Ruinas de Ingapirca are the best preserved archaeological ruins in Ecuador, but the site is far from being as impressive as many other ruins in the world. It is an interesting place to visit anyway. In Kichwa Ingapirca means something like ”Inca Wall”. The Incas ruled over the area during the 15th century and then built the Temple of the Sun here. But also before the Incas arrived this was an important site for the Cañaris.
The most interesting building at Ingapirca is the Temple of the Sun, built on an elliptical shaped platform. Here you can see how the Incas have fitted the stones of the wall together perfectly without using mortar. It is also built so that at the solstices, at a special time of the day, the sunlight will shine through the doorway to a small chamber.
The admission to Ingapirca archaeological site is $6 (July 2011). In that price a guided tour of the site and entrance to the museum is included. The guided tour takes about an hour and if you don’t speak Spanish there are also English speaking guides available. You don’t have to follow a guide, but as there is no information about Ingapirca at the site it is a good idea to do so.
Near the ruins is the village/small town of Ingapirca, and on the surrounding hills there are many small farms. Ingapirca is situated about 90km north of Cuenca at an altitude of 3230 metres. A bus from Cuenca to Ingapirca takes about 2h. The weather can change quickly and did so when I visited. It seemed to be a sunny and warm afternoon, but as I started to take a walk the clouds and fog came in and the great views over the green mountains disappeared.
Ask the average person what city comes to mind when they think of South America and most will reply Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. Some with a bit more savvy may venture forth with the continent’s culinary capital of Lima. Those with a view on world politics might even mention Bogotá or Caracas. But few will come up with Quito. It’s not like the city just sprung up from nowhere having been a key stop on the extensive Inca roadway. No, not the Inca trail but the more far-reaching network that ran from southern Colombia down into northern Chile. While Ecuador makes inroads into the tourist scene due primarily to the Galapagos Islands and to a lesser degree an array of stunning volcanoes, its equally impressive capital is viewed by many as a mere gateway city that must be flown into. Of course, these are the same people that spend a few nights partying in the city’s less splendid if more intoxicating New Town rather than experience some true local flavor in the exquisite Old Town. It’s a shame because with even a cursory exploration one will be rewarded with a charming collection of colonial buildings, some pretty parks, an authentic market place, a fantastic assortment of culinary delights, and friendly locals all too willing to help not only you but to shed the city’s dangerous reputation. With a bit more investigation one will be pleased to find one of South America’s most enthralling cities, full of astonishing sights situated in one of its most spectacular settings. Please enjoy my take on Quito.
Hiking from Chugchilán to Quilotoa is quite easy to do on your own. As you can see the rim of the Quilotoa crater from Chugchilán you will know the direction. I left Chugchilán after breakfast, but before leaving a man at the hostel drew me a simple map.
With the map it was easy to find the starting point of the trail in Chugchilán. For a while you walk along a dirt road past some houses, then you should take a path. The path leads down to the bottom of the canyon, where you cross a small stream. From here it is a quite steep ascend until you come to a level surface where there is a single house where you can buy something to drink (if it is open). Then you will continue along a small dirt road up to the village Guayamo. In Guayamo you turn right and follow the road out of the village till the end of it, where you take a path going up to the rim of the crater.
To the rim of the crater it took me 3 hours. Coming up on the rim you will be rewarded by a beautiful view over the Quilotoa lagoon. If you look back there is a stunning view over the valley and Chugchilán far away. Were you reach the rim it is very sandy and I took the only path I saw. It was a small path, with flowers growing on the sides, and it was going slightly downhill into the crater. After a while I realised it must be the wrong path so I took a very steep path up to the rim again. Finally I reached a path on the rim and continued to Quilotoa. I reached Quilotoa 4 h 15 minutes after I started the walk in Chugchilán.
Chugchilán is situated at 3200 metres and Quilotoa at 3900 metres, so many people choose to start the walk in Quilotoa. I don’t mind walking uphill, and often prefer that over a steep descend.
Along the hike I only met one group of hikers and they had a guide.
