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Full color Ecuador

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Catalina Sánchez Montoya

Straddling the middle of the world, as it lies in both the northern and the southern hemispheres, is Ecuador, a country that has everything, despite its small size. All you need do there is drive for a few hours in any direction and you will see how the picture fades and new forms and colors take over.

The Dark Brown Tint of the Andes
The journey couldn’t begin anywhere other than in Quito, a city that was awarded the title of ‘Best Destination in South America’ at the recent 2013 World Travel Awards.

As you go round the city’s outskirts –an unavoidable route after arriving at the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport– you can contemplate the marked difference between the enormous mountains and the tiny, white-fronted houses that look as if they are adorning a Christmas manger.

Once within the metropolitan boundary, a further contrast immediately becomes apparent to tourists: modern buildings intermingle with the elderly ones that are one of the city’s main tourist attractions. And rightly so, for quite apart from the fact that, together with Krakow, Quito was the first city to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, in 1978, it also boasts the largest and best-preserved historical center in America.

Part of the colonial charm of those 320 ‘hectares of history’ can be viewed from El Panecillo, at a height of 3,035 meters above sea level, which the Incas called Shungoloma (Heart Hill). This viewpoint divides the city into two, and on its summit is the Virgin of Quito, a monumental aluminum sculpture 45 meters high.

While the city’s steep, narrow cobbled streets have a charm on all their own, the area around Quito is equally fascinating.

60 kilometers to the south is Cotopaxi, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, which rises to 5,897 meters above sea level, making it the second highest mountain in the country.

And if you head north from Quito for an hour and a half (110 kilometers), you come to Otavalo, a town well worth visiting for its traditional market and noted for its alpaca fabrics and textiles. The secret here is to haggle. The Kichwa indian women, dressed in beautiful embroidered costumes, will come up to you and offer their goods in a friendly manner. “What have you liked, miss?”. “I’ll let you have two shawls for five dollars!”. Nearby is Cotacachi, a place renowned for its fine leather goods. But for the finest and most creative handicrafts of all, you have to go to Cuenca, in south central Ecuador, nine hours from Quito by road or 30 minut es by plane.

Hanging houses, a magical city of crimson roofs, is a veritable paradise for locals, tourists, and also retired foreigners who have fallen in love with the legendary stories of artisans and entrepreneurs like Homero Ortega –an icon in the production of toquilla straw hats– or Luis Uyuaguari –famous for making guitars– and have found a new home there.

Inhospitable Green in The Amazon
Four hours from Quito, after crossing the moorland of the high Ecuadorean sierra, is Tena, capital of Napo province and the last outpost of civilization, because the denseness of the jungle becomes inexorable the further you drive along the road. The scenery here is totally different: volvanic peaks can no longer be glimpsed, but rather a never-ending valley, leafy and melancholy.

Most of the lodges in the area have located their cabins on the banks of the River Napo, the course which leads to the butterfly farm, wildlife reserves, and native community settlements. At night, amid the all-embracing darkness, the rippling of the water and the sound of animals are conducive to peaceful and - against all the odds - undisturbed sleep.

Coastal Blue
Finally, your search for a blue setting with white sand and virgin beaches takes you to Puerto López, in Manabí province and two hours from Manta, where there is a special connection with nature and sea life. Catching a glimpse of the humpback whales that appear offshore between June and mid-September each year is one of the attractions that tourists find most exciting.

There can be no doubt that anyone who visits this country will be captivated by the rich variety of its geography, the delicious local cuisine, and the skill of its artisans. No promotional slogan could be more accurate than the current one, “Ecuador, love life!”, because in this wondrous land, the heart beats energetically due to the lasting memories and the vastness of the surprising landscapes.

Galapagos Islands
These are a group of 14 islands and a series of islets off the coast of Ecuador. The island with the most inhabitants is Santa Cruz, and it is there where the capital of the archipelago, Puerto Ayora, is located.

In 1979, UNESCO declared Galapagos a World Heritage Site, because of its outstanding flora and fauna.

Ingredients and preparation methods vary according to the region. This is a brief list of some typical dishes.

  • Locro de papa
  • Empanadas de viento
  • Guinea pig
  • Corn tortilla

Some facts
The Jesuit Church is one of the most representative baroque buildings in Quito’s historic center.

Tourists will come across alpacas, a domestic species of mammal that is native to the South American Andes.

According to Quito Metropolitan Tourism Company, visitors spent an average of USD 60 per day in the city in 2012.

Otavalo market opens every day. Woven ponchos, sweaters, shawls and bags are the most notable products.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is one of the most important monuments in Cuenca. The building began to be constructed in 1885, but the work lasted almost 100 years.

Machalilla National Park and the Galápagos Islands are two of the most popular places for diving.

In the Amazon, some indigenous communities still retain ancestral housing and hunting methods. Part of Cuenca’s charm lies in the colonial atmosphere, and the crimson roofs.

Ecuador is a country of contrasts. Fans of extreme sports can climb to the summit of Cotopaxi, at a height of 5,897 meters. For those in search of a peaceful stay, the virgin beach at Los Frailes is paradise on earth.

You may find more destination articles at www.aviancaenrevista.com.