Embracing Ecuador

Embracing Ecuador

Author’s Note: 

Music was a big part of our “cultural immersion” in Ecuador.  As we traveled through different regions, the music played on the radio also changed with the landscape. According to my friend’s cousins, people in Guayaquil and along the coast love listening to reggaetón, whereas people in the mountains and northern cities like Quito, enjoy listening to classic rock.  Our group found a few songs that we really enjoyed dancing, singing, and replaying over and over again.  Please enjoy listening to my playlist that was curated in Ecuador while you read… Enjoy!

10 magnificent days,

5 fabulous friends,

1 breathtaking country,

and countless trinkets of memories…

Here is our itinerary and the details of our wonderful journey through Ecuador.

Why Ecuador?

During our senior year of college, my friends were itching to travel somewhere after graduation.  Where should we go?  Somewhere warm?  Somewhere historical?  Somewhere adventurous?

We ended up choosing Ecuador because one of my friends, Nicole, is of Ecuadorian descent and has family members who live in two major Ecuadorian cities.  Thanks to Nicole’s wonderfully patient and generous family, we were able to visit an amazing country and get to know Nicole’s awesome family too.  It was a win-win-win for everyone.

Spending some quality time with Nicole’s family in the playground.

Method of Travel and Transportation 

We traveled with two of Nicole’s family members, Jorge and Jaqueline, and zipped around the country in two five-seater cars. Jorge’s heart was unbelievably large and generous.  He was always treating us to snacks (i.e. coconut ice cream, maduros lampreados, salchipapas) and sharing snippets of wisdom.  Jaqueline was vibrant and full of energy.  She was infused excitement into every day.

We were so blessed to be able to road trip with two awesome ambassadors of Ecuador.

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Group picture with Jorge and Jacqueline in Cuenca.

Ecuador’s Environment

Our trip explored all three main regions of Ecuador: La Costa (coast), La Sierra (Andes mountain highlands), and El Oriente (Amazon).  Although we packed clothes for different climates, I’m not sure any of us were fully prepared to experience ALL four seasons within the span of ten days.

From hot, humid air to salty ocean waves to massive snowy mountains… It was interesting to see how the culture, clothes, food, language, music, and occupations, shifted with the environment.

Overnight Accommodations

For the majority of the trip, we checked into hostels.  As a group of 7, sometimes we were able to negotiate the price to anywhere from $10-$20 per person each night.  Sometimes, breakfast was included too!

Yummy Foods

Below is a list of some of the memorable dishes or foods that we tried:

  • Local fruits – Babaco, Taxo
  • Ceviche
  • Arepas
  • Carne con asada
  • Salchipapas (french fries, sliced hot dog, ketchup, mayo)
  • Sugar cane
  • Bolón de verde – Delicious!!!
  • Humitas
  • Empanadas
  • Llapingachos – fried potato cakes
  • Chifa Shengyuan (Chinese noodles and gravy)
  • Pingache
  • El Club – National Beer
  • Horchata with mint leaves
  • Dulce de guayaba (similar to fruit leather)

My favorite dish was salchipapas.  My favorite drink was jugo de mora.

Processing fresh sugar cane in Baños!


To the best of my memory, the following is the most comprehensive list of places we visited. We started in Guayaquil and ended in Quito.

Guayaquil: El Faro de Guayaquil – Santa Elena – Salinas – Montañita – San Mateo – Olón – Ayampe – Isla Salango – Puerto López  – Los Frailes – Santa Marianita – Manta Montecristi – Puerto Cayo – Manta – Parque Nacional Cajas – Cuenca – Chordeleg (famous for their jewelry) – Alausí –Parque Nacional Sangay – Riobamba – San Luis – Volcan Chimborazo – Salasaca – Guano (famous for their leather goods) – Baños: Pailon del Diablo, Casa Del Arbol – Volcán Tungurahua – Lactacunga – Volcán Quilotoa – Puluhua– Quito: Centro Històrico , Teleferico, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo,  Itchimbia, Alangasí, Pintag, Sangolquí, San Rafael

PART 1: Guayaquil

On Day One, we took a red-eye flight to Guayaquil, and were immediately greeted by Nicole’s family members who introduced us to the family, treated us to ice cream, and showed us around town.  According to legend, Guaya and Quil saved the city from the Spaniards, and thus became immortalized when the city was named after them.

We climbed 400 steps to a 360 degree view of Guayaquil.  This is the view of Cerro del Carmen from El Faro de Guayaquil.

