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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Puente del Bahia de Caraquez y San Vicente opened on October 31, 2010

At 6:00 a:m the celebration of a dream that has existed here for over 54 years with the opening of a new bridge across the estuary of the Rio Chone joining the communities of San Vicente and Bahia de Caraquez. Two delegations of citizens from each community led by their respective mayors commenced marching towards the middle of the 2 km bridge ( the longest in Ecuador ) . A celebration when they "met in the middle" symbolized the brotherhood between the communities.

Shortly after vehicles lined up to easily cross the bay which previously would have meant waiting for the gabarra ( during holiday periods often for several hours ) for the twenty minute ferry crossing. We joined the many citizens and walked across the bridge to San Vicente and returned by panga.

Constructed over two years by 700 Cuerpo de Ingenieros del Ejército and 1500 contracted employees, at a cost of $ 102 million. It has seismic features that will enable it to withstand an earthquake of 8.5 magnitude. This is one of the most important engineering installations in Ecuador.

Photo Library of Images during construction of the bridge:

The bridge was officially inaugurated by Ecuador President Rafael Correa on Wednesday 3rd of November along with the festivals celebrating 135 years of cantonización of the Bay that is celebrated with popular celebrations, the parade of honor, the solemn session and several sporting events and cultural acts. The Grand Parade Finale Event was November 3rd, a 3 hour long parade on the Malecon of dignitaries, marching bands and costumed dance troops, fire engines,

military equipment, dancing stallions, and a wide variety of service clubs and organizations.
The week has been full of celebrations with November 1st - All Saints Day Day November 2nd - Day of the Deceased and November 3rd the Cantanization of Canton Sucre.

Official photos of President Rafeal Correa

President Correa arrived by helicopter at 5:45 p:m landing in San Vicente, across the estuary, he spoke to the citizens gathered there. He then cut the inauguration ribbon to allow a small parade of vehicles to cross the bridge. He rode in the back of an open truck in this parade to be received the crowds of people from all over Ecuador gathered at a ceremonious stage set up in Bahia. He was received by an exuberant crowd of more than 25,000 waving flags and chanting their gratitude and appreciation. He along with other dignitaries made speeches followed by a "twinned" celebration of fireworks on either side of the bay, and live music. The band " ARIEL" from Chone provided the festivities music with dancing until 4:00 a:m .

With the new bridge they have also extended the malecon along the seawall. We now have over 20 kms of seawall malecon for walking and cycling that starts within several blocks of our home.

A very important part of Ecuador's culture is the celebration known as the Day of the Dead "Día de los Difuntos" (All Souls Day) is celebrated on November 2nd throughout the country. We live nearby the local cemetery. For the past several weeks we have watched both workers and locals cleaning, weeding, trimming, painting and sprucing up the site for Tuesday, November. 2. Ecuadorians visit the memorial parks to honor their departed. Indigenous communities massively visit cemeteries keeping an old pagan tradition of taking along the favorite food dishes to share with their loved ones by their graves. They eat quietly and slowly in a solemn ceremony, sharing food among the families. Some of them circulate around the cemetery exchanging foods. They give food as a reward for those who pray for their departed. Here the street was crowded with celebrants carrying food and flowers, vendors selling food and flowers, and police re-directing vehicular traffic. Tombstones were given a fresh coat of paint, floral arrangements and food were placed at tombs and crosses marking grave sites, and candles lit in honor of departed loved ones.

At dusk the setting sun cast a glow overlooking the cemetery freshly filled with brilliant colour from all the floral arrangements which faded into darkness filled with a sea of candles burning.

Colada morada y guagua de pan are the typical food for All Souls Day. "Guaguas" means "kids" in the native Quichua language. Although the traditional customs are fading, families mix and knead dough, fashion it into babies, birds, animals and other shapes and stoke up their clay beehive ovens to bake the bread. It is traditional for men to receive a bread horse and women to get a little bread doll. Nowadays, you can find this typical bread with several fillings: chocolate, marmalade, whipped cream, dulce de leche (made by boiling down milk and sugar), and many other surprises These offerings are eaten and given to their dearly departed loved ones on this day along with colada morada to drink. Colada Morada is made with blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, corn flour, sugar, mortinos, cinnamon, allspice, anis, and babaco.After hours of preparation, the result is a delicious warm beverage to enjoy. This purple drink symbolizes the grief and the blood of those who no longer accompany us. For a detailed recipe :

And Bahia's very own Casa Ceibo earns the first Green Five Star Award in South America from the American Academy of Hospitality Services (AAHS).

