Five years ago after travelling the world for three months, we wrote a “best of” blog post, and so it is fitting to do it again. This time for Ecuador, a country we have just spent eleven weeks in. These are in no particular order. The categories were chosen as we felt appropriate and in most cases, there was a clear and decisive winner.
Best juice flavour – tree tomato, tamarillo or as it is called in Ecuador, Tomate de Arbol. We had a lot of juices and smoothies in Ecuador, but this one, when available, always won out.
Best overall accommodation experience – Rumi Wilco Ecolodge in Vilcabamba – The Ecolodge is a recent development in the world tourism industry, so from the home made marmalade, to the hammocks, to the smallest of details in the rooms, to the hikes into the National Park from the back of the property and the tranquil setting, this award was a no brainer for us. We stayed in 19 different beds over 76 nights in Ecuador, and this one was the most romantic, serene and appropriate for our journey. Well deserved. Check out our TripAdvisor review for more details.
Best Spanish host family – Although we only had a choice of two for this award, again it was a no brainer. Laura BARRAGAN and her son, Santiago (as part of La Casa de Lauri) made us feel like close family on our first visit with them in early January while we attended our Spanish language school. Laura regularly made traditional Ecuadorean dishes for us to try. She strongly encouraged us to only speak Spanish in the house and the conversations were varied and lively. We gladly returned again to stay with them at the end of our time in Ecuador, enabling us to practice more Spanish, to celebrate Sandra’s birthday and for me to participate in a 10km race with Santiago.
Best hike – the loop around the Quilotoa crater lake, a 10km bumpy volcanic crater rim trail that at times is only one metre wide with sharp descents on either side. Not for those who suffer from acrophobia.
Best run – I feel fortunate to be part of a community of runners such that, wherever I go, which ever country or city I am in, I can generally make contact with fellow runners who use the Strava application. It was with this in mind, that I met up with Pablo ANDRADE, and we ran the El Chaquinan 20km trail together. This was my best run, not for speed, but for the scenery and company.
Breakfast – Our breakfast at the BioHostal in Mindo wins this award. Most breakfasts in Ecuador consisted of scrambled eggs, bread rolls, coffee and sometimes juice. The Bio Hostal breakfast mixed it up with for example pancakes or granola and fresh fruit.
Lunch – The Ecuadorean standard Almuerzo is chicken, beef or fish with white rice and some vegetables (cooked or raw) together with soup to start with and a glass of fresh juice. It costs as little as USD2.50. We appreciated the food at a small eatery in calle Alfonso Perrier, Quito. It was so small, it didn’t have a name, but it is run by a Colombian couple. It was so good, despite the choices of literally hundreds of other locales, we went there three times for lunch.
Dinner – We wondered along the banks of the Rio Tomebamba looking for a restaurant for a Friday night dinner date. We spotted Sofy on a slight hill overlooking the river. It only had a few tables and despite it being Friday night, we were the only guests – normally an ominous sign. All that said, the service was excellent and the dishes well-presented and very tasty. We had the homemade Andean tapenade with rustic bread and the Thai Green Chicken Curry.
Toilet room – This may have been a strange category except it wasn’t until the last few hours in Ecuador that I could have awarded the prize for this. The toilet nearest Darwin café in the Mariscal Sucre International Airport was aesthetically the nicest toilet. The room was extremely clean and the fact you could put used toilet paper into the toilet, something that I hadn’t been able to do for 76 days (as the bin is the norm in Ecuador) was appreciated.
Best animal – The blue footed booby won this prize, although it was a difficult choice with so many amazing animals in Ecuador. Being a native of the Galápagos Islands, we had obviously never seen them in the wild before. Their funny dance (to attract a mate) was what won Sandra over. It resembles someone walking over hot stones… they try not to stay on each spot for too long (as if to avoid burning their feet).
Plant – I’m not normally a big plant person (I’m sorry, Rob), but the variety of native plants in Ecuador was simply amazing. The best plants I saw close up and could identify were the orchids on display at the Quito Botanical Gardens.
Night out – One night in Quito, we went out with Laura, Santiago, Brad and Donna (two other Spanish language students) for dinner and dancing in at El Balcon Mirador de la Ronda Alex in calle La Rhonda, Quito. It was our first time dancing for a while, and with the company we had, it was a special night to remember.
Night in – Sandra’s birthday night with Laura and Santiago. Again, a special night with special friends.
Purchase – We don’t buy much, mainly because we don’t need much, but also because we can’t really carry much more with us. Between us, our bags, clothes and everything else weighs about 21kg. The best non food, non service purchase in Ecuador was… a new spork (my original one broke and Sandra’s just disappeared).
Best value activity – That would be our Chimborazo day tour. Several days before we arrived in Riobamba, Sandra had mentioned doing a mountain bike ride from the side of Chimborazo. At first, I was a little dubious, but once we met with Galo from Probici who explained the whole day to us, I was dead keen. It was a great day of hiking and mountain biking on the side of the highest mountain in Ecuador. The cost was USD60 per person, which I initially thought was a tad expensive, but it was totally worth it. Although it didn’t include lunch, it did include transport, our expert driver / guide, the very modern mountain bike use as well as the safety gear.
Unfortunately, as with any experience, bad things can happen as well. Below are the worst of awards.
Health scare – My traveller’s diarrhoea was the worst illness or injury we have had in the past six months of travel. Laid me up in bed (more or less) for six days, and at a time when we were in the amazing Galápagos Islands.
Accommodation – Hostal Marysol in Puerto Ayora in the Galápagos Islands didn’t contribute to my illness, but the tiny bedroom and even smaller, unclean bathroom certainly didn’t help my recovery at all. It is the only accommodation I have given only one star on TripAdvisor.
Scariest bus trip – The ride from Isinlivi to Latacunga was more than a little nerve racking, given the soggy twisting gravel road, foggy morning and shear drops into the valley below. The driver was either very skilled or we were just very lucky.