During one night in Guayaquil, we went to dinner with Nicole’s cousins at a casual family-owned restaurant in town.  The owners were thrilled to welcome us to their restaurant.  At one point, they asked us if they could film us having a normal conversation as we talked about our food.  They wanted to document Americans trying their food so that they could post it on Facebook!

Hemiciclo de la Rotonda, Guayaquil

PART 2: La Costa y La Ruta del Sol

From Guayaquil, we drove east towards the coastline.  As we drove along the Ruta del Sol, Jorge, explained that each town sells different goods to travelers and this is how they support their families. In one town, we sampled a local tortilla and cheese dish.

Jorge further explained that many of the roads we drove on not exist 20 years ago. Many of the roads were built recently and he speculated that this would probably lead to further development (as well as an increased concentration of gated communities) in the upcoming years.

In Montecristi, we visited the Museo Ciudad Alfaro, which was built in honor of  Eloy Alfaro Dorado, a very famous Ecuadorian President. He was both immortalized and assassinated for his vision and work.

Fun Fact: Panama hats are actually from Ecuador!  President Alfaro was originally a merchant by trade and used to sell “Panama hats” all over South America.  When U.S. President Roosevelt was photographed wearing one at the Panama Canal in 1904, the hats became coined as “Panama hats” even though they originate from Ecuador.

Wearing “Panama” hats at the Museo Ciudad Alfaro.

In Puerto López, we spent a perfect day sailing in the ocean, watching whales and dolphins swim alongside our boat. It was also a fun surprise to see blue-footed boobies perched on the sides of cliffs.  These birds can also be found in the Galápagos Islands!

Sailing from Puerto López to explore Isla Salango.

Our visit to the coast would not be complete without visiting the vibrant surf and party town of Montañita. This also happened to be where I turned 22 years old.

Celebrating a birthday in Montañita, Ecuador with friends.

The last stop on the Ruta del Sol was La Chocolatera in Salinas, which is where the north and south moving current collide on the Santa Elena Peninsula. We watched the sunset drop below the horizon in silence and awe.

La Chocolatera, Salinas

It was now time for us to make our way to the mountains, Las Sierras.

PART 3: Las Sierras

The weather drastically shifted as we climbed into the highlands region of Ecuador… Good thing I brought warmer clothes!

Entrance to Parque Nacional Cajas

After several hours of driving through the wet fog, we stopped for a quick mid-morning snack.

Warm hot chocolate.

Continuing onwards, we eventually arrived in Cuenca, which is famous for it’s 16th and 17th century era Spanish colonial architecture.

Domes of the New Cathedral of Cuenca

In the main part of town, Jorge explained that all of the candies and sweets was for the religious festival, Corpus Christi.

Celebrating Corpus Christi in Cuenca

In the evening, we spontaneously decided to go dancing even though we were not dressed for the occasion!

One man, Jarman, asked me to dance, and I was blown away by his dance moves. He was such a good dancer, I insisted that my other friend dance with him too. Between the two of us, we unanimously agreed he was amazing.

The next day, we bumped into Jarman in a market in Cuenca. We learned that he is a salesman and was traveling to different towns to sell his hair products…

Small world!

Something to note: Before he asked me to dance, he asked to dance with Jaqueline first. The next day, we learned that it is part of the culture to dance with a girl’s parent/chaperone first, if they are present. My friend commented that this formality is “patriarchal” and “a double standard”.

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From the dance floor to the market in Cuenca

Overall, everyone was very impressed with Cuenca. We couldn’t stop marveling at the architecture, history, and expansive views.

Mirador de Turi – Cuenca, Ecuador

From Cuenca, we headed towards the town of, Alausí, which is famous for the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose Train).

Devil’s Nose Mountain

The train zig-zags through the perpendicular walls of Devil’s Nose mountain, offering great views of the landscape as well as insight into traditions and life of the Puruhuas community.

Traditional Puruhuas clothing

In Alausí, my personal highlight was riding the last magic caterpillar ride in town for $1.50 USD and eating salchipapas (fries + hot dog + ketchup + mayo) at night… absolutely priceless.


To be frank, I would 100% recommend this train ride over the Devil’s Nose train ride.

This train ride was priceless.

When we left Alausí, I distinctly remembering that the town smelled like fresh bread. We bought some fresh fruit in the market and nibbled in the car as we made our way to Volcán Chimborazo.

Eating a delicious fruit called taxo on the way to Chimborazo. Taxo is described as a “banana passionfruit”.

Because of it’s location along the equator, Chimborazo’s summit is the farthest point on Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center!

Driving to the top of Chimborazo was like climbing up a spiral staircase of clouds… Perhaps the real-life stairway to heaven?

