Our next stop would be driving the Quilotoa Loop, a well-known beautiful drive. Our first day, we didn’t really get it, as the hills and mountains were shrouded in a heavy cloud. We stopped for the night and it pretty much poured rain from the time we stopped to when we woke in the morning, luckily the clouds soon parted and we were treated to a beautiful drive on the way to the Quilotoa Crater. The crater lake is beautiful with Illiniza Norte and Sur in behind, we decided to walk down to the lake, it was steep and not overly well maintained but worth it.
We then decided we could use some warming up so we headed toward the Amazonas region, to the tourist trap town of Banos. We met our friend Sam there, we first met Sam way back in Guatemala, then I literally ran into him in a tienda in Costa Rica and now here we were again in Ecuador. Much beer was consumed as we swapped travel stories, but we did manage to take a very steep walk to the “swing at the edge of the world”. We only got lost a couple of times and were so lucky to arrive at the swing in the pouring rain! We had some canelazo (a cinnamon tea with grain alcohol) and empanadas to warm up and wait for the weather to pass. We finished off the day by going to relax at the local thermal pools, except is was Sunday and Ecuadorians do not waste a second of their weekends, so even though we arrived at 6pm we had to wait in line to get in and the place was packed. Entertainingly we had to where swim caps in the pools (which they will rent you), I can understand me and maybe even Dan (he needs a haircut) but Sam has a shaved head. After Sam departed, we visited El Pailon del Diablo Cascada, it was a nice walk that ended with you being able to “slip” in behind the falls. Of course nothing is that easy, and it was more of a claustrophobic crawl to behind the falls.
Then it was off to Ecuador’s third largest city, Cuenca. We arrived on a Friday and I was treated to a huge sweet market! The city is another colonial gem, and of course Dan managed to find a microbrewery. There was a great fiesta in the evening and we slept soundly even with all the fireworks going off through the night (I hope we can sleep with out them when we get home!)
Then it was off to do some hiking in El Cajas National Park. We didn’t have the best weather, but it was still a stunning place to go for a (muddy) walk. We were going to stay overnight, but it’s above 4000m and it was freezing cold during the day, so we opted to drive for 2 hours over the mountains and spend the night near the Pacific coast at over 30 degrees Celsius.
We had planned on doing some more hiking in Cajas, but the weather wasn’t cooperating so we moved on to Podocoprus National Park, there we found a landslide blocking our entrance, so no hiking there. Instead we ended up in the hippie/expat town of Vilacabamba. We found a great hostel to park at, I did yoga every morning and we caught up on reading, laundry, emails, etc. Somehow a week just drifted by, we would’ve happily stayed longer (or forever) in Ecuador but it was time to keep heading south.