Ecuador: Quito + the Pacific Coast

The six weeks we spent in Ecuador are best defined by relationships. We met so many wonderful people and developed long-lasting friendships, like with our new Cuenca family: Diana, Ines, John, Bill and Rodolfo. We also ran into people we’d crossed paths with before in other countries. The social aspect of Ecuador greatly enhanced our experiences as a whole.

Quito

Quito, at an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level, sits on the eastern slopes of the Andes. The city has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas and we had a great time exploring as much as we could by foot. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we liked Quito.

We found Quito’s Central Mercado to be top notch. While it wasn’t the biggest we’ve seen, it was definitely the cleanest local market we’ve yet to visit. Like other markets, there were stalls upon stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers in addition to a large section of food prepared on site. There were also lots of juice stands with women busy making fresh juice to order. We ate lunch there a few times and I happily drank glasses of fresh juice before, during and after my meal of rice, avocado, fried plantains and spicy aji.

Quito street vendors sold crunchy treats like Lupini beans (similar to Lima beans) and chifles (green plantains) — both are thinly sliced, fried and tossed with salt. Adding spicy aji makes them even tastier. Yum!

We typically go on a “Free Walking Tour” when we arrive to a city, and Quito was no exception. Our guide was fantastic and entertained us for three hours with facts and stories about the history of Quito and Ecuador.

At the end of the tour we were approached by a couple from New Zealand, Liz and Alex, who remembered meeting us on a boat ride coming home from Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia…. more than three months ago! I’m normally really good with remembering people, but I drew a blank, which was totally awkward for a few minutes. Luckily Liz isn’t easily offended so we ended up laughing and grabbing lunch. The four of us spent much of our time in Quito together and we agreed that our paths would have to cross again at some point soon.

We also reconnected with our Australian friend Adrian, whom we hadn’t seen in six weeks. He volunteered with us at the Hilo Rojo school in Turjillo, Peru. We had a great time catching up with him in Quito. We introduced him to Liz and Alex and the five of us had a lot of fun hanging out together. We took the city’s Teleferico (cable car) up to 13,000 feet for an incredible view of Quito, ate lunch together at the local market, walked around old town and climbed up the towers of the basilica.

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Ecuadorian Coast Beach #1: Canoa

We’d heard for a long time that the Ecuadorian coast was a special place and we were excited to check out some of its beautiful beaches… but of course, that would require another long-distance journey by bus. We left Quito, high up in the Andes, and took a bus eight hours down to the Pacific coast where we landed in Canoa.

Located on the central Ecuadorian coast, Canoa is a laid-back fishing village. We stayed in a hostel 200 yards from the ocean. We conveniently had to walk past a fresh juice cart every time we went to the beach, which meant I had my share of fresh mora (blackberry) juice. Blackberries are one of the many fruits grown in abundance in Ecuador, and it quickly became my juice de jour. Harry, of course, had his share of cerveza.

Canoa boasts 11 miles of beach, making it the longest stretch of beach in Ecuador. Since we were there in the off-season it was mostly desolate and we enjoyed having most of the place to ourselves.

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Ecuadorian Coast Beach #2: Olón

Guess what we did when we left Canoa? We hopped onto a bus and headed south to Olón, another beach town. Well, to be specific, we actually had to use three different buses to go 144 miles along the coastline. The entire affair took us seven hours.

We were happy to be on the coast during low-season because Olón was a sleepy oasis with just a few cabanas decorating the beautiful, sandy beach. We stayed in a small hostel and Elizabeth, the owner, lived on the property. We really enjoyed the time we spent with her, and we were happy to help her with her English while we practiced our Spanish.

There were only two other guests staying in the hostel and they happened to be American. Sandy recently moved to Cotacachi, a small town in northern Ecuador, and Tayo came down to visit her for a few months. There were traveling around Ecuador for a few weeks, also enjoying the beautiful coastline. We had a few meals together and shared travel stories which included lots of big laughs. They invited us to come visit them at Sandy’s apartment if we were ever near Cotacachi. Meeting them definitely made our stay in Olón much more entertaining and enjoyable. We’d really like to see these two again!

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Next Up: Galapagos Islands

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