Cascada San Rafael
Cascada San Rafael is Ecuador’s highest waterfall. It is situated in Río Coca on the border between Provincia de Napo and Provincia de Sucumbios. I can’t really tell how high it is as that information is different in different books and on different web pages, but the figures I have seen are between 131 – 160 metres. The waterfall has got two drops.
After I had eaten lunch at Hostería Reventador I walked down the road towards the starting point of the trail to Cascada San Rafael. There is a house there were you should register and pay an admission. It was closed when I arrived and even if I stood there under the roof for some time while it was raining no one appeared. When I returned back from the waterfall there was still no one there.
Just as I started to walk the trail I met three people, but after that I didn’t see anyone along the trail or at the waterfall. It is a quite nice feeling to walk all alone on the trail surrounded by lush green vegetation and only hear the sounds of nature. The trail is not very long, only 1.5km, and it took around 20 minutes to walk to the viewpoint of the waterfall. There are two viewpoints of Cascada San Rafael, a few minutes apart. The view is stunning and you can hear the roaring sound and see the force of the water.
In my guidebooks I had read there were two different trails, both longer than the one I took. I couldn’t find any other trail and was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t take a longer walk, and I would also have liked to see the waterfall from below as well. It might be that the road down to the trail head was not paved before, and thus counted as part of the trail. As there was no one else around I couldn’t ask for another trail, but maybe that was just good. I had recently had a terrible cold with temperatures and was not yet feeling well, and while walking back to Hostería Reventador the rain started to pour down, and it continued the whole afternoon.
About 20km upriver from Cascada San Rafael a hydroelectric dam and power plant is being built. It will start to operate in 2016. Some people say it will not affect the flow in the waterfall while many others disagree. I do really hope it will not ruin the waterfall.
You can easily visit on a daytrip from Baeza, which is 1.5 hours away by bus. You can also do as I did, stay the night at Hostería Reventador a few kilometers away from the waterfall, or only stop for a couple of hours on your way to Lago Agrio. If you come by bus and have a lot of luggage you might want to go to Hostería Reventador first to leave your luggage there (for a fee) while visiting the waterfall.
I have got more photos and information on my Cascada San Rafael page.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
- National/State Park
On my last day in Ecuador in 2011 I read about the new Seven wonders of Quito. One of them was Santuario de la Virgen de El Quinche, situated about 60 km away from Quito. So, I thought this could be an interesting place to visit when I came back to Ecuador in 2012.
The present church in El Quinche, Santuario de la Virgen de El Quinche, was constructed in 1927 and it has a capacity for 966 seated persons and 3556 standing persons. One of the walls outside the church in El Quinche is full of plaques. These plaques are put up by people who have come here to thank the Virgin for her blessings and miracles.
Many pilgrims come to El Quinche throughout the year to get blessings from La Virgen de El Quinche and to thank her for miracles. Many miracles have been assigned to her and she is said to have saved people from serious accidents and illnesses. She is very popular among taxi and truck drivers. In November, and especially for the procession on November 21, big crowds of pilgrims come here. For this day many pilgrims walk all the way from Quito (about 60 km away).
The sculpture of La Virgen de El Quinche is a small wooden statue, only 62 cm high, and it is standing above the main altar in the sanctuary. It was made by the artist Diego de Robles in 1588 and in 1604 it was brought from Oyacachi to El Quinche.
It is said that whoever ordered the sculpture didn’t pay for it so Diego de Robles traded it for cedar wood with the Oyacachi people. They put it in a cave and sang songs to the virgin. It is said the virgin protected their children from being eaten by bears and she did miracles, like bringing a dead child back to life and harvesting a field of grains without any help of humans.
Another story says that the artist himself was saved from falling down into a deep ravine when his clothes got caught by a thorn. And since then many more miracles have been attributed to the virgin.
I have got more photos and tips on my El Qinche page.Related to:
- Religious Travel
- Arts and Culture
Baeza is a small town situated on the eastern slopes of the Andes, above the Quijos valley. Baeza actually consist of three different parts. Down at the junction (La Y) where the highway from Quito forks there are a few buildings (one road continues to Lago Agrio and the other to Tena). Further up along the road to Tena you will come to Baeza Colonial and even further up, 2km from the junction, is Baeza Nueva. The valley was originally inhabited by the Quijos people, but in the 16th century Spanish missionaries came here, and in 1548 they founded Baeza.