Uppdate 2012: I hiked from Chugchilán to Quilotoa in July 2012 too. This year it had become even easier as they had put up signs along the way. At the starting point in Chugchilán there is a sign saying “Excursión a Quilotoa 10.2km”, and then there were several more signs along the path. Signs indicating direction and distance were not the only new thing along the path, but at some places they had put up benches and dustbins too.
I had heard already in Chugchilán that it had been terrible windy in Quilotoa the last days but had hoped that it had become less windy the day I walked there. However, when I reached the crater rim I realised that was not the case as I was almost blown away by the strong wind. Luckily a large part of the remaining trail to Quilotoa was protected from the strongest winds. Also this year it took me 4h and 15 minutes to walk from Chugchilán to Quilotoa.
Laguna Quilotoa is one of Ecuador’s great natural wonders and is increasingly becoming one of its main tourist draws for good reason. The 250 meter greenish lake is the result of a volcanic collapse that left a three kilometer diameter caldera that can be hiked around as well as more popularly into. Most tourists, simply arrive on a bus, snap a photo and are off to more comfy quarters. But with a few basic hostels now on the scene and some intriguing neighboring villages garnering their own interest, one can do a loop via local transport and/or on foot in as little as three days though it’s easy to linger longer. Please read how we took in Zumbahua’s indigenous animal market, froze our butts off staying overnight in Quilotoa, hiked to nearby Chugchilán , and finished up at Saquisilí market in my The Quilotoa Loop page.
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.
At Llullu Llama in Isinliví you can get a simple map and description of the way to Chugchilan. There are more than one way you can take, but I chose the one on the map.
After a good and big breakfast I left Isinliví at 9am. Just outside Llullu Llama the path begins and it goes down to Cumbijin Stream. There I turned right ( I did not cross the bridge here )and after a while I crossed the stream on a smaller bridge. From here the path continued above the stream. It was a bit uphill and downhill and level walking. I tried to follow the description, but was not sure all the time that I was on the right track. At one point four angry barking dogs appeared on the path. I had to go back and wait for a while, but luckily they didn’t appear when I tried to pass again. Then the path went down to Rio Toachi and I walked along the river until I came to a log-bridge where I crossed the river. Later on I passed a suspension-bridge and just after this bridge there is a path going uphill. Between the small villages Itualo and Chinalo the ascend is very, very steep. From the village Chinalo there is a small dirt road, eventually leading up to the Chugchilan road. It is a very beautiful walk and there are many stunning views along the hike.
I didn’t see many people along the way. After one hour I met three girls on a horse and a little bit later I saw a man on a horse, on the other side of the river. In the villages Itualo and Chinalo a saw a few people and also when I came up to the Chugchilan road.
On the paper with the description and map it said that the hike would take between 4h - 6h. For me it took 3h and 45 minutes until I arrived at Hostal Cloud Forest in Chugchilán. I was walking alone so I did not stop to chat with friends and I never sat down during the walk, but I stopped many times to take photos, drink water or eat some chocolate. The first day I was in Isinliví three people arrived to the hostel just after dark. They had got lost on the way from Chugchilan and therefore the hike had taken them 7h.
Santa Cruz remains the main tourist hub of the Galapagos Islands with the only certain airport and the widest selection of cruise and day trip options. To be fair it is geographically most central but it seems to have an unfair monopoly due primarily to the airport in St. Cristobel being closed every other year. Politics aside and despite what can seem a bit overbearing touristy mentality; Santa Cruz has a lot more to offer travelers than a mere gateway port for your cruise. There are ample sights that can be easily reached on foot from the island’s main town of Puerto Ayora and even those further afield can be done on day trips by bus, taxi, or even bike. Add to that a large selection of boat trips and Santa Cruz can keep you busy easily for a week. Check out my how to find a decent meal and room as well as walking to sights tips on my upcoming Santa Cruz page.