The prestigious recognition justly rewards the pioneering efforts of Casa Ceibo's founders, Charles Van Diver, a Destin, Florida developer, and Daniel Jacome, a Galapagos guide and drummer for Ecuador's top rock band, Tercer Mundo.

"Casa Ceibo delivers an exceptionally luxurious experience, yet many aspects of the property, its services and people fulfill a mission of environmental, cultural and social consciousness that's downright extraordinary." It's "green appeal" shines through in many ways, from its use of local artisans and craftsmen to the breathtaking property and its owners' efforts to reforest the threatened mangroves, which softly buffer the hotel from the waves of the bay. The owners have also taken great care to bolster the native economy by choosing Ecuadorian vendors and sourcing staff mostly from Bahía.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Noches de Verano 2010 en Bahia de Caraquez

Noches de Verano 2010 en Bahia de Caraquez

Once again the visitor numbers from the Sierra to the coastal community of Bahia de Caraquez have swelled significantly. The school year in the sierra is similar to the traditional North American school year with two months of vacation in July & August. Families from the Sierra love to spend their summer vacations on the coast. The streets have young people of all sizes riding motorcycles, scooters, and atv's. The school year here on the coast breaks for "summer vacation" in January & February. It is nice to see local business ( restaurants, stores ) bustling with customers, beaches crowded, and the water activity again on the estuary.

Now anticipated as one of the best forms of community entertainment is the 2010 Noches de Verano ( Nights of Summer ). Held on six consecutive Saturday evenings in July and August in various downtown main street locations in Bahia de Caraquez. It is very well attended by thousands of residents and visitors. This is a family event with community clubs, schools, and churches selling cakes, food, and drinks. Each evening starts with a short parade down the Avenue of Simon Bolivar ( main street ) featuring community royalty, this night's festival selected queen, a local school marching band and dance troup, Disney characters, clowns and varied entertainment.

A central stage features a formal program provided by the Municipality Tourism with a variety of entertaining artists , musicians, choreographed dance ensembles, cultural groups, folklore and comedians. Local youngsters compete as mini Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, karaoke singers, and latin dancers.

On the inaugural evening members of the Symphonic Band of the Municipal Government offered a complete repertoire of ballads, classic music, and boleros to the public's delight. Late in the evening ( shortly before midnight ) with the street vendor smells of BBQ meats, fresh popcorn, hot fruit alcohol punch, and spilt beer, a band and DJ take over to provide music for dancing in the streets. A fireworks display lights the tropical summer evening moonlit sky. The nights of summer program provides the business owners ( who all remain open ) with boosted economic benefits. Local merchants have contests and provide promotional gifts and prizes.

Currently we have a Brazilian Circus in town. Well the other evening we had a circus side show in our own yard.

On an otherwise tranquil, starlight evening in Bahia, Sasja our boxer pup, started barking forcefully. Now she is a rather quiet dog normally and except for disliking fireworks and gunshots she doesn't bark. Deborah ventured out to see what the commotion was about and yelled for me. I thought it to be much safer to first peer out the window. She was now wielding a large stick, and the dog was barking madly. I could see atop the fence pole two beady eyes and a long nose. At this time I was not able to discern whether this was a large snake or what.... I thought it best to hide under the bed. Before I had the opportunity to act there was a loud crack. There was shrieking, sissing, dogs, cats, unknown critter, and wife madly scurrying about. She had whacked the fence post with the large stick and this critter came flying into the yard to be chased and give chase. Needless to say I now knew the size of the animal and felt obligated and safe enough to venture out and provide some guidance or assistance...

Now that everyone has survived we have been asking others, and searching the internet in an attempt to identify this creature. After numerous suggestions and reviewing photos it appears our visitor was a white eared, or a similar variety of opossum.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tosagua Sunday Market

While you will not find the Tosagua Sunday Market described in any of the Ecuador travel guides this market is much larger in both size, and money transactions than the famous Otavalo market. The market's focus is on the real daily domestic needs of the areas people who travel extensively from throughout the region to collect, sell, barter, and exchange their produce, wares, or

livestock for the upcoming week. Similarly the famous artisan market in Otavalo was originally a large trading market for the indigenous people of the surrounding areas however it is has primarily become an extensive variety of wooden and woven arts and crafts for tourists with limited focus on the populations daily domestic needs.

