Latacunga and Cotopaxi
My mother-in-law Lastenia is from Latacunga so it’s an area we know well. We have been there on family visits, for days out and to try and climb Cotopaxi.
There are plenty of haciendas in the Cotopaxi area, and this one is by no means the fanciest. BUT it is easy to get to on the bus which is why we first went there as a carefree and childless couple, and then it was loyalty that kept us going back!
As you can see from the pics we went with mom and Ken and they enjoyed the gardens and old world feel of the place, but the damp in the rooms got in their bones a bit!
What you don’t see in the photos is the surrounding countryside, with the chance to go for a horse ride or a walk. Or indeed the Ecuadorian highland grub, which they know how to make here. I’d come back again now the kids are a bit older as there is plenty for them to do and the air is fresh as you like.
Cotopaxi is one of the most potent symbols of Ecuador, maybe because you can see it so clearly from Quito, or because it’s so close to the city (about an hour away these days) or maybe because it looks like the picture version of an Andean volcano
My attempts at climbing the mountain have ranged from complete to utter failure. I’ve tried twice and Lorena once, and both times the weather and fatigue got the best of us. The last attempt I made was when Tommy was a wee baby and needless to say now I wouldn’t even try, if I want a head-splitting headache and horrible nausea I’ll stick to drinking ten pints.
If you are young and fit though it’s worth a go and as you can see the views are awe-inspiring etc…
If you do decide to go then you will have to book it through a travel agency in Quito, and like all of these trips be prepared to get to know your fellow climbers well, and also be prepared to be significantly older than most of them if you are in my age bracket.
You don’t have to do the whole nine yards though. You can drive up to close to ‘refugio’ and go for a walk, or you can stick to a walk in the shadow of the volcano, but don’t forget even if you don’t go to the top you will need a jumper and can still get a cracking altitude headache.
Latacunga and the Mother-in-law’s
Latacunga along with Machachi is one of the towns closest to Cotopaxi national park. It’s worth a trip to see the market if you’re in the area although the town itself is a bit of flea pit, it’s certainly the real Ecuador.
We usually go to visit Lastenia’s family who live about 20 minutes out of town. If you find yourself in the area send me a message and you can go and visit, just remember to take some bread and milk, or a couple of beers and the door is always open, just say you’re friends of Lorenita and Joncito…
You can see the place is not exactly 5 star but the welcome is,(just watch the dogs). We have spent many a day helping in the garden, cooking or going for walks.
Don Amable is just that and Donia Agata won’t let you leave without taking a few fresh taters.
When mom and Ken went Ken had a bad tummy so didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, but mom stayed gracious to the end even though she said the kitchen made her tickle stomached.
The kids have a great time digging in the dirt and playing with their (kind of cousins).
And the surroundings are perfect for taking pictures from the back of pick-up, as you are virtually inside Cotopaxi national park.
I know it’s a cliche but the people in neighborhoods like this really make it. Everybody is ready to make time and share what they have with nothing expected in return.
Otavalo and the Northern Sierra
The area is characterized by an interesting mix of indigenous cultures, (the famous Otavalenos) and Afro-Ecuadorian culture (especially around El Chota). As well as the cultural stuff there is some lovely scenery including volcanoes and lakes.
Most visitors who visit the North focus on Otavalo, after all it’s where the best known indigenous market in the country is, and the sheer number of stalls is a spectacle in itself I guess. But to be honest they’re the same handicrafts you can get in Quito and at roughly the same price.
If you are an extreme food fan you can always sample some of the delights of the market, which features sheep head soup and fried beetles. Everyone bangs on about eating guinea pig in Ecuador, but in reality it’s a slightly gamy rabbit, now sheep head soup….
Instead of staying in town we always preferred to stay in nearby Peguche, with its pretty waterfall, which is where a lot of the Otovalenos actually live. There may not be many shopping opportunities (although you will find the hammock workshop here if you ask around), but it has a more ‘real feel’, has the brilliant Aya Huma and is only 5 minutes from town anyway.
So as you can see from the picture, you can also have a walk to the Cascade de Peguche then come back for some grub (but no sheep’s head, think more chicken and chips) and live music at the hostal.
Also for the little ones there is traditional dancing at night, featuring children from Peguche and because the hostal is located on an old train line there is virtually no traffic, so even if they do get bored and wander off not too much can wrong.
It’s also worth mentioning that Otavalo is also a fairly easy day trip from Quito, but if want to combine it with any side trips like the ones already mentioned or the wonderful Cuichocha, then I’d stay overnight.
I’ve written about Otovalo on this blog already (scroll up). This is a quick note to say we went back to one of our favourite spots Aya Huma after many years. The good news? It’s still the same, in a lovely spot and run by nice people at a very fair price (as long as you’re not in a hurry). The bad news? It was empty and the usual Saturday musicians never put in an appearance.
Still it was great to go in a group (the four of us, Papi Juan, Laste and Dome) and we shopped in Otovalo, we walked to the waterfall at Peguche, and we ate and drank.
Just hanging around watching the local Ecuavoli and shooting the breeze was a perfect way to spend an overnight trip. We still had serious jet leg going on (there’s a 12-hour time difference with the UAE), so it was early nights all round after me and the boys collapsed in front of the fire in the evening after a glass of something.
Banos is the centre for adventure tourism in Ecuador. I’ve been several times over the years and in fact have blogged briefly about on this very site. It’s also famous for its active volcano and hot baths that are a result of the volcano, but on this trip it was all about the volcano free adrenaline.
It was just me and the boys and Papi Juan, a great chance for some boy bonding. I pre-booked canyoning and rafting and the only disappointment was that Papi Juan couldn’t be persuaded to join us. Anyway, the activities peak for themselves really, both were fantastic and the wearing of a wet suit for both, means you can pee yourself when the terror takes over.
The boys of course threw themselves in head first, almost literally. Danny looked a touch trepid on the leap of faith bit of the canyoning, but there was no way he was going to let Tommy get all the plaudits. We three went down the scariest part first in our group, and I thought that the waterfall would drown out my screams (apparently not) and then helped the others unbuckle as they came down, we were the bomb.
I think the rafting photos also speak louder than words. You can notice that while all around look relaxed and laughing, I have the same expression as Burt Reynolds being chased by every hillbilly at once from Deliverance. The other oldsters in the boat had the good sense to look scared as well, but the sadistic guide stuck me in the front meaning it was me in all the hilarious “look at him fill his pants” pics.
Would I recommend, yes. Yes. Yes. We did an all-in deal including hotel, the aforementioned activities and Chiva ride (more of that in a moment) for about $100 a head. That was three nights with a couple of meals thrown in. That’s as much as you’d pay to stand in a queue at some hideous theme park.
The last activity we did in Banos was a Chiva ride. This is an open sided bus lorry hybrid that pumps out terrible music and drives around the countryside. So we did all that and drove up the volcano, stopping at places where we were given the chance to part with our cash. The highlight was a stop at the swing at the end of the world, and boy was it. It costs $20 a pop, but here’s a tip, if you’re first off the Chiva to get to the ticket lady, you get it half-price. This of course meant Tommy had a go and the look on his face when he came off made it totally worth the $10.Danny opened for the slightly less bowel voiding ‘lesser’ option that you would nevertheless have had to pay me BIG MONEY to do.
Banos itself is OK but it’s all about activities, highly recommended if you like buzz and are not looking for ISO9000 standards in health and safety.