Travel Ecuador: Guayaquil, Otavalo, Latacunga, Riobamba, Tena and Beyond
In our first article about Ecuador we already introduced to some of the main sights of the country: Quito, Cuenca, Baños de Agua Santa and the world-renowned Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is a land of many facets and there are many lesser known places that are worth exploring.
It might surprise some to learn that Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is in fact not the country’s largest city. That honor is reserved for Guayaquil, a hot and busy port known for its urban revival in recent years. May to December is the best time to visit, as the steaming and humid summer months between January and April are quite uncomfortable. The 1.5-mile Malecón 2000 promenade along the Guayas River is a modern entertainment and shopping area comparable to that of Navy Pier in Chicago, USA or more closely to the Larcomar complex in Lima, Peru. Along its path are a number of historical monuments, museums, restaurants, gardens, fountains, and more to make for a delightful afternoon out. The House of Culture, Central Market, Artisanal Market, and Cathedral next to Parque Bolivar are all classic Guayaquil sights. The locals love to spend time in Parque de las Iguanas (Iguana Park) where young ones will take joy in catching glimpses of wild iguanas, fish, squirrels, and turtles.
Ecuador prides itself on the union, organization, and strength of its indigenous populations, an anomaly as compared to many other Latin American and international countries who have pushed their native people to the fringes of society. Otavalo is the main center of Otavolos group who still prosper with all the traditions their ancestors refined centuries ago, including musical styles, daily culture, and technical weavings. They have been regarded in many ways as the most successful indigenous group in South America today. The town’s Sunday market is the best place to go shopping in Otavolo and Ecuador, where travelers can not only find local and regional handicrafts but also imported artisanal goods from Bolivia and Peru. The Mercado 24 de Mayo (May 24 Market) is another fantastic marketplace for finding unique produce and other foods. Although just 2 hours north of Quito, nature takes reign in Otavalo and waterfalls, the majestic Mojanda Lake, and volcanoes provide for very scenic walks.
If for nothing else, one of the best reasons for visiting Latacunga is because of the convenient transportation from Quito. A tourist train runs from the capital to the Andean town every day between Wednesday and Sunday, and the picturesque 60-mile (100 kilometer) trip takes just 4 hours. There, visitors can see the famous Volcano Cotopaxi resting about 20 miles away, although it is often too blanketed with clouds to see clearly. Still, up to 9 volcanic peaks can be seen from Latacunga. This town is the very place to take it easy: meander through the many gardens and parks, go shopping for goodies in the markets of Plaza de San Sebastián and Plaza El Salto, and watch passersby in front of the snowy white Cathedral.
The valley-set third city of Ecuador is framed by the beautiful Mount Chimborazo, the tallest in the country at 20,565 feet (6,268 meters). One of the most famous attractions in Ecuador is the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) train ride, and Riobamba is the first place to get to for this excursion. The trip is name as such because of the well-known mountain of the same name hosting the path. The mountain’s nearly vertical rise is what makes the journey a truly hair-raising experience for your South America vacations. In actuality, the train runs from Alausi, 2.5 hours from Riobamba, although tickets must first be purchased in town.
Along with Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, and more, Ecuador has its own slice of the Amazon Rainforest. Only 6 hours from Quito, Tena rests right on the outskirts of the rainforest, resulting in its popularity as a jungle tour, kayaking, rafting, and even caving excursion center. As well, there are many nearby villages that exemplify the nature of jungle living. The streams that run through Tena like veins within a body dump into the Tena River, which later connects to the Napo River that continues on to Peru and Brazil, forming one of the most major tributaries to the legendary Amazon River.
Now that you have a good overview of the places to visit and things to do in Ecuador, the third article in our series will introduce you to the delicious local cuisine, drinks and some of the most popular festivals in the country.
Connie is a travel expert at Latin America For Less, a US-registered travel agency with a strong Peruvian presence. The company specializes in organizing fully customized and best value travel packages to Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.