I stayed in Baeza Nueva as most restaurants and hotels are there and as I didn’t have anything pre-booked I thought it was best to go there. It is not a big place. Most buildings are situated around the main road and along some side streets.
Baeza is surrounded by green hills and there are some trails you can take for nice walks. Birdlife is said to be good. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to explore as I arrived in the afternoon and went on to Cascada San Rafael the next day.
If you think the journey to the Oriente is too long Baeza can be a nice place to make a break in. There are a couple of places to stay in outside Baeza and after visiting I have also seen pictures of Hosteria Kopal Ecuador which looks very nice. I think it is situated in Baeza Colonial. Baeza is close to Sumaco National Park and to the Ecological Reserves of Antisana and Cayambe-Coca.Related to:
Isinliví is a small quiet village situated in the Andes at an altitude of 2900 metres. The village is surrounded by green mountains and farmland, and it is a very nice area to hike in. Many people who hike around the Quilotoa Loop only visit Chugchilan and Quilotoa, but I think Isinliví should be included too. It is greener around Isinliví.
Most tourists coming to Isinliví only stay a night on their way to or from Chugchilán. I did not want to be in a rush and thought it could be nice to stay in this small tranquil village for two nights and do some hiking nearby one day. I had not planed to visit the festival in Sigchos, but I’m glad I did. I still had some time for hiking when I came back.
Isinliví is situated southeast of Sigchos, about 45 minutes away by bus. From Latacunga it takes about two hours to Isinliví by bus.
I stayed two nights in Isinliví in 2011 and one night in 2012. I hadn’t planned to come back in 2012, but because I broke my wrist while traveling in Ecuador 2012, there was things I had planned to do which I couldn’t do (like climbing Chimborazo). At least I could hike and as I knew the area was beautiful, I knew the way between the villages, accommodation is cheap and I didn’t have to carry too much packing I thought it was a good idea to come back and do some hiking.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Hiking and Walking
Puerto Lopez is a small town on the Ecuadorian coast with around 16 000 inhabitants. It is set in a bay with a long sandy beach in front of town and with green hills behind. Many people in Puerto Lopez work with fishing or tourism. The malecón can be a bit dusty and it would be nicer without the moto-taxis. Anyway it is a nice and relaxed place.
Along the malecón you will find many restaurants serving seafood, tour agencies and some souvenir stalls. On the beach there are several bars selling fruit juices, a nice place to spend a lazy afternoon in. Very early in the morning you can visit the fish market in the south end of the beach. Around Puerto Lopez there are many things to do, like visiting Isla de La Plata and the rest of Machalilla National Park. A highlight is to come here during the whale-watching season, June – September, and see the Humpback Whales jumping.
Temperatures in Puerto Lopez are often around 25-30°C. The colder, dry season is between June – November. The climate is then influenced by the cold Humboldt Current and the sky is often overcast. December – May is the rainy season, but then it often rains in the afternoon and between the rains it is sunny with blue sky, and high temperatures.Related to:
- Whale Watching
- Budget Travel
Parque Nacional Machalilla
Machalilla National Park is situated in Provincia de Manabí, just north of Puerto Lopez. It is Ecuador’s only coastal national park (mainland) and it was created in 1979 to protect the unique tropical dry forest. A long time ago most of the coast used to be covered with dry tropical forest, but now very little remain, and almost all can be found within the national park. Among other plants you will see large Candelabra Cacti, Prickly Pear cacti, Yellow Geiger, Barbasco, Palo Santo trees and Ceibos.
The park consists of almost 40 000 hectares of land with tropical dry forest and humid cloud forest and around 20 000 hectares of ocean, which includes islands like Isla de La Plata and Isla Salango.
In Machalilla National Park I have visited Isla de La Plata, a beautiful island where you can see large seabirds like Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Frigate birds and Waved Albatrosses. As I visited during the whale-watching season (June – September) we also saw lots of humpback whales on our way back to the main land.
I have also visited Playa Los Frailes, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. Besides Playa Los Frailes several small peaceful beaches can be found within the park.
