A Travellerspoint blog

Day 9 – March 20: Otavalo and Chaski Antawa Train

Since we had an extra day in Quito, we decided at the last minute to book the Chaski Antawa train. It seemed like a good idea, but I didn’t realize that it was a 3 hour drive one-way to get to the train! A 3-hour drive, a 2-hour train ride, and another 3-hour drive back – my poor son was going crazy 

The train itself was fine, but noisy and dusty (we were provided with a thin neck gaiter to cover our faces). The weather was cloudy, so we did not get the great views that I think most people would get.

The train goes from Ibarra – about 30 to 60 minutes past Otavalo – to Salinas. Salinas is a poor town that is being resurrected because of this influx of tourism. A creative band made up of youngsters entertained us at the train station, and then we walked 3 blocks to a restaurant for lunch, which also had music and some dancing.

On the way back, we stopped in Otavalo. This was Saturday, the biggest shopping day in Otavalo, but it was mid-afternoon by the time we got there, so it wasn’t crowded at all. The main square and streets leading out from the main square were chocker block with colorful stalls of people selling jewelry, clothing, hammocks, knitted sweaters/gloves/hats, paintings, chess sets, and all sorts of knickknacks. There were also places selling meats, grains, and fruits.

Since this was Saturday, there were also separate markets nearby selling animals (alive and dead) and produce.

We left at 8:00am and got back to the hotel shortly after 6:00pm. It was just too long of day of driving for us….

We were able to hire the cousin of a friend of mine to babysit tonight, so she came to our hotel, and my husband and I got an adult evening out! Well worth the $10/hour.

The people at the front desk of our hotel made a reservation for us at a restaurant called Zazu, which was rated very highly on TripAdvisor. Everyone seems to know about this restaurant except for taxi drivers. It took 3 taxis before we found one that would even take us. The doorman explained to the driver where the restaurant was, but he still got lost. Anyway, we did get there – and back.

Either the party buses didn’t come by this night, or I am getting used to all the noise (more likely)….

CLOTHING:

I had long pants and a long sleeve shirt on all day. In the morning and for part of the train ride, I had a jacket on. My son had zip-off pants, and he did go to shorts about mid-day.

FOOD:

Lunch in Salinas with the train ride was potato and quinoa soup followed by beef, chicken, or fish with fries and vegetables, and dessert of papaya filled with moraine. Very mediocre.

Dinner at Zazu was fantastic! We started with a blackberry martini (tasty but sweet) and a Pisco sour followed by a bottle of Chilean wine. Following advice from some local people, we just ordered appetizers. We got the fried calamari, crab cakes, and Ecuadorian style fish ceviche, which was plenty of food. For dessert, I got the Baileys brownie, which was okay, but not my cup of tea. My husband ordered the Chilean Gewurztraminer, which he loved. The entire dinner including drinks came to $95, which I thought was incredibly cheap for a fancy dinner.

Posted by bolderwork 15:37 Archived in Ecuador Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Day 8 – March 19: Quito and TeleferiQo

TELEFERIQO:

The sky was mostly clear, so we went up to the TeleferiQo. This is a gondola that takes you 4050 meters (over 13,000 feet) above the city. The taxi was $4.

I had heard that on weekends, it can be a 4 hour wait to get on, but at 10:00am on a Friday in March, we had the place almost to ourselves.

Tickets were $8.50/adult and $6.50/child for non-nationals. It took about 10 minutes to get to the top, and it was noticeably colder and windier at the top. There is a building with bathrooms, restaurants, and mechanical telescopes ($1), a small church, and many pathways to other great viewpoints.

One path leads up and up, and I read that it takes about 3 hours to hike to the very top of the mountain. At one point, there is a sign that says “continue at your own risk”, but the path is well worn, so we continued. My son was not excited about a long, steep hike, but luckily, they rent horses! We rented a horse for $10 for 1 hour for him, and we were able to keep hiking with no complaints.

We hiked for an hour, and as we went higher, we were at cloud level, and the clouds drifted in and out giving the hike a very surreal feeling. I thought we were by ourselves on the trail, but when we turned around, a number of hikers passed us going up.

By the time we got back to the gondola (about 12 noon), the clouds had really moved in. I was very glad we didn’t start up there any later! I heard from someone later on that it is quite spectacular to get there right at dawn.

At the bottom of the gondola, there is an amusement park with small rides for young kids, bigger rides for older kids, and carnival games. Getting tickets for the rides was a little confusing. From what I can tell, the rides are $1.50 each. You get a card at a ticket window for a certain amount. I asked for $6 (4 rides), but the ticket woman said $7, so I said okay. We got 4 rides out of it, so I am not sure why it was $7. There were not a lot of people doing the rides, so there was only one ticket booth open, and the line was very long. My son thought the amusement park was great fun!