Volcán Chimborazo cloaked by clouds

I’m not sure any of us were prepared for the snow or the immense size of Chimboarzo, but it sure was an awesome sight.

Laughing on Chimborazo: “Where did all of this snow come from?!”

The next day, we transitioned from the snowy mountains to the lush region of Baños, the “Gateway to the Amazon”. In Baños, we…

  1. Flew through the air on a 1000 m long cable from a 250 ft high post
  2. Swung from a giant swing at La Casa del Arbol
  3. Visited El Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron)
  4. Made a quick pit stop alongside the road to… make a wish? Blame my poor memory, but I’m honestly not too sure what we are doing in this picture…
Curbside in Baños, Ecuador

Overall, Baños is a great location for adventure activities and well worth a visit.  From Baños, we made our way to Quilotoa, which was the place I was most excited about.

Have you ever seen one of those over-saturated and over-edited pictures of a wanderlust location and put it on your “One Day I Hope to Visit…” list?

Quilotoa was on my personal list.

At the top of Quilotoa crater lake

It took about 2 hours to hike down to the lake and scramble back to the top.  The hike upwards was actually unbelievably difficult because I was fighting a 101° F fever and was experiencing extreme shortness of breath.

However, the peaceful view and sparkling waters was absolutely captivatingt.  Plus, jugo de mora was waiting for us at the top of the crater.

Resting at the bottom of the caledera before our ascent back to the top

PART 4: Quito:

Our final days were spent with Nicole’s family in the capital of Ecuador, Quito.

We visited many of the tourist places, such as the equator-related museums like the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo and Intinan Museum.

Intinan Solar Museum

We also explored Quito’s famous neighborhoods and observed a protest in Quito’s Old Town about public transportation.

We sang and danced at a karaoke bar, watched an intense fútbol game, and went fishing at La Isla de Amor, a beautiful sanctuary  tucked away in the outskirts of town.

Fishing in La Isla de Amor

Nicole’s Uncle who hosted us was extremely generous and welcoming.  He called us his four new nieces and said our families were always welcome back to Ecuador.  His entire family was so kind and fun to get to know.

Throughout our trip, I really appreciated the hospitality and warmth of Nicole’s family.  We were welcomed with this “small” and inclusive family feel. Rather than making the harsh distinction between my clan vs your clan, it felt like we were a part of the family.  Our time in Quito with Nicole’s family was the perfect ending to our wonderful trip.

Before we knew it, we were flying back home, going our separate post-graduation ways.

Additional Trip Observations

  1. People really like Bruno Mars
  2. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse were on many buildings
  3. Coca Cola is sold at every restaurant
  4. Families walk together with their arms intertwined, including those who are old, young and everyone in between
  5. You can buy a reggaetón CD from the streets with the latest Top 100 songs

Overall Thoughts

1. This trip reminded me of the importance to be mindful of the pace of travel.  For me, covering so much ground during our 10 days in Ecuador came at an expense of my health and resulted in a fever that was drained my energy and desire to explore.  Moving forward, I aim to prioritize my health so that I can travel at a pace that is reasonable and enjoyable.  I believe that sustainable travel is not only about what’s doing right for the communities you visit, but also doing right for your own self as well.  If you have the privilege to travel, then it is also your privilege to enjoy the experience. Lesson learned, my preferred method of travel is: slow.

2. If I really wanted to become fluent in Spanish, I could make it happen.

3. It is always interesting to see how globalization influences different countries and cultures.  In Ecuador, we saw…

  • Nissan and Toyota cars zipping around town
  • Advertisements to teach “Wall St. English”
  • Americano hostels
  • The use of the American dollar
  • An influx of Venezuelan immigrants
  • Billboards for a “Great wall” car
  • “Chifa comida”, Ecuador’s version of Chinese food
  • Coca Cola served with every meal
  • Papa Johns Pizza and Pizza Hut stores
  • Social media apps.

…We are growing evermore interconnected.

4. Lastly, when I think about Ecuador, I am filled with memories of a country brimming with warmth, spirit, and beauty.  This is one of the few countries that I have visited for a second time.  This second encounter really elevated my understanding of how a country that is the size of the U.S. state of Colorado can simultaneously possess so much ecological and cultural diversity.

Ecuador is wondrous.

I absolutely loved the pace of lifestyle and the people I met and hope to visit again soon.

Pululahua Crater and Geobotanical Reserve, the only caldera in the world with inhabitants and agriculture production.

Where have you gone and had a good experience?

Would you ever consider traveling to Ecuador?

If so, where would you like to go?

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