Another place I have visited in the national park is Agua Blanca. During archaeological excavations traces of six different cultures have been found, and in the village Agua Blanca you can see some of the findings in the small museum, and in the surrounding area there is an important Manteño site, where the basement of many houses can be seen.
If I visit the area again I would definitely like to take the 4h hike to San Sebastian, which is situated more inland, at an altitude of 600 metres. In this area the surrounding vegetation is humid cloud forest.
From Puerto Lopez you can go on organized tours to the national park. To visit Isla de La Plata you must take a tour, but Playa Los Frailes and Agua Blanca I visited on my own, by taking a bus and then walking from the turnoffs.
I have got more photos and info on my Parque Nacional Machalilla page and on my Isla de La Plata page.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
- Whale Watching
Playa Los Frailes, Machalilla National Park
Playa Los Frailes is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. It is a long crescent-shaped beach with crabs running over the white sand. The water is turquoise and behind the beach are hills with dry forest vegetation. There are strong currents so be careful if you go swimming. Unfortunately I couldn’t swim as I had had an operation only a week previously. There were not many people on the beach when I visited and it was very calm and quiet.
I arrived to Playa Los Frailes by walking the 3 km long trail. Along the path there were Palo Santo trees, Yellow Geiger and different bushes. I saw a snake, lizards and some butterflies. At Mirador Isolete Sucre there was a beautiful view over the coast, Isolete Sucre and Machalilla. From the viewpoint the path descended to the small quiet beach Playa Prieta, where only Ghost Crabs ran around. The next beach I came to was Playa Tortuguita. It was also beautiful and tranquil, but here I saw the first person I had seen since I started my walk. He was leaning against one of the rocks and he was smoking. It is forbidden to smoke in the park, something the park ranger had told me and he wanted me to tell that to people if I saw anyone doing it. Alone on this beach with a stranger I absolutely didn’t want to go over to him and tell him to stop smoking in the National Park. I continued my walk and came to a fork in the trail. One path was leading up to Mirador Las Frigatas and the other one to Playa Los Frailes. I walked up to the view point first, from where there was a fabulous view along the coast. At this view point there were some other people too. I walked back down and then there was just a few hundred metres left to Playa Los Frailes.
The walk along the trail, with stops to read signs and to take photos, took over an hour. When I left Playa Los Frailes I walked the dirt road back to the turnoff and it took about half an hour.
Behind the beach there is a car park, bathrooms, a few souvenir stalls and there was a woman selling drinks and ice cream.
In my guidebooks it says you must pay a high national park admission before coming here, but in July 2012 when I visited it didn’t cost anything, luckily. Playa Los Frailes is within the Machalilla National Park.
I have got more photos and info on my Parque Nacional Machalilla page.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
Agua Blanca, Machalilla National Park
Agua Blanca is a small village situated within the Macalilla National Park. There are around 300 inhabitants in the village and there is a small museum, a church and a couple of restaurants.
When you visit you pay an admission of $5 (July 2012) at the turnoff on the main road. From there it is another 5 km to walk. The admission includes a visit to the small museum in the village and a 2h guided walk in the area around the village. The guiding is in Spanish. I arrived with bus from Puerto Lopez to the turnoff and halfway walking the road to Aga Blanca I got a lift.
I visited the museum on my own and then I went on the guided tour with two other tourists and a guide from the village. We walked passed farmland and were told that they cultivate without pesticides in Agua Blanca. We continued through typical dry forest landscape with Ceibos, Palo Santo and Barbasco trees. The trail also passes an important archaeological site of the Manteño culture. They lived here around AD 800 – 1500 and what can be seen here today are the base of several hundred buildings. Some of the artifacts found at the excavations of the area can be found in the small museum in the village. We continued to a large sulfur pool where I would have liked to take a dip but because I had done an operation a week earlier I couldn’t. On the way back to the village I saw there was a view point and I thought the guide was going to take us there. He passed the path up to the view point so I asked if we couldn’t go there. And as the other two tourists also wanted to go there we did.
I have got more photos and info on my
Parque Nacional Machalilla page.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
Isla de La Plata
Isla de La Plata is a small island situated 37 km northwest of Puerto Lopes. The island is part of Machalilla National Park, which was formed in 1979. The island is often referred to as Poor man’s Galapagos, because many of the big nesting seabirds that are present on Galapagos Islands can be seen on Isla de La Plata too. Well, it can’t be compared to Galapagos Islands (where I have also been), but Isla de La Plata is anyway a very nice place to visit and should not be missed if you visit the Ecuadorian coast.
