Posts Tagged ‘Galapagos’

Before I go onto the story of the last few days in Otavalo region, I guess it’s worth sharing a few facts about Ecuador – for those that may consider this as a destination one day.


A land of 31 volcanoes, this country borders with Peru in the South and the East, Columbia in the north and the Pacific Ocean in the west. Chimborazo is the highest volcano at 6267 metres, while Tungurahua is the most active with the last known eruption earlier this year (2012)! With highly fertile soils as a contribution from its volcanoes, the main produce of this land includes a variety of fruits and vegetables and of course Corn of several varieties. Corn forms part of the staple diet including beef, pork, guinea pig (cuy) and seafood in the coastal region.

Location of Ecuador

Ecuador’s economy has heavily depended on exporting resources such as petroleum, fish, shrimp, timber and gold. In addition, it has rich agriculture: bananas, flowers, coffee, cacao, guayusa, sugar, tropical fruits, palm oil, palm hearts, rice, roses, and corn. The country’s greatest national export is crude oil.

The Andes run north to south forming the middle territory or the highlands. Through a succession of wars and marriages among the nations that inhabited the valley, the region became part of the Inca Empire in 1463. 2011 estimates put Ecuador’s population at 15,007,343. The CIA World Factbook gives the following statistics: “mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 65%, Amerindian 25%, Spanish and others 7%, black 3%”.Ecuador’s population is ethnically diverse. The largest ethnic group (as of 2007) is the Mestizos, the descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples, who constitute 65% of the population. Amerindians account for 25% of the current population. The unmixed descendants of early Spanish colonists, called “Criollos” independent of their ethnic Iberian or Mediterranean origin, as well as immigrants from other European countries, account for about 7% of the population. Afro-Ecuadorians, including Mulattos and zambos, are also a minority, largely based in Esmeraldas and Imbabura provinces, and make up around 3% of the population. This is a great place to experience the indigenous Amerindian people and their cultures on a non-touristy level.

Ecuador is one of 17 mega diverse countries in the world according to Conservation International, and it has the most biodiversity per square kilometre of any nation. In addition to the mainland, Ecuador owns the Galápagos Islands, for which the country is best known. Since 2000, the US Dollar is the official currency (legal tender), and this makes things a lot easier for tourists. Things are reasonable priced and the peace loving population make it a real pleasurable experience to be here. The pan American Highway cuts through the country from the north to the south and connects Columbia in the North to Peru in the South!

Spanish is the official language spoken by one and all.


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London – Madrid – Guayaquil  – Quito (24 hours door to door)

Twenty-four hours of continuous travel in the 21st century sounds like one fraught with delays and cancellations or simply bad planning! That was my first reaction when faced with the itinerary to Ecuador. But intense research for an alternate journey plan from London to Quito – came up with the only other option of flying Iberia direct into Quito from Madrid saving three hours at the most – AND  that too on REAL out-dated aircrafts – Iberia (the Spanish national airline that now partners the great British Airways) still does not offer in-flight entertainment on your seats, with no movies on demand on a 12.5 hour flight, and this comes with a  huge propensity of misplaced luggage! The choice was obvious – London to Madrid – 3 hours at Madrid and then on LAN to Guayaquil (12 ½ hours). The last bit from Guayaquil to Quito was 55 minutes and we reached the hotel at 11.30 pm, (4.30 am UK time) – exactly 24 hours since we left home the day before.

Here starts our third journey in Latin America – 16 days in Ecuador including the Galapagos Islands

QUITO: Sitting pretty in a valley at 2800 metres above sea level, on the eastern fringes of volcano Pichincha, Quito is a city to soak in. The Old city – is full of flavours, colours and colonial leftovers. The weather in March is a lovely 11 – 22 degrees Celsius that gives no reason to fret except for the sudden bursts of rainfall, though very short spells. Walk the streets of the Old City and meander through the undulating streetscape – it could leave you breathless at times – the sheer altitude and of course the sights!

San Francisco Plaza - Old City


Quito was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, the first one in Latin America. To quote UNESCO’s World Heritage site “Quito, the capital of Ecuador, forms a harmonious ensemble sui generis, where the actions of man and nature are brought together to create a work unique and transcendental of its kind. With its historic centre and its buildings the city is an outstanding example of the Baroque school of Quito, a fusion of European and indigenous art.”

Starting at La Plaza de la Independencia , the walk around the old city on a Sunday was full of local charms – Quitenos congregate in San Francisco Church, La Compania de Jesus Church, San Augustin Church – the prominent churches amongst many in this part of town. After the Sunday service, it’s a party on the streets! Families indulge with Bands, food stalls, indigenous wares, street entertainment of other sorts and simply loitering in the Plaza – Independencia and San Fransisco. It was indeed a feast of colours, smells and emotions!

Monday brought about some more experiences and surprises –

One – an early morning run on the streets of the Old City brought in glimpses of Quitenos on the move – children rushing to school, trolley buses filled with commuters to work, nurses in uniform rushing for their morning shift, workers heading to the church – to seek blessings before starting their day at work and the early morning odours of a city steeped in history!

Plaza de la Independencia


Two – the presidential palace at the Plaza de la Independencia, where the incumbent President of Ecuador resides and works from turns out into a colourful parade venue. The ‘Change of Guards’ ceremony is officially attended by the President or by the vice-President, in his absence, only on a Monday. We were in the crowd. A few thousand Ecuadorians, school children (the best behaved and dressed I have seen in a while – I live in the UK!!!) and tourists lined up the square for a view of this colourful event and a glimpse of the President. The national anthem was sung with much pride – the look in their eyes and the smile on their faces spoke of a nation content and at peace! The President was there and so was the vice-President – after years of corruption and mismanagement, Ecuador seems to have a stable leadership – this is what the locals told me.

While in Quito try doing the following:

  1. Soak in the Old City
  2. Try not to miss a few museums
  3. Spend some time inside the La Compania de Jesus Church – one of the best examples Baroque Architecture in Latin America
  4. Get onto either the El Panecillo or San Juan hills for a spectacular view of the Old City
  5. Visit the Mitad del Mundo (Centre of the world – Equator)
  6. Try a run in the Old City at 6.30 am
  7. Eat a proper Ceviche in an Ecuadorian restaurant
  8. Drink the Ecuadorian Pilsener beer
  9. Try to be here on a Monday – for the ‘Change of Guards’ and a glimpse of the President
  10. Stay in the Casa Gangotena – right on the Plaza San Francisco

Presidential Guards marking time at the 'Change of Guards'



This is a splendid property that has been able to impress a very observant and ‘fastidious’ ex-hotelier. With 31 brilliantly appointed rooms, this is a very successful attempt at converting an old family home into a boutique hotel. A lot of thought and detail has gone into the facilities, including colour schemes, staff uniforms, ‘eye for detail’, menu planning, room appointment, amenities and overall quality. It does reek of a luxurious colonial experience!

The hotel located right where it should be – provides fantastic access to the city attractions and ever accommodating staffs (at all levels) goes out of their way to suggest options – be it a tour or a meal.

For those who love the hum of the city and want to watch the day unfold at the Plaza San Francisco from their handsome French windows, eight gorgeously appointed Plaza View rooms await! Believe you me, you can spend hours just watching life go by!

Casa Gangotena - Plaza View room


With Quito done for the time being, we hit road to Otavalo tomorrow morning – Otavalo is a small city of 50,000 people and is the most famous indigenous market in Ecuador. More from their tomorrow – if the wine doesn’t get the better of me!

Buenas Noches!

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