When we ran out of money on the card, and I had eaten a lunch of carnival food  we decided to head back to town. There were no taxis by the exit, but there were a couple of shuttle buses. Another couple showed up, and the 5 of us negotiated a ride to our hotels (which were near each other in the city center) for $5 total ($1/person).

QUITO:

In the afternoon, we went back to Old Town Quito and just explored a bit. The La Ronda street is worth a quick walk through.

We had a great dinner up on the hill in the evening, which had amazing views out over town with all the lights.

It was an early night for us, but not for others in Quito! There are things called "Chivas," otherwise known as "party buses". These buses are open on the sides and back with benches or just open, and either music or a live band. The Chivas drive around town filled with party-goers. They go past Plaza Foch quite often, and tonight one Chiva found its way to our hotel door. This bus had the live band with a large group of people signing and blowing whistles. Even when the music stopped, the whistles kept going. This was at MIDNIGHT!

CLOTHING:

I had long pants, a long sleeve shirt, rain jacket, and walking shoes for the TeleferiQo. When hiking, I was warm enough, but when just standing around, I wished I had one more layer on. No jacket was needed in Quito.

FOOD:

I’m embarrassed to say that we ate hot dogs and fried chicken at the amusement park at the TeleferiQo for lunch. It was just convenient….

For dinner, some colleagues from Quito took us to the El Escondite de Cantuña up on a hill overlooking the Old Town part of the city. Well worth the trip – for the view alone! Dinner included a starter of empanadas or potato soup, followed by chicken or beef with vegetables and rice, and finished with peach ice cream or carrot cake. The food was fine, but not nearly as amazing as the view.

Posted by bolderwork 15:32 Archived in Ecuador Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Day 7 – March 18: Banos-Quito

BANOS

We were supposed to spend a third night in Banos, but the weather was bad enough that we decided to head back to Quito a day early. If we had stayed a little longer, we probably would have skipped the bungee jumping and white water rafting, but the hikes in the area looks very interesting as did the zoo.

My husband had some sore muscles, so he went over the hot springs bright and early. After breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water to see the inside. It is very large and beautiful. The paintings around the walls tell stories about the “water saint” that saves people from drowning. The church has a small museum, but it cost money (50 cents), and we don’t read Spanish, so we didn’t go in.

BUS TO QUITO

We decided to take the bus back to Quito. My husband went to Café Good to get some ham and cheese sandwiches for the bus ride while my son and I went to the playground to burn off some energy. It is an excellent playground!

The bus to Quito is $3.50/person and took us 3 ½ hours. They depart from the bus terminal in Banos ($1.50 for the taxi ride) every 20 minutes or so. When we arrived at the bus terminal, we just said “Quito”, and the people working there took our luggage to the bus, and showed us where to buy the tickets.

They gave us an assigned seat, but they also pick up and drop off people along the way, some of whom just stand on the bus. One woman that got on the bus outside town was quite elderly, so my husband gave up his seat. Luckily, she got off in a town not far away, so he got his seat back.

Various people came on the bus at several stops selling food (I think the sandwiches are safer for tourists). Quite an industry – get on the bus in one town selling things, get off at the next town, then do the same thing going back.

The bus was quite comfortable – especially considering the price! It made many, many stops along the way, but they were all very short.

There were no bathrooms stops!

Near Quito, there was a hail storm, and we could see a layer of hail on the ground that looked like snow. Right on the equator!

Once we got to the bus terminal, which is in south Quito, we took a taxi to our hotel. We hit very bad rush hour traffic. The taxi cost $8 – almost the same as the bus ride….

QUITO

For dinner, we walked to Plaza Foch and just picked a restaurant that looked good – Azuca Beach, which is upstairs from the regular Azuca Restaurant. It had great views and a lively, cozy atmosphere.

There were many stores along the way with DVD’s and thought it would be good to rent a movie. In the end, the DVD’s are bootleg copies for sale for $1 each.

LODGING:

We stayed at the Mercure Hotel for 3 nights. We had a suite, which was very spacious, had lots of windows, and 2 balconies. It had a separate bedroom with a door, and the sitting area had a pull-out couch for our son as well as a table with chairs, TV, mini-bar/refrigerator, and a desk. We requested a DVD player, and they brought one up at no charge.

They do have WiFi, but I was surprised that it wasn’t free ($12 for 24 hours). In the end, I was able to find an unsecured free connection. The outlets in the hotel were only 2-prong, and I needed a 3-prong to plug in my computer. The front desk brought up an adapter at no charge.

I was also surprised there were no robes considering the quality of the hotel.

The Mercure is just a few blocks from the Plaza Foch, so it is nice location.

