My 10 Favourite Experiences in Ecuador

Last month my sister and I made a trip to Ecuador, a country on the Pacific side of South America. Our itinerary included visits to Quito, Otavalo, Papallacta, the Amazon, Banōs, and Patate. We had a wonderful time with numerous memorable moments.

I love so many things about Ecuador and it’s tough to name my ten favourite experiences. Nevertheless, I’m listing ten for now and plan to write more details in the next few posts.

My 10 Favourite Experiences in Ecuador

1. Visit Quito and its historic centre: Quito, founded in 1534, is the capital city of Ecuador. The historic centre of Quito was one of the first centers of its kind to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. A good place to see the panoramic view of Quito is at Itchimbia Park.

Quito sign at Itchimbia Park
Quito sign at Itchimbia Park
View of Quito from Itchimbia Park
View of Quito from Itchimbia Park

We walk the cobblestone streets in Quito’s historic centre and visit some of the beautifully restored colonial-era churches, palaces, and public plazas, such as the Independence Plaza, the Cathedral, Presidential Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace, La Compañia de Jesus Church with its beautiful gilded interior, and the Church and Monastery of San Francisco with its impressive facade and atrium.

Independence Plaza in Quito
Independence Plaza in Quito

2. Straddle the Equator at the Middle of the World Monument: The country is called Ecuador as the Equator passes right through it. We visit the Middle of the World Monument which commemorates the first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences. This is where Louis Godin, Pierre Bouguer, and Charles Marie de La Condamine first determined the equatorial line in 1736.

Even though GPS measures later proved that their magnetic measurements were flawed, and the actual equator is located 250 meters from the monument, it’s still a nice place to visit and to stand at a latitude of 0º0’0” with one foot in the Northern and one in the Southern Hemisphere.

Middle of the World Monument at Latitude 0º0'0''
Middle of the World Monument at Latitude 0º0’0”

3. Hike and hike some more: We hike to Peguche waterfall near Otavalo, and the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall near Baños. The landscape that we see along the Pan-American Highway is breathtaking. The most strenuous hike for us, however, is in the Amazon rainforest.

Mountains and San Pablo lake near Otavalo
Mountains and San Pablo lake near Otavalo
Morning view of San Pablo lake
Morning view of San Pablo lake
Peguche waterfall
Peguche waterfall

4. Shop at the Otavalo market: The Otavalo market is one of the largest in South America run by the local Otavaleños. Here, we enjoy the lively market atmosphere and browse the various stalls for traditional goods such as handwoven cloth and rugs, Panama hats, art work, jewelry, and more.

Otavalo main square
Otavalo main square

The Panama hats, by the way, are made in Ecuador, and not Panama. The construction of the Panama Canal caused a great demand for toquilla straw hats from Ecuador, because of their qualities to protect from the sun. From Panama the hat was internationally known and people began to call it “Panama Hat” even though the place of origin is Ecuador.

Art for sale at Otavalo market
Art for sale at Otavalo market

5. Relax at the Papallacta hot springs: Ecuador has many volcanoes hence hot springs are plentiful. We enjoy the thermal hot pools and our overnight stay at Termas Papallacta hotel and spa. It’s a beautiful place to relax and recharge before we go to the Amazon rainforest.

Papallacta hot springs
Papallacta hot springs

6. Explore the Amazon rainforest: We stay at a lodge in a lush tropical and tranquil setting on the banks of the Napo river in the Amazon Basin. Birds, flowers, and sounds of nature and nocturnal animals fill our senses. We go on a guided and challenging hike for approximately two hours while viewing many species of tropical plants and insects up close.

The Amazon rainforest
The Amazon rainforest
Boat in the shade of the Amazon jungle
Boat in the shade of the Amazon jungle

7. Visit beautiful colonial-Spanish haciendas: We stay at Hacienda Leito which provides a fabulous mix of old and new. The original ranch building, with its original cobblestone driveway, central fountain, and antique artworks and furnishings, is a classic example of a colonial-Spanish hacienda. The up-to-date rooms and free Wi-Fi let you know you’re in the 21st century.

Hacienda Leito entrance
Hacienda Leito entrance

On another day, we lunch at Hacienda La Cienega, one of the oldest and most historical haciendas in Ecuador, dating back to the 17th century, with a view of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano, in the background.

The old chapel at Hacienda La Cienega
The old chapel at Hacienda La Cienega

8. Try Ecuadorian food: We try various dishes in Ecuador and like most of them such as ceviche, quinoa soup, potato soup, shrimps and grilled fish. We did not try cuy (guinea pig). There are also lots of fresh and inexpensive fruit such as bananas, plantains, papayas, and chirimoyas. Ecuador cacao and chocolate taste divine in their desserts and hot chocolate drinks.