On the island you can see Magnificent Frigatebirds, Blue-footed Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies and Waved Albatrosses (April – October). You can only visit Isla de La Plata on a tour from Puerto Lopez and when you do you have to choose which trail to take. That means you will not see all of the bird mentioned as some can only be seen along one of the trails and others along the other trail. Whichever trail you choose to take you will have spectacular views. Around the island there are some great snorkeling spots and tours normally stop for snorkeling too, but only for a short time when it is whale-watching season and more time is spent to look for Humperback Whales.
Isla de La Plata means Silver Island and there are different explanations of how the island got its name. One says it comes from the colour of the large amount of guano that covers the cliffs, another explanation says it comes from the legend that Sir Francis Drake buried a treasure here.
You can read more about the tour to Isla de La plata and see more photos on my Isla de La Plata page.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
Whale-watching in Ecuador and Humpback Whales
June – September is the whale-watching season on the Ecuadorian coast. Puerto Lopez is a good place to do it from and the chance to see many whales is largest in July – August. In Puerto Lopez there are many tour agencies where you can book a whale-watching tour or a tour to Isla de La Plata with whale-watching along the way. I would recommend the tour to Isla de La Plata as that is also a place worth visiting. Some people bargain for cheap whale-watching tours with fishermen, but then it is possible that the boat is very slow and lack life west and radio. I paid $40 for a full day tour to Isla de La Plata with whale-watching along the way. It also included lunch.
Going back from Isla de La Plata we were looking for whales and following them. We were very lucky to see many and especially Humpback Whales leaping up from the water and landing on their backs with a big splash. A fantastic sight!
It is the Humpback Whales you usually see when doing a whale-watching tour from Puerto Lopez. They become around 12 – 16 metres long and weigh almost 40 tons. They are black or grey with a white underside, and they have long flippers.
The Humpback Whales feed during summer in the sea near the pools and in winter they migrate to warmer waters around the equator. They can often be seen near the coastline.
The name Humpback Whales comes from the hump they have on their back.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Whale Watching
Bahía de Caraquez
Bahía de Caraquez is a town with about 20 000 inhabitants. It is more often called Bahía rather than the longer Bahía de Caraquez. The town has got a beautiful location on a peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Chone River estuary on the east side.
During the strong El Niño years 1997-98 Bahía and the surrounding country side was severely damaged by floods and landslides. Shortly after that the area was hit by a strong earthquake destroying many houses and leaving residents of Bahía without water and electricity for months. After the catastrophes rebuilding was done with sustainability in mind and Bahía is now an Eco-city. There are many organic farms in the surroundings, there has been reforestation projects, on the peninsula there are bicycle taxis (motos are not allowed), plastic bags have been banned and at the market waste is recycled.
Bahía is a clean and quiet town. At least it was very quiet when I was there, but during high season it gets livelier as the town has become a popular holiday destination for people from Guayaquil and Quito. On the peninsula there are many white high-rise apartment blocks. These are mainly holiday homes, but there are a few hotels too.
You can read more about Bahía and what to do there on my Bahía de Caraquez page.Related to:
Isla Corazon is a heart shaped little island in the Chone River estuary, situated 8km from Bahía de Caraquez. One of the largest colonies of Frigatbirds in South America lives in the mangroves of the island and surroundings. It is an amazing sight to see all these birds where the males, to attract females, inflate their red chest pouch to the size of a basket ball. Besides Frigatebirds more than 60 other bird species have been registered here. Since 2002 it is a Refugio de Vida Silvestre and it is managed by the community of Puerto Portovelo. The local Fishermen’s Association took over the management of Isla Corazon in 1999. Fishing was not sustainable and they turned to eco-tourism, education and conservation of the fragile mangrove ecosystem. Thanks to restoration and reforestation of the mangroves the colony of Frigatebirds has tripled in size.
As I arrived in Puerto Portovelo I registered and paid $15 (July 2012) for the tour. I know that two people who visited earlier that week had paid $10 each, just being two on the tour, so I thought I was going alone with a guide, but before we left a group of Americans arrived and when it was time for the tour we left in two boats. As the guide spoke Spanish two of the Americans translated for the others so it was not as quiet as it could have been. When returning to Puerto Portovelo I heard that a man leaving for a tour alone with a guide was paying $20.