Situated along Ecuador's Andes mountain chain, Banos is a magnet for tourists and locals alike. It's not difficult to decipher why, with its year-round spring-like climate, great scenery, opportunities for rafting, horseriding hiking and mountain-biking, hot springs, and not to mention the thrill of an active volcano. It is also one of the gateways to the Amazon Jungle and to nearby towns such as Puyo and Riobamba (for the Devil's Nose train ride).
Banos is actually built on the slope of the Tungurahua volcano - the black giant. It is quite active and potentially dangerous, thus the warnings on many consular sites not to overnight there. So be aware that you are taking a chance whilst visiting, as the volcano could erupt at any moment without no warning. At night, weather permitting, one can take a tour from a high vantage point to enjoy a pyrotechnic show courtesy of the volcano itself. Don't bother if the weather is not crystal clear as you will see zilch.
The town itself is a great place to hang out - safe and lively with locals going about their daily lives. Restaurants and hostels are abundant - so it is a great base to explore the area.
Buses run regularly from Quito (5hrs) and Ambato (1hr).
Quito is an impressive city - surrounded by mountains the city stretches on forever within the valleys and creeps trecherously up the steep slopes. There are two areas of main interest to the tourists - the old (colonial) town and the new town - which is where the best hotels and shopping malls are. The colonial architecture of the old town is marvellous. But the rest of the city is not really in my taste - well I don't like cities so I may be a bit biased.
What I did like are the views of the old town at night (the hostel where I was staying had a terrace with terrific views) and the view from el Panecillo, where the statue of La Virgen de Quito is located.
While Quito may be one of the most beautiful cities of Latin America, with its inspiring setting and its UNESCO World Heritage old town, it is also reputed to be one of the most dangerous. Still, as always somethimes things are a bit exaggerated and sensible precautions and good knowledge of what to do and what not to do is essential. Pickpockets are everywhere so be aware where you put your belongings. Travelling on trolles (trams) is the biggest no-no, as is walking out at night especially if you are drunk. Notorious for trouble is the Mariscal area, where at night it is advisable to always take a cab, even for just one block. With some common sense and attention you should probably be quite safe. And finally, it is a good idea to refrain from taking pictures if you have an expensive looking camera, and be as discreet as possible with other cameras lest you want it and the precious photos in it stolen - this may be a bit far fetched but its better safe than sorry.
Though many shortchange Ecuador with a hasty visit to capital Quito and a five day cruise around some of the Galapagos Islands even most of those fly by night visitors pay homage to the Andes even if indirectly with a cursory stop at the imposing volcano, Coto paxi. But for anyone paying attention it becomes obvious that the Andes are the heart and soul of Ecuador. Geographically composing the center of the small country, its indigenous inhabitants offer a glimpse into the area’s past Incan glory and the windswept landscape is interspersed with stunning volcanoes, the most impressive of which is admittedly Cotopaxi. It’s not hard to see why the imposing wonder remains the country’s second biggest tourist draw. Most go on day trips but the area around it can keep the intrepid traveler busy for a lifetime. Please read about our backpacking trip around the massive one on my Cotopaxi page as well as our attempt to climb Ilinizas Norte.
Ecuador’s Amazon basin is perhaps not as famous as Brazil’s or even Peru’s but what it lacks in fame it make up for in accessibility. In fact, it’s probably the easiest country in which to get to the jungle, a straight forward bus trip from Baños or relatively inexpensive forty-five minute flight from Quito. As with anywhere in jungle once there independent travel is somewhat limited and it seems unfortunately easiest to book things in Quito. There are tons of options from luxurious jungle retreats, village stays, and out and camping expeditions. Biodiversity is the keyword and as much as it abounds you need a good guide to help you see it. Please read about a compromise camping/canoeing option in the fantastic Sani Lodge on my upcoming
Baños is a tourist town, plain and simple but it’s an authentic one aimed as much at locals as international travelers. In fact, it’s likely you’ll run into more Ecuadorians than anything else here and it’s easy to see why. Set amongst lush green hills, the small center is a joy to walk around with more than its share of interesting old buildings, quaint little parks, a scenic waterfall, and its true calling card, thermal pools to relax and recharge the batteries of life. The immediate surrounding area offers lots of hikes of all lengths and difficulties. There’s something for everyone and I guess that’s why everyone seems to love Baños. Please read about some of the things to do in and around the area on my Baños page.
