Ecuador is the smallest of the Andean countries and in many ways it’s the easiest and most pleasant country to travel in. After spending New Year’s in the north of Peru, I decided to go to this small country that I knew very little about.

My first stop after crossing the easy borders into Ecuador was Loja, a colonial city preserved in its best by the local Inca population. Divided by the river Rio Catamaya it’s definitely the most pleasant introduction that someone can have in a new country. The valley of Vilcabamba was close by. It’s famous for its longest living inhabitants. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to go there as I was anxious to see more of the Andes. My next stop was Cuenca further north where I met my friend Nikos and his Peruvian girlfriend. We visited the Inca ruins but if you come from Peru these ruins won’t impress you so much. Something that got our attention was the local Thursday Market in the Plaza Rotary. One of the most colorful markets I have ever seen, from the clothes of the vendors to the actual products. The highlight of the area was the Cajas National Park, almost 30 km away from Cuenca, that’s famous for its more than 200 named lakes. From the number of trails that the park had on offer I took the old Inca trail. That was a daylong trail so I slept at the nearby ranger station so I could have an early start. Trekking through those lakes with the first daylight in that altitude was for sure a thing to remember. After all that beauty I took a bus to Riobampa, a small city at the feet of Mt Chimborazo, at 6310 meters, one of the highest peaks in the Ecuadorian Andes. The reason I went there was the train ride to Nariz Del Diablo. It leaves Riobamba at seven in the morning and you can ride on top of it enjoying the view of the Andes. Since the train was leaving on Friday and I arrived there on Tuesday, I had some time to explore the surrounding area. The hot springs of Banos were coming directly from the mountain and they were forming a huge warm waterfall right in the heart of the village. As for the train ride, you feel the adrenaline rush when it goes through Nariz Del Diablo (the devil’s nose) since the train does a hair-raising descent. The area is so steep and high that there’s space only for the train to go through. After visiting a couple of beautiful Inca villages, the ride ended in Alausi, near the head of Rio Guamote. That’s where I got off to catch the bus to go through the Andes to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The ride through the beautiful rain forest was unreal.

The bus stopped in Guayaquill, the second biggest city of Ecuador that was nothing to write home about. After an odyssey of three hours of bus changing, I reached the village of Montanita, a small fishing village that has been turned into a multinational home for travellers. My dorm was on the roof of a wooden house overlooking the ocean and the sun setting into it. Paolo, the Italian owner, got me into the vibe of the place. As you can understand, after all this rush through the Andes, I paced myself and stayed for ten days of relaxing on the long, beautiful beach. I adapted quickly to the small community of foreigners thanks to Paolo and I became a part of it.  Montanita still stands out in my mind as a place that I would love to go back to and maybe even retire there. After ten wonderful days in Montanita the trip had to go on. So with our minds in Montanita we moved on.

Our next stop was in Atacames, another fishing village with a tourist infrastructure and a lot of really good-looking local girls. We stayed there with Nikos for quite a long time since we each had our little romance. Before getting to Attacames, we had a pit stop at the village of Canoa with a wonderful ocean beach. On the way to Attacames was the Equator, marked with a rather uninspiring rusty sign. We were crossing the center of the earth. In Attacames we met the first Greek in our trip. His name was Manolis, an old boat captain. Life treated him roughly so he ended up an alcoholic homeless in Attacames. We gave him all the help we could but he seemed like he had lost all hope and had taken his situation for granted. It was definitely not a nice memory from the only Greek we encountered. The next days we cheered up again as we found James, a really funny Scottish lawyer that had left his career to do some traveling around the world. He was a really nice person to be with.

After all that “dolce vita” and the reunion with James, we decided to make our last stop in Quito, the country’s capital and economic center. Quito, except for the nice colonial area, seemed ugly to me after all those unique places on the coast. The reason that most people come here is to arrange a trip to the Galapagos. Our financial situation didn’t allow us to make that trip, something that I regret even to this day. The islands of Galapagos are 100 km off the coast of Ecuador and are high on the list of destinations of almost all the travellers interested in wild life. The animals are so unafraid of humans that at times it’s difficult to avoid stepping on them. The feedback that we got from fellow travellers that had made the trip was amazing. That was our last stop in Ecuador because the next day we took the bus and headed to Colombia.

Ecuador was a really surprising note in my trip to the west part of South America. So whether you want to venture to volcanoes, jaunt through the jungle (something that we didn’t do) or gallivant through the Galapagos, this is the country that has all you need for your journey to the center of the Earth.

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