The lobby has a bar in the middle, a quiet library area off to the side, and a separate casino. The casino was busy but smoky. They had a “party” for St. Patrick’s Day but on March 20th (Saturday).

CLOTHING:

For the bus ride, I had long pants and long sleeve shirt. I never needed my jacket on the bus, but I did in the evening in Quito.

FOOD:

The sandwiches from the Café Good were fine, but nothing spectacular.

Azuca Beach had 2-for-1 drinks until 8:00pm. We had a couple of “2-3 person” dishes, which had a combination of fish, chicken, and beef. It was tasty but a little overcooked.

Posted by bolderwork 15:17 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bus Comments (0)

Day 6 – March 17: Banos

LAUNDRY:

Our first order of business today was to get some laundry done. There are many places around town that offer laundry for $1/kg and done in 2 hours. Make sure you confirm their hours so that you do not get there when it’s closed. After Cotopaxi, we definitely needed it!

BUGGIES:

There are a number of places to rent 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles and little dune buggies. My son was very excited at the idea of these, so we rented 2 of them for 3 hours ($10/hour or $25/3 hours). The ATV’s were faster but not as stable. The buggies were more comfortable and easily fit 2 people. Some of the buggies have a top for added shade, so look for those.

We drove up the “avenue of waterfalls.” At “El Manto de la Novia” waterfalls, we took a cable car per the recommendation various travelers that we met (so you know it has to be good). The “cable car” is an open metal “basket” that holds about 10 people standing. This one takes you down to the bottom of the valley where you can hike across a bridge and the valley floor to the bottom of the waterfalls. It was up close and personal, and my son liked getting wet from the spray. Well worth the $1!

We went up as far as the Moria waterfalls, and then came back to the “Pailon del Diablo” waterfalls where we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the canyon. There is a hike of 1km straight downhill to a great viewpoint of the Diablo waterfalls.

It was raining pretty hard after lunch, but we had no choice but to brave the rain and drive back to Banos in our open buggies. Needless to say, we were a bit chilly by the time we got back, so it was a great time to visit the hot springs.

HOT SPRINGS

The Baños de la Virgen hot springs were right across the street from our hotel. It was $2/adult and $1/child (or $3/adult and $1.50/child at night). There were 2 warm pools open and 1 cold pool. There are also some outdoor cold showers that seem to come directly from the waterfalls up above. This was mid-afternoon, so there were lots of families there. It appears that the elders of the town enjoy the hot springs in the morning, families at mid-day, and the party crowd goes at night. The pools were quite full in the evening (too full for me).

There are showers and changing rooms, baskets to put your extra clothes, and we rented towels for $1 each.

IN TOWN:

I was never able to get the wireless Internet to work in our hotel room, so I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Internet room off the lobby catching up on emails while my husband and son found a high quality ice cream brownie at Café Good.

It was another pleasant evening for a walk around town. Near the hotel was a volleyball court that was lit up at night and had a number of lively games going on. Next to that was an indoor sports arena that had a large crowd watching kids playing soccer earlier in the evening and men playing basketball later on. The shops around the main plaza stay open into the evening, but the small market stalls are only open during the day.

For dinner, we ate at La Jardin on the square by the church. It has a nice outdoor garden area with fireplace and hammock. Inside is nice too and warmer 

CLOTHING:

Thank heavens we had warm jackets and rain jackets on our excursion today because we definitely needed them. It was a long pants and warm clothing type of day.

FOOD:

Breakfast is included at the hotel, and I thought it was quite good. They have a large selection of fruits, about half of which I recognize, 3 kinds of yogurt, homemade granola, corn flakes, rolls with jellies, juices, coffee, hot chocolate, and your choice of eggs.

We had lunch at a restaurant near the Diablo waterfalls. The spaghetti Bolognese was excellent, the ham and cheese sandwich was okay but the ham tasted like bologna, and we ended up with some fried herbed potatoes not realizing what we ordered, but my son loved them. I thought lunch was very cheap.

For dinner at La Jardin, my son was thrilled with just spaghetti and parmesan cheese. My husband and I both had the Shrimp Thai Style, which was excellent. It’s happy hour 5-8pm, so we enjoyed 2-for-1 vodka-tonics and gin-tonics.

Posted by bolderwork 15:03 Archived in Ecuador Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Day 5 – March 16: Cotopaxi National Park - Banos

HORSEBACK RIDING, PART 2

My son, who was not excited about horseback riding yesterday, decided that he absolutely had to go on another ride. Apparently, he was the only one who didn’t have a sore butt! So first thing in the morning, I found myself on a horse on a short loop around the hacienda with our guide, Roberto.
The highlight of the ride was cantering – my son’s hat fell forward covering his face, so he was yelling, “I can’t see! I can’t see!” while trotting along. It was very funny, but Roberto was quick to get control of his hat and his horse again.

