Compared to Colombia, Ecuador is a small country but it packs a big tourist punch! It has the Andes, the Amazon, and the Galapagos!! In spite of its diminutive size, it is known as one of the worlds’ “megadiversity hotspots”. It is one of the most species-rich countries in the world because of the huge number of habitats. The beauty of it is that these varied regions are all relatively accessible. The only difficulty is that traveling between the regions can wreak havoc on the body.…one day you are gasping for air at over 4000 metres feeling faint from the high altitude, and the next day you can’t take enough clothes off to cool down in the sweltering Amazon jungle. As with much of South America, there is no shortage of great hiking, beautiful scenery, adventure sports, and fascinating people. An interesting fact: this wee country has 65 volcanoes!
We started our trip with a few days in Quito, checking out the old town and getting views of the city from the top of the TelefériQo. The TelefériQo is a gondola that takes you up the Pichincha Volcano from the edge of downtown Quito. It starts at 3100m and takes you up to almost 4000m. The city was expansive and seemed to spread without end along the valley floor and up onto the slopes of the mountains.
We had read that driving in Ecuador was much more doable than in Colombia, so we bit the bullet and rented a car for 2 weeks. We had reserved a sedan, but what we got was a Chevy Spark! Shocking how that happens. Anything with "spark" in its name can not be big enough to fit a family of 5 comfortably. However, with it being the weekend and the start of Carnival, we were left with no other options. We managed to squish, cram, stuff, and shimmy all our luggage and ourselves into the tiny car.
So off we went in our sardine can of a car to the Amazon. The drive was stunning, along green mountains and dense jungle vegetation. We were able to stop and see the San Rafael waterfall on the way. This is the highest waterfall in Ecuador at 150m. We arrived in the evening to Lago Agrio, a rough looking oil town and take off point into the jungle. It was hot and humid….already! The next day we started out to the jungle…2 hours by bus, then another 2 hours on a canoe before arriving at the Cuyabeno Lodge in Cuyabeno Nature Reserve. This reserve is in the Amazon basin in the northeast region of the country. The lodge was situated on a lagoon and comprised of a series of rustic cabins and a main dining room. The cabins were basic but had a shower and toilet. This was a step up from the lean-to and hammocks John and I had stayed at in our first foray into the Amazon, so many years ago in Brazil.
For the next 5 days, we explored the jungle via canoe and on foot. Our group had 11 people including ourselves and even 2 other Canadians from Edmonton (Hi Kim and Ian!). We saw so many cool and interesting animals and plants with the help of our great guide Gilver….caimans, anacondas, monkeys, sloths, electric eels, pink river dolphins, all sorts of deadly spiders/ants/frogs/tarantulas, and birds and more birds! The boys were in their glory…could it get any better than to be surrounded by bugs of all sorts?! They especially loved swimming in the lagoon. This was the same water in which the caiman, piranhas, and anaconda lived, but we were reassured that they tended to hang around the edges of the shore and tree stumps, and NOT in the middle of the lake. The guide know his stuff right?? Although there were lots of bugs flying around (including mutant sized grasshoppers), there were only a few mosquitoes as the acidity in the waters was too high for them to thrive. Phew! Overall we had a fantastic experience in the Amazon. If you can tolerate the heat and humidity and a few bugs, then it is well worth the visit.