Cacao-based desserts
Cacoa-based desserts

9. Tour a beautiful rose plantation: Although roses are not native to Ecuador, the country has a perfect environment for rose cultivation and is presently one of the world’s major producers. On the plantation tour, we learn about the farming process, from planting to exporting, and admire numerous rose varieties.

Rose plantation
Rose plantation

10. Watch nature, local fauna and flora: While in Ecuador, we are surrounded by nature and innumerable varieties of fauna and flora. I take in the lush vegetation, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls, rainforest, and cloud forests as much as I can. Below is a sample. I hope you see the hummingbird on the right of the red flower.

Hummingbird by a red flower
Hummingbird by a red flower
Tungurahua volcano at dusk
Tungurahua volcano at dusk

Many tourists come to Ecuador and jump from Quito or Guyaquil to the Galapagos Islands. There is much more to Ecuador than the Galapagos. I’m happy with what I’ve experienced on my first visit to beautiful Ecuador: culture, history, nature, food and its people. I hope you enjoy seeing Ecuador through my lens.

Have you been to Ecuador? What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2020 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Postcard from Kingston

In August, my family and I took a train trip to visit Kingston and stayed at Queen’s University campus for a few days. Kingston is a historic city. It was named the first capital of the United Province of Canada on February 10, 1841. It’s located midway between Toronto and Montreal.

Map of Toronto-Kingston rail route
Toronto to Kingston by train

We have visited Kingston a couple of times and have been on the Thousand Islands cruise which departs from downtown Kingston. During this stay, we explored a bit of history, nature, and arts. Below are the highlights.

National historic sites

We visited three national historic sites: Kingston’s City Hall built in 1844, the Shoal Tower built in 1847, and the Murney Tower built in 1846. Shoal and Murney Towers are part of the Kingston Fortifications. In 2007, the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kingston City Hall
Kingston City Hall
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston

Nature

Kingston’s waterfront pathway spans over 8 km along the Lake Ontario shoreline. We enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and saw many kayaks and sailboats on the lake and many windmills in the distance. The Breakwater Park is one block from where we stayed on Queen’s University campus so it was very convenient to get my morning walks done.

Kingston's waterfront
Kingston’s waterfront
Kingston's waterfront pathway
Waterfront pathway by Breakwater Park in Kingston

Visual Arts

We visited the Agnes Queen’s Art Gallery on Queen’s University campus. Admission was free. There were various types of artworks on display, some are more contemporary than the others. I liked one of Sarah Robertson’s paintings and Claude Tousignant’s bold geometric style.

October, Ottawa Valley painting by Sarah Robertson
October, Ottawa Valley by Sarah Robertson
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant

Queen’s University also has many beautiful limestone buildings worth browsing. Kingston’s nicknames are The Limestone City, or K-Town, or YGK. Aside from the above sightseeing, we met with our friends in Kingston to catch up. It was a nice and fun trip that was part of our wonderful summer 2019.

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Malta Highlights

When I was planning my trip to Munich, Germany, I wanted to add a second destination to optimize my trans-Atlantic voyage. Malta met my list of criteria and I was thrilled to visit this small country in the Mediterranean Sea:

  • A new-to-me country
  • Direct, two-hour flight from Munich
  • Rich in history and culture, with a few UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • English and Maltese are the official languages
  • Part of the European Union, use same currency as Germany (i.e. the euro)
  • Mediterranean climate and cuisine
  • Land and sea scenery and island lifestyle
  • A less expensive European destination

Malta is steeped in prehistoric ruins, tales of the Knights of St. John, and about 7,000 years of history. I spent six days exploring Valletta, the two harbours, the fortified Mdina, Gozo, Comino, and the Blue Lagoon. Gozo and Comino are two smaller islands that can be reached by ferry or cruise boat from Malta. Let the sightseeing fun begin!

VALLETTA

Valletta is Malta’s capital city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. To appreciate Valletta’s skyline and enjoy Malta from the water, I take the public ferry from Sliema to Valletta. Return tickets cost 2.8 euros. The comfortable ferry ride lasts about fifteen minutes. Service is frequent year-round. The city views from Marsamxett Harbour, including the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral spire, are priceless.

From the ferry terminal, I follow the signs to walk to Valletta’s city centre. I think the best way to explore Valletta is on foot, however, parts of Valletta are uphill or involve long stairs. There are tourist electric trains and horse carriages waiting outside the ferry terminal for people who prefer to take them.

Valletta Stairs

Valletta’s centre is easy to navigate with several main streets designated for pedestrians only. It is a lovely place to wander and be allured by the surrounding architectural beauty.

