On the way to Otavalo from Quito (a few miles before Tabacundo, or about 1hr and 15min north of Quito), there is a protected area that contains 15 truncated clay pyramids covered by earth and grass and nine with long ramps. I have acutally never been here, but some of my friends went, and they really enjoyed it. Essentially, Cochasqui is an archaeological site, administered by the Consejo Provincial de Pichincha. Built by Indians of the Cara or Cayambi-Caranqui tribe between 900 and 1500 A.D. Visits to the pyramids are available and there is a small entry fee.
You can either asked to be dropped off by the Panamerican and walk up the hill, or you can go to Tabacundo and rent a camioneta. Ask a the tourist office what the price SHOULD be before you go (should not be too expensinve per person if you get a small group together).
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is for many the only place they visit in the province. No shame in that, Quito is an amazing city nestled in a small valley. For example, Colonial Quito, is one of the best preserved colonial areas in South America and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built on the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano, the city is located in exactly the same place as the old capital of Shyris, and ancient people who fought off the Incas for over 17 years.
For more info about Quito, see my Quito Pages.
Mindo is a weekend get away for the Quiteños. Located just 2hrs from Quito, if offerst the opportunity to hike through rainforest, swim beneath waterfalls, tubing ($3 - make sure you get an experience guide!), or horseback riding. The town is tiny (pop. 1500), but, like most places in Ecuador, very tourist friendly. There are several small hostels and restaurants for those who want to spend the night. It is posible to make it a day trip from Quito as well, however, it will be a pretty long day.
HIKING: One of the most popular hikes is "La Cascada" - the waterfall - , which not surprisingly end up at a waterfall. The hike takes about 2hrs, and make sure to bring some cash with you (River passing= $1, Entrance fee to waterfalls=$3). Bring swim wear to go swimming underneath the waterfall - go passed the big crowded area to the left and climb down the ladder for some privacy.
GEAR: Hiking boots, swim wear, towel, light shirt (you'll get really wet, dry to avoid cotton), insect repellent.
HOSTEL: "El Bilao", $5/night, Av. Quito N.259, Tel: 2765470
El Quinche is very well known by "La Virgen del Quinche" (El Quinche virgin) where there is a sanctuary to Nuestra Se?ora del Quinche in the main plaza.
This is also where people from all over come to have their new cars, trucks, bikes, etc, blessed by the monks. It?s truly a cultural experience for somebody who did now grow with catholicism!
El Quinche is very well known by "La Virgen del Quinche" (El Quinche virgin) where there is a sanctuary to Nuestra Señora del Quinche in the main plaza. Also known for the processions held on 21 November honoring the virgin and asking for miracles. The small village is situated fairly close to Cayambe. The virgin's image was the work of a sculptor around 1600 in Oyacachi.
On the outside of the church (on the left hand side if you stand right infront of it), there are dedication plates that people have put up thanking the Virgin for different miracles in thier life. Makes for quite interesting reading.
There are plenty of buses that go from Cayambe to Quinche, however, I went there with car, so I won´t be able to give you details. HOWEVER, if you just ask around, there should not be a problem. Also, I went to Quinche on a Sunday, and it seems like that is a good day to go as there was a big market.
To really experience a small highland town, you can make a daytrip to the town of Esperanza, located about 1.5hrs north of Quito. Esperanza is a cute place with a nice church, and a very nice view of the valley. A small park right infront of the church offers a good place to have a picknick while enjoying the view. The church in Esperanza is really beautiful, and is used by several off the nearby indigenous communities for such events as weddings and baptisms.
To go here directly from Quito, take a bus going towards Otavalo. Esperanza is located a couple of miles before the town of Tabacundo. Head up the hill - to the left - to reach Esperanza.
HOWEVER, Esperanza is best reached from either Tabacundo or Cayambe.
If you take the local bus from Tabacundo, take a blue and white one - Transportes Mojandas - that is heading south (back towards Quito). The bus stops by the main square in Esperanza. The cost of this bus is 22cents.
This moderate but exhilarating trail runs about 3 km in length, taking about 2-3 hours to complete. You start off heading down along the Umachaca River, weaving through the dense undergrowth as you follow the water downhill. Turning up from there, it is a long slog through the forest. I highly recommend a walking stick as it is almost always damp and steep. Along the way you see bountiful ferns, epiphytes, and if you turn to look back you can see the river. You ascend through the jungle, hearing the calls of local birds as you finally level off and turn north. The rest of the hike is relatively level, sloping down towards the lodge. It is a really pretty hike, but be prepared to get muddy and sweaty. It really requires you have good physical shape.
One of the great things about the forest surrounding the Maquipucuna Reserve is the abundance of avian creatures. In just a few days, we were able to observe numerous species, including the beautiful quetzal, several different toucans, tanagers, hawks, and flycatchers.