Tosagua is a central small town on the coastal plains with a population of about 18,000.

We notice that it is not even marked on the official Ecuador Tourist Map - it is situated between Bahia de Caraquez and Chone. It is the agricultural heart of our province - Manabi, and was named after its annual flooding during each rainy season. This has resulted in the typical bamboo ( without doors or glass windows ) houses with tin or corrugated steel roof to be raised on stilts.
Consistency and uniformity are not present as innovative materials and methods are deployed when resources are scarce. The concept is very practical providing better ventilation, security, and better protection from insects and animals. The open space beneath such homes provides a shaded area for washing and drying clothes, keeping chickens, lounging in hammocks. At times when this area is dry it will be utilized for storage.

There is daily bus service to Tosagua from Bahia every 30 minutes with an open air bus with wooden seats going several times daily. We have this "open bus" on our future adventure list, but this time we will drive.

Driving to Tosagua, in addition to passing many buses and pick-ups full of people, we passed shrimp farms, and farmland with cattle, goats, pigs, donkeys, horses, chickens, corn, sugar cane, tomatoes. Nearing Tosagua in the river valley basin are banana and papaya farms. The Tosagua River is enjoyed for a refreshing dip or for the utilitarian washing of clothes. As I didn't have my camera with me on this expedition these photographs have been taken courtesy of our Danish friend Henrik Jensen. Thank you !

Resulting from its central location and large trading area, it boasts a very large bustling Sunday Market with rural populations traveling with family and friends in the back of open trucks for miles to sell their produce or handiworks, or barter, swap, or purchase supplies for the upcoming week. Most of the town's roads are unpaved and dusty but filled with activity. Through the eyes of a tourist, or someone not familiar with Ecuador, it could easily seem a bustling town from the last century. But for those of us no longer immersed in " cultural shock " the market vibrancy was full of exciting sights, sounds, and smells.

An expansive meat market with a variety of freshly slaughtered animals

Of course a full range of farm fresh country vegetables, and fruit

Several city blocks of vendor stalls with clothing, fabric, shoes

jewelry, artisan handicrafts

hardware, electric goods

During community festivals the "Gusanito" (little Worm) which is often in Bahia for community events winds it way through the dirt and potholed roads of Tosagua.

We had anticipated to find very little information when doing an internet search on Tosagua. To our surprise a group of nursing students from the University of South Carolina were just there for two weeks undertaking medical screening and distributing hygiene packs. More information and photos may be found:


Previously Tosagua was one of three places in Ecuador Habitat of Humanity helped build 40 homes.

And the Eden's Rose Foundation helps the locals in need, and organizes group activities for those seeking to volunteer in Ecuador.

Eden's Rose Foundation

As we return to Bahia that afternoon some of the clothing & shoe vendors will follow traveling and resetting up in Bahia for a much smaller "Monday Market." And some of the vendors traveled the day before to a "Saturday Market" held in Chone.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tungurahua Volcano

Ecuador is a country that forms part of the rim on the Pacific Ocean known as the Pacific Rim of Fire with many volcanoes and much earthquake activity. Just last week ( August 12th ) we experienced a 7.1 earthquake that shook the entire country but fortunately caused little damage. In late May the Tungurahua volcano erupted.

The Tungurahua ( Quichua for "Throat of Fire" ) Volcano is one of Ecuador's and South America's most active and highest volcanoes. Part of the Sangay National Park it is located in the Andean Range, 140 km south of Quito the capital of Ecuador, known as the Avenida de los volcanes. On the opposite side of the "Avenida de los volcanes", towers the huge Chimborazo. With luck, you can even see the green carpet of the Amazon basin between the clouds, or the fire spying Sangay volcano. A new lava dome has been growing in the summit crater since 2000. Tungurahua is a stratovolcano that is steep sided and with an almost perfect cone. The steep slopes of the volcano are used for agriculture.

