After our whirlwind week in the Galapagos, Tom and I had no reprieve from adventure.
We headed back to Quito, Ecuador to meet our good friends Rigo and Kait that came to visit us on their vacation. While planning our time with them, they said they would rather forego relaxing for adventure, so with phrases like YOLO and SFP floating around, we booked ourselves solid.
Ecuador didn’t disappoint. For a tiny country known for the equator, chocolate, and small Andean women with cool hats, we found loads of adventure activities to be had. Take your pick between the coast, mountains, or jungle, because Ecuador has all three! It’s a small country with lots of diversity.
Our trip started in Quito. We thought it was one of the most beautiful cities we have seen in South America. The city is nestled between Andean mountain peeks and valleys. At night, it looks like someone laid a blanket of lights over the Andes.
Mountain Biking Down Cotopaxi Volcano
The city is worth a day or two of exploring, but ultimately it is best as a launch pad for day trips to the nearby cloud forest, Andean villages, the jungle, and more. For our day trip, we chose mountain biking in Cotopaxi National Park, down and around the Cotopaxi Volcano (one of the worlds highest active volcanos). A few frozen fingers, one broken bike, a secluded lunch, and a long bumpy ride later, we arrived to the base of the volcano.
Riding The Bus In Ecuador: An Adventure Of Its Own
After Quito, we headed to Baños, Ecuador. It’s a small town nestled up against the still active Tungurahua volcano (there’s lots of volcanoes in Ecuador if you haven’t noticed by now).
The small town is located about 4-5 hours from Quito by bus. The ride winds through the beautiful countryside and costs only about $4 per person. Buses are extremely cheap in Ecuador because gas is cheap and the government subsidizes public transportation.
However, you also get what you pay for. Riding a bus in Ecuador can be an adventure of its own.
As soon as you board, you will notice that no one puts bags in the overhead bin space. Even the locals sit with their belongings clinched tightly to their chests. And no ride begins without a personal warning from the driver to every gringo aboard to watch out for thieves.
Given the reputation of these buses for theft, you would think the bus companies would tighten regulations regarding who is allowed on and off. In Peru and Argentina, the bus companies made us give them our thumbprint and/or they would take a picture to document every person that boards.
In Ecuador, however, the buses seem to stop willy-nilly at every town to pick up men and women hawking fruit, empanadas, sodas, candies, and other goodies. They sell their goods for a few minutes and then hop off a few hundred yards down the road.
Some of the vendors call out a rapid chant to tout their goods and others stand at the front of the bus giving long-winded sales presentations. Although obnoxious when you are trying to read or watch a movie, it was good Spanish practice.
Apparently, this tradition of picking up vendors along the way has been going on for many years. I was recently reading a book that took place in Ecuador in the 1950’s and this was the description they gave of their trip on public transport through the country:
“Here the bus stopped, and was immediately besieged by women with their trays of fried pork, meat pies, glasses of fruit drink, or slices of pineapple piled into an enamel basin. Each called her wares in a peculiar singsong.” (Through Gates Of Splendor, Elliot).
I guess not a lot has changed in 50 years. Their trip sounded about like ours. Old habits die hard.
Banos: Adventuring At Its Best
Nevertheless, we survived our ride with all our belongings and arrived to Baños safely. Although its a small town, it is certainly is not sleepy. We found plenty to keep us busy, including hot springs, super-affordable-although-not-so-affordable-as-Thailand spa treatments, Amazon jungle tours, waterfalls, hiking, and more.
We couldn’t fit everything in during the short week with Rigo and Kait so Tom and I stuck around for a few more days to drive a go-kart down the road of waterfalls and to go canyoning (repelling and jumping down waterfalls!).
Each of the adventure activities averaged only about $25-$50 per person for half-day and full-day adventures. Overall, the place reminded me a lot of our vacation to Costa Rica a few years back, but even cheaper. We had loads of adventure and we made some lasting memories with good friends.
If you have been to and you liked Costa Rica, consider giving Ecuador a try. Ride a bus and choose your own adventure! There is plenty to choose from!
*The most amazing of the photos above were taken by our dearest Rigo! Thanks Rigo Urquilla Melendez!
If you have a recommendation for another good "adventure" vacation, leave it in the comments below!
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!