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Cotopaxi volcano ecuador

A spate of sensations

Scenery that changes every five minutes: the light, the colour of the soil and stones, the vegetation, the temperature. We are climbing Cotopaxi, Ecuador's highest volcano and one of the most active in the world…although not as disruptive as Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull!

A thermal bath in streaming waters, a vapour bath in a grotto or a mud bath supplied by another volcano, at the chic international Termas de Papallacta or at the rustic local Baños de San Vicente. It's balm for body and soul.

La Compañía de Jesús church in Quito, whose construction went on for 160 years and dates back to 1675, recognized as one of the most magnificent in Latin America. With its walls, columns, ceilings and furniture, chiselled, sculpted or painted, and glowing with gold, it will send you into raptures.

Travelling on the narrow roads of the Andes, towards Amazonia, in an ultramodern bus in which you are the only foreigners. You talk with your hands to compensate for your lack of Spanish, trying to communicate with mothers and children, who are all smiles when you make room for a baby on your lap.

Iguanas, by the dozen, slowly crawling on sidewalks or suddenly rushing between your legs on a path in Simón Bolívar Park in Guayaquil (you will have to be content with seeing them here, should you not have time to travel to the Galápagos).

White sandy beaches on the Pacific, where surfers engage in battle tubes at Salinas or Playas.

The Malecón, a superb modern "boardwalk," where you can admire beautifully restored Victorian buildings and where every walker, young or old, is busy talking on the phone.

If we add to this list the numerous museums with their impressive collections and the Middle of the World Monument, you have Ecuador in a nutshell!

But let’s take a deeper look.

Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is a volcano in the Andes Mountains, about 28 kilometres south of Quito. Reaching a height of 5,897 metres above sea level, the volcano challenges three types of people: people in good shape who have taken a pill the day before to combat altitude sickness; athletic people able to climb a very steep path for half an hour provided their lungs can take it; and well-trained athletes adept at climbing with ropes, spikes and belts.

On a beautiful sunny day, the first ones, with the help of a guide, will take an hour to reach the volcano. Safely belted in their 4x4, they will watch the scenery change as they climb: the very last bushes and flowers to survive in such an environment; the stones thrown out of the mouth of the volcano, some of them two metres in circumference; a lake like a mirror. They then reach the first plateau where they can feel the volcano and are surrounded by a black desert and cold rain, but can't distinguish anything, even from a distance of only three metres.

The others, looking for an additional challenge will feel their excitement growing as they start what they call the real climb! It will take them to the refuge, where they can stay the night and go back down the next day, or continue to challenge the monster and climb for another seven hours, until they reach its mouth, the crater measuring 600 metres by 800 metres!

Cotopaxi is only one of the volcanoes you can find in Ecuador.

The spa experience

Since Ecuador is near the sea, has many volcanoes and is in the heart of the Andes, you will find a whole range of spas: some luxurious and very expensive (labelled international) and some very basic ones, costing almost nothing (for example, only $2 for an hour in the mud bath and $4 for a half-hour massage). Everyone can find what they're looking for and share the experience with local people or like-minded tourists. The choice is yours!

The Termas de Papallacta spa-resort is a three-hour drive from Quito. You may choose to spend only a day there or stay for several nights. We recommend you arrange with the hotel desk to have a taxi waiting for you at the bus stop. Otherwise, you'll have to endure a 30-minute climb on a narrow, unsafe mountain road, feeling completely lost in the middle of nowhere.

The interior and exterior décor combine modern furniture and nature in a superb and comfortable manner, especially in the café, the international restaurant and the spa. Excursions are offered to the Canyon Ranch or the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, with hiking and rafting on the nearby Quijos River.

We recommend renting a car to reach Baños de San Vincente from Guayaquil; although not far, it is quite out of the way. At first glance, the facility seems quite rudimentary: a raw concrete building with no decoration, outside showers and a mud pool. You have to decide how deeply you want to dive into the mud and then, covered with mud from top to toe, you just lie in the sun and dry. The vision is stunning and quite funny. After a while you're happy to jump into a bath, cold or hot, your choice, and to abandon your body to the hands of a professional masseur. If all this has whetted your appetite, treat yourself to the best shrimp cevice in Ecuador at the small restaurant near the exit.

Quito equals culture

Quito, the capital in the north of the country, a one-hour drive from the Amazonas, was the first city in the world to have been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, back in l978. Its history museum and museum of modern art, public squares, historical monuments, churches and buildings in the Spanish colonial style are definitely worth a visit.

All the international hotel chains have establishments in Quito, and many small, lovely hotels can be found in the city centre, in its embassy neighbourhood. Many of them are in fact old colonial-style embassies converted into hotels, with lovely private gardens where you can enjoy breakfast.

Guayaquil, the lively city

Guayaquil is the largest city in the country, a one-hour flight south of Quito. Its business centre is booming, and businesses, cafés, restaurants, bars and trendy discos are everywhere.

Many white sandy beaches on the Pacific are no more than an hour's drive away. And you can also spend a few hours cruising on the Guayas River. The riverbanks are quite lively, with young adults and older people dancing to hip-hop or Latino music on outdoor dance floors until late into the night.

The Galápagos Islands

For nature lovers and biologists, the Galápagos, with their spectacular iguanas, turtles and sea lions, are a must. These islands in the Pacific have UNESCO World Heritage status. You have to set aside three to seven days to visit them because no shorter visits are possible. Most of the excursions offered are cruises that include accommodation and meals. Needless to say, the tours are respectful of the environment, since the Galápagos are a protected area.

The Middle of the World Monument

Even if you're not a shutterbug, some photos are inevitable! And the one at the Equatorial Monument, at the middle of the world – where you can stand with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere – is one of them! The monument can be found 25 kilometres north of Quito.

The Ecuadorians

Ecuadorians are a charming, cheerful and welcoming people. Its indigenous peoples, such as the Jivaros and its sub-group the Shuars, are very active and lively communities, and their handicrafts, rich and varied, are offered in every market in the country.

Ecuador has long been known as an unstable country. In a positive development, the current socialist president, Rafael Correa, is the first to have been elected to a second term in the past 30 years.

Language

Spanish is the official language. You can expect to hear a few words of English once in a while, but we had no luck at all with French.

Cost of living

By our standards, Ecuador is not very expensive. It costs only $1,000 a month to rent a nice apartment for six months.

Ecuador’s greatest export being crude oil, transportation is more than affordable. Taxi fares should be negotiated before you get in. In the city, they range from $1 to $4, and we would recommend taxis over a rental car.

For example, if you want to go the volcanoes or Papallacta, a trip lasting one to three hours in a modern, air-conditioned bus will set you back only $2.

The climate

The climate is usually very warm with temperatures averaging 25°C to 31°C during the year. The rainy season, December through May, is warm with averages of 22°C in Quito and 30°C in Guayaquil. Quite comfortable for us North Americans! The dry season is less humid but still a little muggy.

Sylvie Berthiaume

Translation: Christiane Théberge


View of the Andes -Photo Quito Turismo


Papallacta Termas


La Compañía de Jesús church


The Malecón


Iguana

 

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