Tungurahua is at an elevation of 5,016 m and just tops the snow line of about 4,900 m. Tungurahua featured a small summit glacier that melted after the increase of volcanic activity in late 1999. The small, but extremely popular tourist thermal springs town of Banos is located at the foot of the volcano 5 kms to the north and 15 km east of Ambato ( Ecuador's fourth largest city and also the capital of Tungurahua province ).

The catastrophic eruption was in 1777, when several villages at the flank of the volcano were destroyed. Tungurahua's activity restarted in October 1999 with major eruptions in August 2006, February 2008 and the last in May 2010.
On the morning of May 28, 2010 the volcanic activity suddenly increased and there was a large explosion that caused a column of ash to plumb about 10 km above the crater. The eruption showed signs of declining early in the afternoon but vibrations or seismic tremors continued. The volcanic activity forced the evacuation of approximately 2,500 people from five communities surrounding area near the volcano and also closed some airports.
This eruption of Tungurahua caused the fall of ashes in many towns on the coast as far away as Guayaquil, and in the Andean highlands. The Director of Civil Aviation made a decision to close the airport in Guayaquil and surrounding villages. Flights were also suspended between Quito and Lima, Peru. Flights were also suspended between Quito and Cuenca and Loja which is in the south of the country.

The eruption in October 1999 caused the government to evacuate people living in the area of the volcano. More than 20,000 people, including all the city of Banos were moved to shelters in nearby larger cities and in particular to Ambato. All the roads leading to the area of Tungurahua were closed and were patrolled by the military. This interrupted the major access to the Amazon - the Ambato/ Puyo highway. Banos became a ghost town that had no apparent life although a few people stayed behind and were hidden away in the church and also their homes. Other people also bypassed the military controls so they could tend to their farms and many more began to request to be able to return to their homes and businesses. Just prior to Christmas 1999, the tensions came to a violent conclusion as protesters confronted the military, claiming one person's life in the clash. After the events the authorities let people return at their homes and businesses at their own risk although nothing really had changed yet to the danger of another eruption.

The activity continued on a medium level until May 2006, when the level of danger was raised from a yellow to an orange alert. The eruption in August 2006 was the most violent since it restarted activity in 1999 and this eruption produced a 10 km high ash cloud which spread over an area of 740 km by 180 km and the pyroclastic flows caused 7 deaths and destroyed several roads on the north-western and western slopes of the volcano.

Ecuador is a great outdoor destination offering many climbing, trekking and hiking opportunities. Most are close to Quito which avoids long expedition style approaches of high altitude climbs in other parts of the world. The snowcapped volcanoes of Cotopaxi, Antisana, Chimborazo, Iliniza South Peak, Cayambe, Carihuayrazo, Altar and Sangay are waiting in superb mountain scenery for the skilled climber. Using a ASEGUIM certified mountain guide many of these summits are within the reach of novices.

Tungurahua was first climbed by two German volcanologists Alphones Stubel and Wilhelm Reiss in 1873. Climbing of Tungurahua is no longer advised due to the high level of activity but if one insists on climbing this volcano the best time to climb would be December – January or July – August. The mountain is considered "abnormal" between the climbers. On one hand it is "very easy" and on the other hand "one of the hardest". Both opinions are correct. As you don't have to pass crevasses or scarped ice-walls, the ascension from Baños (1800m) to the summit at 5000m does not present any technical difficulties. The crampons just have to be put on the last part, below the border of the crater. An ice pick is necessary when the wind is strong. But physically, the Tungurahua is a hard challenge. Most of the time you walk steeply uphill- directly into the sky! Beginners should in no case renounce an experienced guide. Unforeseeable weather changes or heavy snowstorms have demanded several victims on this mountain.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, some 475 years old, is often described as the most beautiful city in South America. Quito lies in a narrow valley that extends some 80 kilometers in length flanked by snowcapped volcanoes with amazing landscapes. It is an intriguing mix of old and modern. Certainly this was recognized in 1978 when UNESCO designated Quito as the world's first Cultural Heritage Site. A living treasure trove of architectural and colonial treasures:

Wrought iron balconies line steep narrow cobblestone streets; collections of art, museums, plazas, parks, theatres, monasteries, and 90 churches dating back to as early as the 15th century. Ecuadorian colonial art combines the European Renaissance and Baroque styles with Indigenous and Mestizo influences. Quito's birthday is celebrated in December with bull fighting fairs and flamenco shows.