Chugchilan is a small village high in the Andean mountains, above the Río Tuachi Canyon. Chugchilán is situated at an altitude of 3200 metres and there are some very nice views from the village. It lives about 100 people in Chugchilán. The village has one main street and along that street you will find the church, a basketball court, an Internet place, a restaurant and a few small stores.
Chugchilán is one of the villages along the so called Quilotoa Loop and many tourists arrive here by foot from Quilotoa or Isinliví . Besides very good hiking possibilities in the area you can take a horseback riding tour to the cloud forest of Iliniza Ecological Reserve and visit a cheese factory higher up in the páramo. I have read there is a local market in Chugchilan on Sundays, but as I didn’t visit on a Sunday I can’t say how it is.
There are three places for accommodation in Chugchilán and they have all got good reviews. I stayed at the cheapest place, Hostal Cloud Forest.
I arrived to Chugchilán by foot and also left by foot, but if you want to take a bus to Latacunga from Chugchilán it leaves already at 3am and at 4 am (and later on Sundays). Other options are to take a pick-up truck or the lechero to a place where you can find more buses.
I had heard that you should not do the hike from Quilotoa to Tigua without a guide as it is very difficult to find the right way, but I had also heard it is possible to do the hike alone, but you must ask people you see along the way for direction. I decided to do the hike alone, but without a map and description it was not easy. For Isinliv´- Chugchilán I had a simple map with description, and for Chugchilán - Quilotoa I had a simple map. And for both those walks I knew the direction more or less, for example you can see the top of the Quilotoa crater from Chugchilán, even if it is far away. For the hike between Quilotoa and Tigua I didn’t know anything, only that you follow the crater rim for a while in the beginning.
When I saw someone outside their house or in their field I asked for direction, but there were not always people around and if there was a fork in the path I had to choose which one to take. A few times I turned around to go back and take another path. I walked down and up two deep canyons and around mountains. After 5.5 hours I came to something that looked like a village and I asked I woman for the direction. She said that that village was a part of Tigua, called something I can’t remember. I thought I must be close and followed the dirt road. It took ages as the dirt road was winding up to the main road.
I had already heard that Posada de Tigua is situated a few km from Tigua, but I had hoped to get something to eat in the village and to visit the art gallery where they sell Tigua paintings. How wrong I was. Tigua is not a proper village, but a very spread out community, so I didn’t see a place to eat, and the gallery was situated even further away than Posada de Tigua from where I reached the main road.
When I finally reached the main road (Latacunga - Zumbahua) I had no idea if I should take left or right and had to go down a path to ask some people working in their field. I got the right direction and now there was a few km more to walk, but this time along the main road, and it had also started to rain. I reached Posada de Tigua 7h after I left the hostel in Quilotoa. It had been a long walk, which definitely had been shorter if I had walked with a guide, but I don’t regret walking alone. When I reached Posada de Tigua I could see that ”as the crows fly” it was not too far from where I had been 1.5 hours earlier, but the question is if there had been another way getting past the canyon.
Since I came home I have looked at Google Earth to figure out the way I took and too see if there was a better one. It is hard to say as the landscape is full of canyons, rivers and mountains and I don’t know were it is possible to pass and there is no strait path.
Latacunga is an authentic Ecuadorian Andes city as well as the transport hub of the central Andes. It’s unlikely anyone traveling by road will not only pass through the vibrant city but also utilize it as a stopover. For those that do take the time to investigate they will be rewarded with a close up look at a city of real Ecuadorians going about life oblivious of tourism, some great culinary treats found only here, and a few colonial remnants of Cotopaxi’s volcanic wrath that destroyed the city thrice over. One thing not to miss is local dish, chugchucara. Read about it in my Latacunga page.
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Av. de las Amazonas, Banos, 2000, Ecuador
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