and left us alone for several minutes. I was thinking a big animal was after us but it turns out he was just lost. Still not ideal being lost in the Amazon, but fortunately we made it back to the lodge in one piece.
The lodge is on a floating forest only accessible by boat, so most of our days and evenings were spent on the water. We did a lot of monkey spotting and bird watching, trekking through the swamp, and night excursions.
On our last day we visited a local community, meeting up with a woman and her son to help make bread from scratch using manihot roots we pulled from a nearby crop. A shaman came to visit, performing a traditional blessing and taking us to see an ayahuasca vine (look that stuff up if you’ve never heard of it… fascinating drug).
My favorite animal sighting was a wild baby pig whose mother had died, and it was adopted by a family in the village. You could hear the squeals of this tiny thing from a mile away, and it would follow the little boy around like a puppy.
Jorge took us on the boat one night after fishing for piranhas, and we rode through the trees, coming inches from snakes as they twisted around branches above our heads. We spotted glowing red eyes from a Caiman alligator and returned to the lodge where frogs had snuck into some of the bedrooms.
Every evening we’d go to the lagoon to swim and watch the sunset. The sun’s intensity is extreme at the equator, so a dip in the water to cool off at the end of the day was always a highlight.
The sunsets here are gorgeous, layered with storm clouds and always accompanied by lightning in the distance.
At night the jungle comes alive with the buzz of cicadas and echoes of birds and monkeys. Without any light pollution, you can see every constellation in the Milky Way.
I’ll never forget those nights—gliding over calm waters through warm winds, gazing up into the sky at twinkling red planets… lying in bed under a mosquito net, listening to the rain and growls of howler monkeys… realizing where we are, and that these moments will never happen again—soon we’ll be married, and life will be different.
We often pause to reflect on this, daydreaming about our future but equally realizing the importance of soaking up the days of our engagement before they pass.
By the time this is published, we’ll be in Colombia, spending our last few weeks in South America before heading home for my sisters’ wedding and then Europe.
Eight days in Ecuador was barely enough to scratch the surface of this beautiful country, and we will return one day without a doubt.
Stay tuned for the Ecuador video coming very soon, and join me on Instagram as I post live daily updates from our adventure. Sending love from Colombia!