After I had registered and paid for the tour I waited for a while, as we waited for high tide. I also saw a video about the community and their work around Isla Corazon.
First we went by boat along the coast of Isla Corazon to the colony of Frigatebirds. It is incredible how many Frigatebirds there were, flying in the sky or sitting high in the mangroves. Many of the Frigatbirds in the mangroves were males with huge red inflated chest pouches.
Then we changed to a canoe and went across the island in a tunnel of Mangroves. Here there were many crabs, but my photos of them are all very blurry. This part of the tour, going in the canou in the tunnel of Mangroves, can only be done during high tide.
On the island there is also a boardwalk but it was closed for restoration when I visited.
Next to the visitor centre in Puerto Portovelo there are a few simple cabañas. It cost $5 to stay there (July 2012). I can imagine it is a very calm and relaxed place to stay in for a night or two.
I arrived in Puerto Portovelo by taxi from Bahía de Caraquez, and went back with bus and ferry.Related to:
Portoviejo is the capital of Provincia de Manabí and it is the 6th largest city in Ecuador, with about 230000 inhabitants. The city was founded already in 1535, but there are not much colonial architecture left (can’t remember seeing any old buildings actually). In the surrounding valley tomatoes, onions, bananas, mangos etc are grown, and there are agricultural processing industries in Portoviejo. The city is a busy commercial centre and a transportation hub. There is not much to attract a tourist. I had not planned to come here and the reason for my visit was not tourism.
I came here because I broke my wrist while surfing in Canoa. At a clinic in Portoviejo I had surgery and got two pins in the wrist to hold the bone together and in the right position.
Ambato is the capital of Tungurahua and it is a city with about 180 000 inhabitants. It is situated at an altitude of 2580m in a valley of the central Andes. With its central location in the country, and along the Pan American Highway it is a major transportation hub. Ambato is also a commercial centre with production of textiles and food. Grains, fruits and flowers are grown at the many farms in the surrounding areas, and Monday is an important market day in Ambato.
Ambato hasn’t got many colonial buildings left as the city has been destroyed by earthquakes several times.
When I visited Ecuador in 2011 I only passed Ambato twice by bus, but when I came back in 2012 I decided to visit Ambato on a daytrip from Latacunga. I visited on a Monday so the quintas, old country homes, in the outskirts of town were closed and so was the Botanical Garden. However some of the museums in the centre were open and so was the cathedral. I also visited two of the big indoor markets.
Ambato is often called Tierra de Los Tres Juanes (Land of the three Juans), after the 19th century writers Juan Montalvo and Juan Leon Mera and the journalist and lawyer Juan Benigno Malo.
Around carnival there is a flower and fruit festival in Ambato.
On my Ambato Travel Guide I have got more info and photos.
Canoa - a small place on the coast
There are around 6100 inhabitants in Canoa, of whom many work with fishing and tourism. There is a long sandy beach in front of the village where you can take relaxed walks, swim and surf. At the rocks in the north end of the beach there are caves where you can see bats. Along the beach there are many hostels/hotels, bars and restaurants, restaurants serving fresh seafood. Canoa is still a quiet and relaxed place, but it gets more crowded during weekends and high season.
During high season there are International surf competitions in Canoa. It is also a good place for new beginners to take lessons. Besides taking surf lessons there are many things you can do in and around Canoa, you can go horseback riding, paragliding, visit an organic farm or Isla Corazon. You can also take Spanish classes or dance lessons.
As the rest of the Ecuadorian coast there is a wet season and a dry season in Canoa. During the wet season, December – May, there can be daily downpours, but between the rains it is often sunny with blue sky. June – November is the dry season with very little rain. It becomes colder during the dry season, both on land and in sea, and it is mostly overcast.
On my Canoa Travel Page I have got more info and photos.Related to:
Traveled thur Quito on a Eco Tourism trip. The Marriott was unforgetable. Beautiful hotel in every...more
Have stayed here several times - always recommended by my wife's family. It's easy to get to and...more
Av. de las Amazonas, Banos, 2000, Ecuador
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