Clockwise Left to Right: St. John’s Co-Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Valletta’s Bay Windows and Expressive Lion Faces.
Clockwise Left to Right: Entrance to the Grandmaster’s Palace (constructed in 1574), its gardens, Manoel Theatre (1732-present), and Auberge de Castille (1744-present).

For scenic views, I visit the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens and Hastings Garden. I think the two Barrakka Gardens are better lookout points than the Hastings Garden.

The Upper Barrakka Garden offers fantastic panoramic view of Valletta’s Grand Harbour and Fort St. Angelo. The system of bastioned fortifications was built by the Order of St. John between the 16th and 18th centuries, with further alterations made by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Knights’ fortifications around the harbours of Malta are nominated for UNESCO designation.

Grand Harbour

The Lower Barrakka Garden greets its visitors with a beautiful temple, fountains, greenery, and benches. Walk through the garden to the open colonnade for a commanding view of the harbour and the Siege of Malta Memorial with the Recumbent bronze statue below.

Lower Bakkarra Garden

THE TWO HARBOURS

The two main harbours surround Valletta are the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour. I take a pleasant 90-minute cruise, departing from Sliema and cruising inside the ten creeks named Sliema, Lazzaretto, Msida, Pieta, Menoa, Marsa, French, Cospicua, Kalkara, and Rinella. Ticket price is 15 euros, or less if combined with other cruises.

The English commentary explains all the historical points of interest of the two harbours. Plus, the cruise boat gets me up close to see the Yacht Marina, the battlements and fortifications surrounding Valletta and Floriana, the Grand Harbour, the inner basin, the Malta Ship Building Yard, the Dockyard area, and the three cities (Senglea, Cospicua, and Vittoriosa).

THE MDINA

The 4000-year-old walls of the former capital, Mdina, stand on a mountaintop at the heart of the main island, Malta. Mdina’s imposing architecture is entirely preserved, and the city is a UNESCO-designated Urban Conservation Area today.

From Valletta or Sliema, a public bus ride costs 2 euros and takes about an hour to reach the Mdina. Entry to the Mdina is free of charge. The fortified Mdina, nicknamed the “Silent City”, is lined with stately palazzi, bastions, and a cathedral. Some 240 people still live here.

The Mdina is a pedestrian-friendly and nice place to wander, with small alleys fan out from its centre. Some of Malta’s best restaurants are tucked away inside Mdina’s ancient walls. Bastion Square provides panoramic views of Mostar and its huge dome, and Valletta with St. Paul’s iconic spire.

Clockwise Left to Right: Mdina’s Main Gate, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Views from Bastion Square.

GOZO

There are many boat cruises from Sliema to Gozo every day in the summer. The ride takes about two hours with two brief passenger pick-up or drop off stops in St. Paul’s Bay and Comino. The boat cruise arrival in Gozo’s Mgarr Harbour is timed with optional sightseeing tours of this beautiful island.

I visit the Inland Sea Cave, Fungus Rock, Gozo’s Citadel, Ta’pinu Basilica, Gozo’s market, and Mgarr Harbour. The boat ride into the Cave costs 4 euros. The water in and around the Cave is incredibly clear and its colour changes from deep sapphire blue to aquamarine to light green. The rock formations also show layers of amethyst, green, and yellow sand stone colours.

COMINO and THE BLUE LAGOON

Comino is a much smaller island than Gozo. It’s known for the Blue Lagoon and caves. You may have heard of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Well, there is a Blue Lagoon in Malta, too.

There are boat cruises from Sliema or from St. Paul’s Bay to Comino. The ride takes about an hour or half an hour respectively. The Blue Lagoon entry is busy, however, if you walk further out, there are lots of secluded spots to enjoy the sun, sand, and swim.

FOOD

There is no shortage of good food to try in Malta. The local Maltese specialty is fenek (rabbit slow-cooked in garlic and wine) although seafood is popular. Of all the good meals I had in Malta, one of them stood out. It was the dinner at Gululu in Balluta Bay with Margie who is from the Netherlands. We met, we clicked, and went for dinner on her last day in Malta. We both ordered the Maltese-style chicken pizza. I enjoyed our hearty conversation, delicious food, and the lovely view of Balluta Bay that evening.

SHOPPING

Best buys are traditional crafts including hand-blown glass and lace, ceramics, silver and gold jewelry, metalwork, pottery, and tiles. I bought a pretty silver flower-shaped pin as a birthday gift for my cousin’s wife. I forgot to take a photo of it before the saleslady wrapped it up with a bow.

Aside from the usual souvenir items, what I find interesting is the variety of door knockers or door adornment in Malta. Here’s a sample:

Overall, I had a wonderful time exploring Malta. There are still many places to visit on this small island. I’d love to return in the future.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your comments.

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