So much to do, so little time ! I am sure we would all love to have six months to explore Quito, and its surrounding regions. About 7 hours away from our coastal ciudad of Bahia de Caraquez it is the arrival destination for most visitors to Ecuador, and the centre for the country's commerce & business. We have now visited numerous times and compiled our adventures. We enjoy visiting the busy metropolis for the richness in culture, diversity of ethnic cuisine, and the energy of the people. Join us in exploring the streets, plazas, churches, shops and bustle of 2.5 million residents of the largest historic centre in the Americas.

Where open air, old-fashioned wooden buses troll the streets as "rolling musical parties" known as "chivas" Live bands and canelazo ( a warm fruit juice liquor ) are provided.

Situated on the equator west of the active Pichincha volcano ( 15,000 ft ) within the Andes at an elevation of 9,200 feet its climate is always "spring like." To the east is Antisana ( 18,700 ft )and Cayambe ( 18,725 ft ) to the north. The latest volcanic eruptions were just days after our most recent visit, when on May 28th to June 1st Tungurahua ( 16,479 ft ) erupted violently with five to ten explosions per hour, created puffs of smoke, large amounts of ash, lava flows, and incandescent bombs & projectiles. Surrounding villages on the mountainside and base and nearby Banos were evacuated. Today it continues to rumble with minor activity.

The largest eruption occurred in 1660 when more than 10 inches (25 cm) of ash covered the city. There were three minor eruptions in the 1800s. Experts report that it is unlikely that any serious activity will occur in the near future, and the topography of the volcano is such that, even if a major eruption were to occur, lava flows would head into the almost-unpopulated areas west of the volcano, sparing Quito, which lies to the east.

A wonderful setting as an astronomical observatory, it is divided into three major areas separated by hills - central Old Colonial Town; the northern La Mariscal Sucre a modern commercial hot spot known as "gringolandia" with an international mecca of coffee shops, restaurants, boutique stores & hotels; the southern industrial and working class residential area. Quito hosts over 8 million visitors each year.

A little history - Shyris were the original organized civilization followed by the Incas in the 15th century. The Spanish arrived in 1534 and under the direction of Sebastion de Benalcazar conquered the city. The Spanish established Roman Catholicism in Quito. The Spanish actively converted the Indigenous population and used them as forced labor for construction, especially in the early colonial years.

In 1809, after nearly 300 years of Spanish colonization, Quito a city of about 10,000 inhabitants started to seek political independence from Spain. On that date, a plan for government was established that placed Juan Pío Montúfar as President with various other prominent figures in other positions of government. However, this initial movement was ultimately defeated on August 2, 1810, when Imperial troops came from Lima, Peru, and killed the leaders of the uprising along with about 200 inhabitants of the city. A series of conflicts concluded in 1822, when Antonio José de Sucre, under the command of Simón Bolívar, led troops into the Battle of Pichincha. Their victory marked the independence of Quito and the surrounding areas.

In 1822 after the Battle of Pichincha the leaders of the city proclaimed their independence and annexed to the Republic of Gran Colombia. When Gran Colombia dissolved in 1830, Quito became the capital of the newly formed Republic of Ecuador. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Quito was established in 1545 and was elevated to the Archdiocese of Quito in 1849.

In 1535, the San Francisco Convent was constructed and provided Quito's official name.

It was the first of about 20 churches and convents built during the colonial period and the largest encompassing over 8.670 acres. The convent has six internal patios,

and the main altar holds the original masterpiece sculpture of La Virgin de Quito.

The cobblestone Plaza was originally a bustling commercial centre hosting the trade of surrounding populations. Adjacent to the church is a museum housing an art collection of famous paintings, sculptures, and period furniture.

Strolling along Calle de La Ronda, one of the city's flagship regeneration projects, you will discover traditional colonial life in Quito.

A narrow, winding street lined with artisan galleries, candle-makers, hat-makers, craft shops and lots of cafes. The street is home to and has inspired numerous musicians, poets, and historians.

Construction of the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus started in 1605 and took the Jesuits over 160 years to build. A Latin Cross design, it is one of the richest churches in the Americas . It is a Latin American baroque style with a facade of volcanic grey stone and Solomon Pillars.

In the interior, literally every inch of the altar-pieces, the chapels, the columns and the dome of the transept, the choir and the tribunes is filled with sculptures and ornate carvings of angels, foliage, vines, fruits, birds and caryatids decorated with seven tons of 23 kt gold.

