Ecuador is the smallest country in South America but it really packs a punch. Our 31 week South America overland tour starts and ends in Quito, which was convenient as we found super cheap flights from Boston to Quito ($220 one way on Copa Air, including 2 checked bags each). With one free day before our tour started, we got up early and took a taxi to the health clinic to get our yellow fever jabs. As reported by other travelers, the shots were free! Thank you Ecuador, you saved us over $300 each from the pricey shot in the US. Quito was a picturesque city and we enjoyed our walking tour, although we were on guard as other travelers had warned us about the tourist scams in the historical district. That evening, we linked up with the rest of the Oasis group for a pre-departure meeting and group dinner. The next morning, it was a scramble to choose a locker, unpack, and get to know each other as we made our way to the middle of the world (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo). Then it was our first truck lunch, followed by a drive to Otavalo, which is famous for its weekly market. No market today but we did enjoy wandering the streets and checking out the compact main square which transformed into a night market selling cheap street food at night. Hiking around Lake Cuicocha the next day was well worth the effort, especially since we were able to negotiate a ride to the top of the volcano! From Otavalo, we made our way to Tena, the gateway to the Amazon jungle. For the next 3 nights, we made the Arajuno Jungle Lodge our base as we hiked, swam, tubed, and enjoyed our time in the jungle. Next up was the adrenaline town of Banos, where we camped 18 km away. We had high expectations for Banos which did not disappoint with excellent waterfalls, hot springs, canyoning and swings on top of the world. Beer pong champions emerged (Rob & Robby) and six of the guys defeated the worm challenge and won themselves a bottle of rum and coke. From Banos, it was home sweet home as we drove towards Cuenca. Our apartment was in good shape, and we took advantage of a washer/dryer to do a much needed load of laundry. On our last night in Cuenca, we hosted a pizza party at our apartment which was a fun way to say farewell to Ecuador. Next up is Peru, and we are looking forward to it!
17 Sep: Otavalo
Loaded onto our home for the next 31 weeks, Sponge Bob, and departed Quito for the town of Otavalo. Stopped at the “La Mitad Del Mundo” museum straddling the equator for a quick tour. Free afternoon in Otavalo so walked around the city, took photos of the colorful murals, and had street food at the night market. O/n at Hostal Valle del Amanecer (WiFi, hot showers, tiny double beds, breakfast of pancakes or fruit/granola/yogurt included)
18 Sep: Otavalo
Joined the majority of the group headed for Laguna Cuicocha (public bus and ute). Rode to the top of the volcano for an additional $2 for a phenomenal view of the lake. Hiked back to the visitor center before taking an ute/bus back to Otavalo. Hot shower at the hostel before packing a day bag for the Amazon jungle trip. Street food for dinner. O/n at Hostal Valle del Amanecer.
19 Sep: Jungle
Departed Otavalo and drove to Tena for lunch. In the afternoon, drove towards the Amazon and parked near the riverfront. Took boats to Arajuno Jungle Lodge, our home for 3 nights. Our hosts were Tom and Charo and they welcomed us with Guayusa tea before allowing us to choose our own rooms. We shared a top floor room with Keith. Our room had a gorgeous view of the river, property and a private balcony and ensuite bathroom. Common area at the jungle lodge had hammocks, library, and tables to play drinking games. O/n at Arajuno Jungle Lodge (hot showers, super comfy beds, food all included).
20 Sep: Jungle
6 piranhas from Tom’s pond died last night so one of his workers was gutting them by the riverside to sell after smoking them. After breakfast, had a 3 hour jungle hike through the Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve with Octavio, our local guide. Cooled down in the river (piranha free we were promised) before an afternoon visit to the village of Kichwa Mirador Kallari. Ate grub worms, witnessed a wedding between Jeremy and Lisa, and used a blow dart. O/n at Arajuno Jungle Lodge.
21 Sep: Jungle
After breakfast, visited AmaZOOnico, an animal rehab center in the Amazon. Returned to Arajuno Jungle lodge via the Napo and Arajuno River. After lunch, tubed down the river for an hour while drinking from our stockpile of alcohol. Played Jungle Speed after dinner. O/n at Arajuno Jungle Lodge.
22 Sep: Banos
After breakfast, said goodbye to Tom/Charo and took the river boat back to the landing near the truck. Drove back towards Tena where the first two cook groups had to do shopping at the local market. From Tena, drove towards Banos, our home for the next 3 nights. Set up tents at our campsite and hiked to Pailón del Diablo waterfall. Finally had a chance to sort out our truck locker. Enjoyed Cook Group 1’s dinner of veggie/cheese pasta and garlic bread. The boys (Leo, Danny, Jeremy, Keith, Robby and Bert) did the crazy worm challenge and won a free bottle of rum and coke. O/n at Pequeño Paraiso (intermittent WiFi, kitchen, hot water showers, camp dogs/cat, bar)
23 Sep: Banos
After breakfast, took a bus into town for the Virgin thermal springs. Ate lunch and met up with part of the group at “La Casa del Arbol”, the famous swing in Banos. Rode an ute back to our campsite and hiked to Machay waterfall. Becky’s cook group (cook group 2) made lasagna for dinner. O/n at Pequeño Paraiso.
24 Sep: Banos
After breakfast, the canyoning rep showed up and we rode into Banos to pay for our tour ($25 each). Got a wet suit, water shoes, and harness before riding out to Ulba waterfall. There we were given instructions on how to abseil down the waterfall before giving it a go. Lots of fun and the grand finale was a 50 meter leap of faith down a massive waterfall. Had a brief stop in Banos before our ride back to Rio Verde’s “Aroma & Sabor de Mercedes” for her lovely empanadas. Relaxed at the campsite before our BBQ dinner put on by our Argentinian campsite hosts. O/n at Pequeño Paraiso.
25 Sep: Cuenca
After breakfast, packed up for the long 320 km journey from Banos to Cuenca. Had a truck lunch enroute and reached Cuenca by early afternoon. Brought our extra bags to our apartment and got settled in for the night. O/n at our apartment.
26 Sep: Cuenca
Free day. Pizza party at our apartment for the Oasis group. O/n at our apartment.
27 Sep: Cuenca to Waltako Beach, Peru
After breakfast, linked up with the truck for the drive to the border with Peru.