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK

After another delicious breakfast, we joined a couple from the Netherlands and 2 local guides and headed to Cotopaxi National Park. It was about 20 minutes to the gate. We had to pay national park fees here: $10/adult and $5/child.

It was a longer, bumpier ride to the parking lot below the refuge on Cotopaxi (30-40 minutes). A few cars had bikes on top, and then people ride down them back down the mountain. It looks exhilarating!

It was about a 45 minute hike up to the refuge/hut (4800m / 15,750 feet). The trail is mostly straight up and on fairly loose sand. We hiked slowly, slowly, and with many breaks because of the altitude.

The refuge is fairly large with a few different cooking and eating areas on the main floor and bunk beds (some 3 high!) on the second floor. Bathrooms are outside in a separate building and very primitive (bring your own toilet paper).

Our guides made popcorn and tea to go with cheese, bread, chips, chocolate, and wafer cookies. There are also sodas and chips available for sale.

After our snack and a short rest, we continued up another 20 minutes to the glaciers for some great photos (almost 16,000 feet!). The weather was not kind to us on this portion as the clouds had moved in and brought strong wind and light rain, but then it cleared off for the decent.

Because of the soft sand, it is a much easier hike or run down the mountain, but boy, my shoes were filled with lots of sand, rocks, and fine dust that took days to become manageable.

After the hike, we drove to the Limpiopungo Lake. I can see that this would be very beautiful, but not so much for us on this cloudy day.

We switched cars and drivers and left the Dutch couple as we were heading down to Banos, and they were heading back to the Hacienda.

BANOS

It was a 2 hour drive to Banos. I had planned to stop in Quisapincha to visit the leather market on the way, but in the end, we were all just too tired, and so we skipped it.

It was about 6:00pm when we arrived in Banos. After we checked in, we ate dinner and then had a nice walk around town.

The cathedral forms one side of the main square in town and the streets heading out from there are filled with restaurants and shops. It seems like every single building in town is a hotel, and every restaurant is Italian.

The cathedral is lit up at night by blue lights and looks spectacular. Lots of people and families were out and about, so we felt safe everywhere we walked in town. (Of course, we stayed in the main area of town, and we keep our money well hidden.)

LODGING:

Well, when we were shown to our hotel room at the Sangay Spa Hotel, we were quite dismayed. I thought we were staying in the nicest hotel in town, but the room was very “Motel 6”. It was clean, but very small, worn, and no character whatsoever. We were able to upgrade to the executive wing where the room was a least a little bit larger and supposedly had free WiFi.

I had picked this hotel because it had lots of kid-friendly features: swimming pool with slide, trampoline (no nets and under power lines), tennis courts, ping pong, pool tables (one with duct tape), and foosball. In the end, we didn’t use any of these amenities.

It is in a great location next to the hot springs and waterfalls, and it is walking distance to everything. It is also great for families, but I highly recommend the executive wing.

We also visited the Hotel Pasada del Arte, which had a lot more character, is only a block away, and is run by an American couple. The Volcano Hotel is another decent choice. The Samurai Spa appears to be the nicest hotel in Banos (the only 4-star hotel), but it is just far enough outside town that you would have to take a taxi into town (probably $2 each way).

If you are a budget traveler, there are at least a hundred hotels in town, so unless you are there during the busy season June-August, you are probably safe just finding a hotel when you arrive.

If I went there again, I was stay at Hotel Pasada del Arte.

CLOTHING:

Cotopaxi was very cold! Thicker long pants, long sleeve shirt, fleece layer, rain jacket, hat, and gloves. We did not pack gloves or hats, but you can buy them at the Cotopaxi gate (about $2 for gloves and $5 for hats). I wish I had! Also wear dark socks and hiking shoes – they will get extremely dirty. My son was covered in dirt from head to toe.

Banos was warmer by comparison, but still long pants and a jacket for the evening.

FOOD:

We had plans to eat lunch at the Hacienda San Agustin de Callo en route to Banos, but none of us were hungry after Cotopaxi.

With our hotel room at the Sangay Spa Hotel, we got free drinks at one of the hotel restaurants, “El Chozon de la Molienda.” It was actually a very cute tropical-looking restaurant with an amazing wood-fire pizza oven. Around the bar are several wood swings, which were fun. The drinks were a local fruit and cinnamon juice with optional alcohol. Quite tasty either way.

I highly recommend the Hawaiian pizza and BBQ chicken wings. The tomato soup and pork plate were very passable.

There are signs all over Banos for a white and red ice cream on a stick. My son decided to give it a try but didn’t like it. There are a lot of better ice cream options.

Posted by bolderwork 15:02 Archived in Ecuador Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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