Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Ecuadorian Capital - Quito

El Panecillo

Quito is a city sandwiched between volcanoes on its outskirts and so the city stretches along these valleys - 70km in fact, making it a long, thin and very hilly city.

The city is dominated at one end by the Virgen del Panecillo a giant statue in top a a hill overlooking the city.

Virgen del Panecillo

Sadly it is impossible to climb the hill on foot owing to the dangerous suburbs on its slopes, however a taxi is only $US6 there and back (with the driver waiting). From the hill you get great views of Quito.

Quito from El Panecillo

Another view of Quito

Below  the hill is Quito's historic centre with many examples of colonial architecture - such as the famous Calle Ronda filled with restaurants.

Calle Ronda

San Francisco church and convent

San Francisco church

And Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia

Just outside of the historic centre is the Basilica de Voto Nacional - a grand church completed in the 1800's.

The Basilica

Inside the Basilica

A stained glass window

For $US4 you can climb the towers, which give a nice view of the city.

Quito from the tower

Another view of Quito

From here you can climb the spire.

The Spire

Which basically consists of a vertical metal ladder - so not good for my dislike of heights, but excellent for city views.

The church tower from the bottom of the spire

Quito from the spire

Centro Historico, Quito from the spire

A little further afield is the Mitad del mundo monument. This monument marks the point at which the equator was surveyed in 1736 and although it supposedly marks the exact equator - it's actually off by about 200m.

Mitad del Mundo monument

Despite this, there are many foto opportunities to straddle the northern and southern hemispheres.

The line marking the Northern and Southern hemispheres from the top of the monument

There are lots of touristy restaurants, a museum and planetarium. Nearby is the building where UNASUR meet, but unfortunately you can't enter the building.

UNASUR building

Also close to Quito is a teleferico which takes you up to the Pinchincha Volcano.

From the lookout you can see most of Quito.

Quito from Pinchincha

And you can continue up the trail to the top of the volcano.

Mountain trail

The trail is very steep and difficult - and the weather can make things even harder with cloud frequently descending over the summit.

Steep trail with the summit in the background

Mist descending over the trail

The last part of the trail is vertical rock climbing and sadly the mist had descended over the mountain so I was unable to take any decent photos. However, the mist cleared on the descent giving views of Quito and the surrounding mountains.

Snow capped mountains in the distance

Quito from the trail

Further afield is the Cotopaxi national park. The Cotopaxi volcano erupted in 2015 and unfortunately the trails were damaged and it was impossible to climb. However, there is an easy trail around the lagoon.

Cotopaxi Lagoon

On the trail are many unique species of plants and many animals.

Lizard amongst the mosses

Some of whom were very much enjoying the nice weather.

Lizard lovin'

The park also has a large herd of wild horses that can be seen grazing around the lagoon.

Horses grazing

And of course you can see the Cotopaxi volcano itself.

Clouds rolling over Cotopaxi volcano

Quito was my last stop in Ecuador before heading to my final South American country: Colombia.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Puerto Lopez and Isla de la Plata - The poor man's Galapagos

Puerto Lopez beach

Puerto Lopez is a small seaside village on the coast of Ecuador. It is probably less famous than the party town of Montanitas or the resort city of Salinas but close by Puerto Lopez is the "Poor man's Galapagos" - Isla de la Plata.

Partying on Montanitas beach


Costing a mere $US40 rather than the thousands of a trip to the Galapagos, the Island is rich in bird life


Nesting blue footed booby

The mating dance of the blue footed booby

Birds circling the cliffs

And is on the migration route for humpback whales and other sea creatures.

Sea turtle

Mother and baby humpback whales

The whales came quite close to the boat - swimming around and under it.

Humpback diving

Giving us a wave

And one young whale was keen on showing off.


Leaping out of the water

Humpback playing in the ocean

Just outside of Puerto Lopez is the little historic village of Aguas Blancas. The village is easily reached by bus to the turn off. From there you can either catch a mototaxi or hike the 5 km to the town through a nature trail 

Bird on the trail

Once you reach the town you have to hire a guide who gives a short guided tour of the town before taking you to the town's main attraction - a sulphurous Lagoon.

The lagoon

As you can imagine, the water has an interesting odour but apparently it's good for your skin and it is a nice place to relax for the afternoon. 

From the lagoon you can walk back along the road to the town where there is a lookout giving views over the valley.

Aguas Blancas valley

Before returning to the beaches of Puerto Lopez.

Fishing boats in Puerto Lopez

Puerto Lopez beach

And having a cocktail at one of the many bars on the beach.

Bars on the beach