A huge pump organ (over 100 ft wide) still functions for mass services. Labyrinths of catacombs lie underneath the church housing gold Incan treasures and the burial grounds for church and country leaders. This Iglesia is a " world treasure ", the splendor unforgettable, and itself is worth a visit to Quito. Additional information may be found at:

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

Basílica del Voto Nacional is the newest and largest church with stunning views.

Constructed in the 20th century over a 75 year period it remains unfinished due to a lack of funding. The church's design is unique inspired by the Galapagos with gargoyles depicting Ecuadorian fauna,

and stain glass windows of orchids.

Underneath the church is a large cemetery. It's towers are 78 meters high, and the Basilica is 150 meters long. You are able to ascend the towers and cross a catwalk above the church ceiling for some fantastic views.

The Basilica can be seen from almost everywhere in the city, particularly at night when it is illuminated in bright green and blue.

Plaza Grande, the heart of the city and its most important square. It's boundaries are the Presidential Palace ,

Archbishop's Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral, Municipal building, and the monument to Liberty. The Metropolitan Cathedral built in 1562 to replace a humble mud and straw church built 30 years earlier.

It is an Orthodox style building, and is considered the oldest cathedral in South America. Its walls and domes have witnessed all the important events in the capital.

Hidden behind a fabulous facade, is a baroque masterpiece, the gold leaf ceiling creates a penumbra.

A resting place for leaders and a place of devotion to the heroes of Independence, the Cathedral is full of secret histories. Engraved plates line the outer walls honoring the parents of Independence. The Cathedral is an intriguing fusion of forms: Gothic arches lead to a Moorish ceiling, while the chorus is adorned with neoclassical episcopal chair, surrounded by colonial sculptures Caspicara. And the three ships are clearly baroque. Among this mix of styles, one is also a story of life in the priesthood in the seventeenth century choral books, silver objects were left by the parishioners and the robes worn by priests.

The Dominicans came to Quito in 1541, building the Santa Domingo Iglesia under the guidance of Francisco Becerra, the Spanish architect.

Work was completed in the first half of the seventeenth century. There is a separate chapel beside the church itself, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. Both the church and the chapel are finely decorated, with altar pieces, statues and paintings. The chapel of the Rosary is another matter it has an exuberant rococo altar piece decorated with golden figures against a scarlet background, columns with intermingled leaf and anthropomorphic designs, complicated pediments - all of which goes to make up a decorative whole of unusual complexity and beauty.

Quito, although a major metropolis, has maintained "green space for people" with several major parks. Given the city traffic smog and noise, bustling pedestrian streets, and the altitude they are a welcome solice.

Parque Metropolitano, in northern Quito behind Estadio Olimpico, is the largest urban park in South America at 1,376 acres ( in comparison New York's Central Park is 843 acres ). The eucalyptus forest park is used for mountain biking, walking, and running.

La Carolina is a 165 acre park in the centre of Quito main business area surrounded by tall buildings. Quiteños gather at La Carolina mostly on weekends to play soccer, basketball, volleyball, fly kites, run, use an excellent skateboard park, snack, and people watch. We collected seeds and enjoyed some rare tropical plants & flowers in the Botanical Gardens located inside Parque La Carolina. They boast over 1200 species of orchids along with many other unique flora to Ecuador. On another occasion we enjoyed a stroll through artisan displays and performances and a leisurely peddle-boat cruise on a figure eight lagoon.

El Ejido divides the old part of the city from the modern one. This park is known for handicrafts available for sale every Saturday and Sunday, with all pricing subject to negotiation ! Local painters sell copies of paintings by Oswaldo Guayasamín, Eduardo Kingman, and Gonzalo Endara Crow. Otavaleños sell traditional sweaters, ponchos, carpets, and jewelry.

A long triangular shaped park of La Alameda is located where the historic centre begins. It has an impressive monument of Simón Bolivar at the apex. In the centre of the park is the oldest observatory in Latin America, which was opened by President García Moreno in 1873. It is used for both meteorology and astronomy.

Casa de la Cultura complex or the National Museum of Ecuador has for the last six decades protected Ecuador's cultural heritage with the country's best and most extensive collection. It consists of five thematic rooms.

