First Stop: ECUADOR
Like: The variety of things to do
One thing that surprised us: Food!
Must stop: Quilotoa
Ecuador is a country that I didn't know much about. It is definitely the country that surprised me the most, I feel like we always hear about other countries and this one kind of hides. People on my airplane didn't even know where Quito or Guayaquil were, they were just visiting Galapagos and going to the next country. Although I imagine Galapagos to be beautiful, it was too expensive for me so I skipped it. My first stop was Quito, the country's capital, a colonial town that (9,350 ft.) is full of hills, mountains (Cotopaxi) and spectacular views. In old town Quito you see church after church, and I recommend you stop at each one. You will find some covered in gold and mosaics. I stayed with some friends here but we stopped at a Hotel Boutique called Catarina and went up to their rooftop for dinner and drinks. They gave us some blankets and got us "tipsy" (get the shaved coconut drink!!). In Quito you have to visit the Middle of Earth monument/park. It is where the latitude is 0'0'0 and you are standing in both hemispheres at the same time! The park was recently renovated and you can do a lot of different activities (ps. the chocolate they sell is amaaaazing). A nice meal to have is at Markus, which is a restaurant that belongs to the culinary school in Quito, sponsored by Paul Bocuse Worldwide Institute
Now 3 hours southwest of Quito you have to go see Quilotoa Lake, although it's super far and you might get car sick, it is worth every second of it. The best way I can explain it is: It is a water filled ex-volcano that is 2 miles wide and you will not believe the blue turquoise color it has (pictures don't do it justice). There are a million more things I wanted to do in Quito and surrounding areas but the next stop was Guayaquil.
Guayaquil is a little Miami, they have copied a lot of things from Miami which is quite funny. So here they are called the "monkeys", I don't exactly get it but you will see many statues of monkeys??. The city is named after Guaya and Quil, who were the indigenous people who founded the city. Like every city go see their downtown. Once your there go visit the Port and ride La Perla Ferris Wheel. Go to Santa Ana hill and climb 444 steps to reach the top for an amazing view and on the way up you pass colorful houses that have been there for generations. When you climb down go down the back way and walk through the streets full of local art. Some of the galleries serve food, eat at either one. Go to the cathedral and in front you will see a park full of iguanas that have been there forever. Go to Parque Historico and see the animals, buildings and you must have dinner at Casa Julian. They make gourmet traditional dishes with fresh ingredients and the restaurant makes you feel in another era (I ordered La tunga and it is delicious : pic above). Make sure you ask them to tell you about the house's history! Go to Plaza Lagos to Mikka Sushi for the best sushi in town or next door to La Pizarra for tapa style Ecuadorian street food and everything is delicious. My picks at La Pizarra are Muchin Meloso, Madurillo, Llapingachin, and churasquito! If you want to go out at night go to Vento. It is a rooftop bar in a plaza, that it is brand new and quite popular with a great view and drinks.
I left feeling guilty for not staying longer. I was there for a week exactly and it wasn't enough. I need to take Salsa Maya back and visit El columpio al fin del mundo, Banos, Cuenca and Montanita.
Check out our next stop Peru...