Ecuador is a third world country; however, we found it to be safe and very friendly. It may not be the best place to go if you are big into precise itineraries and detailed planning; but, the Andes have incredible scenery, good places to stay and great food at extremely reasonable prices. Prices are different for citizens or foreigners with a residency card (rooms are half price); so, have a local friend book the room if you can. Even at tourist rates, prices are cheap.
A four wheel drive vehicle is a must for exploring in the Andes (off the Pan American Highway) if you are not traveling by bike or the acceptable buses. Remote roads are often one lane dirt switchbacks, but these provide the most incredible views.
|Rural buses are comfortable. Large
animals are placed on top.
Maps and signs are not readily available, but everyone we asked was friendly, knew the area and readily stopped to give us directions. Most often, they would point down the road, nod their head and say, "Siga no más."
|The entrance to the beautiful La Cienega||Saquisili market provides food or native crafts.|
Outside Lasso, south of Quito, there is the beautiful Hosteria La Cienega. The approach is through a tree lined drive. Rooms are pleasant and the food is excellent. This would be a great place to stay if you are exploring the Cotopaxi National Park to visit this snow capped volcano or the Saquisili native market.
The Black Sheep Inn near Chugchilan is the most disappointing destination in the Andes. Located deep in the Andes, it is a nice enough facility; however, the couple who owns it are not hospitable. Advertising an organic culture, one would expect warm ambiance, reminiscent of hippie culture. We found this sort of ambiance everywhere else, but not with this American couple.
An example is that, while we were there, a nice California couple dropped by to visit with a friend staying there. The owner sold them an overpriced beer and the couple sat around for about an hour visiting. More of their friends were showing up the next day and the owner heard them making plans to meet. The owner made us all feel uncomfortable telling the couple that she had done them a great favor by letting them buy a beer and that they were not welcome back unless they stayed there. There were other examples of their lack of caring for guests, as well.
In addition, the Black Sheep Inn is very over priced. If you wish to go to Chugchilan, stay at La Casa Mama Hilda--costs about $6 for a double room. Meals cost $1 to $2. A room for two at the Black Sheep Inn is $56 with two meals.
|The view from which Manteles derives its name.||
The Hacienda Manteles
While Tungurahua is exploding, it is not recommended that you visit Baños; however, we found the beautiful Hacienda Manteles in Patate, that offers a great view of Tungurahua and its surrounding farmland, great hospitality, fine rooms with private bathrooms and incredible food. Everything is priced very reasonably. Between Ambato and Patate, you pass through a small village where the best rugs are made. You can buy from the open air markets or custom order from one of the stores.
If you want a resort near Tungurahua, the Hosteria Vina Del Rio in Patate has all sorts of sports activities: swimming pool, horse back riding, rafting, squash, etc. It is not as attractive as Manteles, but would be the place to take children.
The Ambato indoor market provides food in beautiful colors.
Ambato was devastated by an earthquake in the 1950's and receives little attention as a tourist destination. The architecture is modern '50's and will not thrill many. However, we spent a wonderful three days in Ambato during the March Fruit and Flowers Festival and never regretted a minute of it. The parade with its floats made from fruit and flowers was fun, but the people were wonderful. Dancing in the street lasted until dawn and you need to wear your Salsa shoes.
The home of Juan Montalvo is a hidden treat. Walking the gardens, one soon forgets that a city of 250,000 people surrounds the area. Lovers use the gardens; so, don't go far off the paths.
The biggest paella dish helps celebrate the festival.
To the left, two dressed lovers in the garden of Juan Montalvo
The best topiary gardens I have ever seen are located in Ambato.
Near Otavalo, north of Quito is the incredible Cusin Hacienda in San Pablo del Lago. It has 15 acres of vegetable and flower gardens and is as pleasant as anyplace you will ever stay. Our room had its own fireplace and a bookshelf of books, which we were told we were welcome to take with us. Walking through the gardens, we found a well stocked English language library and delightful reading rooms. There is a squash court, billiards and horse back riding. The bar, sitting room and restaurant are world class. The markets in Otavalo are fun and Cotacachi has a great leather market. Cusin is worth several days of relaxing.
Read Jane's other adventures
In the Shadow of Tungurahua, Galapagos, No Pasa Nada, Bolivia and Chile, and Bolivia and Chile.
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