However, one of the best, and easiest, ways to observe birds is to have lunch. Around the dining area are several hummingbird feeders, and there is never a moment when the birds are not whizzing about the area, dipping their long beaks into the sugar water to drink. They fight and squabble over the feeders, then zip off into the jungle. Most common are the white-necked jacobins (Flourisuga mellivora) and green-crowned brilliants (Heliodoza jacula). But it is great to sit and sip your drink, or eat quietly while watching them fly about. They are not scared of humans at all; indeed, sometimes they got so close I though I'd be impaled on their beaks!
The Hacienda Picalqui is owned and run by the Ecuadorian NGO Fundacion Brethren y Unida. The following information comes from their website. For more information regarding their work, please visit www.fbu.com.ec. For information about volunteering or stays at the hacienda, you can e-mail them, in English or Spanish, at email@example.com Tell them Lotta sent you!
"Hacienda Picaqlui, located one and a half hours northeast of Quito along the Pan-American Highway, close to Tabacundo.
The hacienda is set in 25 hectares of agro-ecologically farmed land, with stunning views of the Andes; the snow capped Volcano Cayambe to the east, to the north Volcano Fuya Fuya who's extinct crater contains the Lagunas de Mojanda. and in the distant south the peak of Cotopaxi can be seen on a clear day.
The infrastructure, now approaching 100 years of age in places, is made of traditional materials, with walls up to 3 feet thick in places. Of course over the years we have provided the modern touches to create a homey feel to the hacienda, a place where people can come to relax and forget the stresses of the city."
Located just 20km north of Quito, going here will not only give you a chance to stand on the Equator, but it also hosts a very nice little museum with artifacts from all of Ecuador's ethnic groups. The museum is located in the monument standing on top of the Equator. Also, there are nice little shops etc. right next to it. Some days (I believe on weekends ) there is live enterntainment in the little square.
Predictably, major festive days fall around March 21 and September 23 (the equinoxes) when neither monument nor tourists casts a shadow, and June 21 and December 21 (the solstices).
Be aware, some people argue that when the monument was built, they missed the equator by a few yards. So ask a local if they can show you where the "real" equator is; then it's up to you to determine when you think you're really standing on the equator.
The city of Cayambe, situated 1.5hrs northeast of Quito, got its name from the Volcano that towers over it (at 5790m).
The city of Cayambe is a medium size city and has most things you need to live comfortably. The city is charming and while it has some tourist activities (the closest most tourists come to Cayambe is when they pass by 10km west of it on their way to Otavalo) and you see one or antoher tourist, there are not that many gringos and therefore the city feels more authentic Ecuadorian (which is unusual in this country!). However, don?t let this less touristy look fool you, there are plenty of things to do in the area around Cayambe, including incredible mountain lakes and indigenous ruins.
The countryside area is surrounded by flower plantations and farms. The area is actually one of the biggest producers of flowers in the world, with its biggest export market being the USA. Because of the manual labor needed to run the platations, the population in the area is constantly expanding.
For more information about Cayambe, visit my Cayambe Pages.
A couple of facts about Cayambe
The biggest festival in Cayambe is San Pedro, which occures in June.
Cayambe, is the main access point for the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve.
Right next to the town of Tabacundo (a few minutes away from Cayambe), you will find the Lagunas de Mojanda. Essentially, there are two lakes, and smaller and one bigger one, located at almost 4000m (in the "paramo"). The place will offer a great view, a relaxing afternoon, and if you´re lucky you might just spot a condor!
To visit the lakes, you can either spend a night in Cayambe or Otavalo, or to go directly from Quito, take a bus towards Otavalo, and aks them to drop you off in Tabacundo. Once you get to Tabacundo, look for a camioneta that can give you a ride up (should not be to hard to find, either go to the "Y", or the main plaza). It should NOT be more than $30 (which is not too bad as you can fit plenty of people in the camioneta). If you get a ride up, it is possible to walk down, but make sure you have plenty of time. Ask the driver for the best route down before he leaves you.
Address: Just outside of Tabacundo.
This trail is a short, pleasant hike from the road leading up to the Maquipucuna Lodge. About 1km before the bridge, there is a small parking lot. Head up and away. The hike is about 200m long, not very strenuous at all. Along the way there is a small lookout if you wish to stop and eat or birdwatch. Passing that, the trail winds down into a small gorge before coming out onto this thundering waterfall. It is gorgeous, and the water streams from it nearly year-round. The water is a bit chilly, and crossing the river to get a look at the waterfall is a bit hazardous, as there is only two logs suspended above the water. It is slippery! But a gorgeous view, perfect for an early morning hike.
This trail begins near the Scientific Research Station, climbing beyond the Reserve's orchid garden and angling upwards through the secondary cloud forest which is typical of the reserve. After walking along the ridge for a short while, the trail drops down a steep, switchback area to the Tulambi River. This area is beautiful and quiet, except for the gurlging of the river as it flows through the primary forest. Feel free to take off your shoes, wade into the water, even take a swim if the mood strikes.
From there the trail moves upwards once again, cutting through the jungle and joining up or a culunco, a small steep trail cut into the ground that was used by pre-Incan people. Coming out the top, you connect with the Main Trail, which heads back down to the lodge at a gentle sloping angle. The whole loop is about 4.5 km, and takes anywhere from 3-5 hours, depending on your pace.
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