The archaeology room holds artifacts from 12,000 BC - 1534 AD of the first permanent inhabitants in Ecuador. The Gold room ( 500 BC - 1534 AD ) unveils the legacy of pre-Columbian metalwork - masks, pendants, emblems and ornaments. The Colonial Art room holds an art collection, heavy religious and Spanish influence, from the different movements and artists from 1534 - 1820. The Republican Art room contains art after the colonial period to 1944 , affirming national identity. Lastly we find the Contemporary Art room representing the globalization, modernization and swift changes experienced in the second half of the twentieth century.

Mercado Artesanal de la Mariscal where there's a huge array of handicrafts and souvenirs on sale in over 100 colourful stalls. If you do not have a chance to visit Otavalo's Indigenous market this is a good alternative.

The Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man) houses the Ecuadorian painter Guayasamín's inspiring collection of canvasses.

A ride up the Teleferico cable car ascends another 4,000 feet to 13,487 feet for a stunning vista on a clear day. It's best to visit early in the morning for clear views of the Andes.

A little mound of a hill that hosted a lot of historical events is now marked with an aluminum statue of the Virgin de Quito overlooking the city and is known as El Panecillo.

In the area of the capital is the Middle of the World complex (Ciudadela Mitad del Mundo) , which marks the spot where the Equator crosses the Andes, It's a fun and educational complex however controversially located and built for tourists. The original Incan sundial for the Mitad del Mundo is some kilometres away and is shown here.

Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) is the city's principal airport for passenger travel and freight. Because of tall buildings and fog at night, landing from the south is not as easy as at many other airports. The airport provides international connections to Madrid, Amsterdam, New York, Miami, Bogotá, Cali, Lima, Santiago, Panama City, San José, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and many others. Currently there is not a direct flight to Canada which is somewhat ironic in that a Canadian company is constructing the new airport scheduled to be finished by 2011. The original Mariscal Sucre International Airport will then become a big park.

North of Quito to the border of Columbia is a region famous for it's artesans. Countless villages specialize in their own particular craft, textiles, hats, woodcarvings, or leather goods. It is the region for the market town of Otavalo. This is the largest handicrafts market in South America, with a huge array of crafts on sale, particularly textiles made in the surrounding region. The busiest and largest days are Wednesday and Saturday, but the market takes place every day of the week. In fact to avoid the tourist crowds we prefer the weekdays. There is lovely countryside all around Otavalo, great for exploring, hiking, horseback or mountain bike.

East of Quito, the eastern cordillera of the Andes rises up before descending to the Amazon basin. The little-explored region of Papallacta, San Isidro and El Cato, is rich in diverse ecosystems, ecotourism opportunities and some delightful hotsprings for relaxation.

We traveled south of Quito through a national park and the avenue of volcanoes. An agricultural valley flanked on both sides by active volcanoes.

Cotopaxi soars nearly 6,000 metres (19,000 feet). The ideal place for adventure sports such as mountain biking, mountain climbing or trekking. Haciendas offer superb hospitality and some great horseback riding. At the highland city of Latacunga we turned west climbing the Cotopaxi volcano. The countryside had colourful villages, agricultural patchwork fields, and many sheep. Reaching cloudy & foggy elevations in which our vehicle was not running well, the air was fresh and cold, and the vegetation sparse. The Indigenous families here in the high paramo lived in thatched earth sheltered homes to protect them from the elements.

Running water and electricity are not present. South of Zumbahua we turned to Quevedo for a spectacular ride. There is a circuitous route known as the Quilotoa Circuit which loops back around Cotopaxi to Latacunga. It was grand scenery along a mountainous road in the rainy season. Unfortunately the fog and rain prevented more photos. Often when rounding a corner most of the road had been misplaced down the hillside, a grueling narrow twisting trail filled with mud and water became normal for many miles. We encountered very little traffic traversing both up steep mountainsides and again down, we passed through Angamarca and El Corazon, on one of the most beautiful routes connecting the highlands with the coast.

As we return to the coast we pass through cloudforests which drape the western cordillera of the Andes as it tumbles down to the Pacific. The area, usually called Mindo is a fantastic place for adventures in nature, and a paradise for birdwatchers and butterfly enthusiasts. Ecuador " Life at its purest " a fitting description for the vast natural beauty !

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador