Eden and Mali at Quilotoa, Ecuador, with Quito Bike Tours — Ben Finch

From Israel, Eden and Mali are hunting for adventure in Ecuador before their trip to the Galápagos Islands

Eden and Mali are looking for an adventure in Ecuador. The travellers from Israel are mother and daughter and are exploring mainland Ecuador before their bucket-list trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Their trip takes in much of the sierra, the Ecuadorian highlands, and adventure is what they find.

The wild horses of Cotopaxi

Eden and Mali at Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador, with Quito Bike Tours — Ben Finch
Eden and Mali reach the refuge on Cotopaxi — Ben Finch / Quito Bike Tours

After a few days exploring Quito, the family heads down the Avenue of the Volcanoes to Cotopaxi. This is Ecuador’s second-tallest volcano. It is surrounded by a giant national park, full of lagoons and paramos.

Today the climb is windy, but the views are still spectacular. Ruminahui Volcano looks amazing in the distance. Our guide, Paula, leads us up the easier route to the refuge at 4,864 metres (15,960ft) for a hot chocolate and a hunt for an Israeli flag to sign.

Back down on the plain that surrounds Cotopaxi, Paula takes us to some of the less-visited areas of the park. Many travellers only climb the mountain and go to the lagoon. Today, Eden and Mali are going to see the wild horses that live in the park and the Inca ruins.

The wild horses, called párameros because they have made their home on the paramo, escaped the Spanish conquistadors hundreds of years ago. They roam through the park, but are nervous around people. They can be hard to see, particularly on busy days. We approach them slowly as they graze. They look up, and keep a distance of a few hundred metres. They’re beautiful.

A short hike up a hill and across a few rivers, we find the ruins of an Incan military post. This is at the confluence of what were a number of roads heading in all directions. Called Pucará Del Salitre, the ruins are thought to have been built as the Incan empire expanded north and conquered the Quichua people of Ecuador.

Seeing the beauty of Quilotoa

Quilotoa is a huge volcanic lagoon — Ben Finch / Quito Bike Tours
Quilotoa is a huge volcanic lagoon — Ben Finch / Quito Bike Tours

After a night in Latacunga, Eden and Mali are taken along one of the most amazing roads to the lagoon at Quilotoa. The road winds and climbs through the tiny indigenous villages that spot the Andes. Eventually, we stop in one on the crater of Quilotoa. There’s a market, restaurants and cafes to buy indigenous crafts and to grab some supplies. It provides the most incredible views of the lagoon.

Even though it is steep and sandy, the hike to the waterside is easy. It takes about 45 minutes and the view constantly changes. When we reach the lagoon Eden and Mali hire a canoe and head out on the water.

The climb back up is harder. Depending on fitness, this can take an hour or two. However, at the bottom there is an indigenous family with horses. Eden and Mali hire a pair and take the easy way up.

One delicious lunch later and we’re back on the road. We stop at a viewpoint of the valley that leads to the lagoon and at a local artists’ gallery. It is full of incredible arts and crafts. Finally for today, we pop into an indigenous families house. Guinea pigs scoot about the floor as they sell us their handmade souvenirs.

Extreme experiences in Baños

Eden and Mali at Baños, Ecuador, with Quito Bike Tours — Ben Finch
If you’re looking for adventure in Ecuador, the drop from the bridge in Baños is about 80 metres — Ben Finch / Quito Bike Tours

As the name suggests, Baños is spa town. The town lies at the foot of Tungurahua Volcano, is full of hot springs and is surrounded by waterfalls. Paula takes us across the Río Pastaza in a cable car to one, and we hike down the hill to an old suspension bridge. Apparently, it was used for smuggling.

Further down the road, we arrive at the entrance to Pailón del Diablo. This is a huge and powerful waterfall. Torrents of water crash into a tiny valley, sending spray everywhere. Walkways have been built that allow visitors to get close to the action. We crawl through a small tunnel up towards the top, where we’re soaked.

Many of the activities around Baños are extreme. The Río Pastaza is at the bottom of a huge valley. We stop at one centre that has zipline across it and a glass bridge from which you can jump while attached to rope.

Eden and Mali take on the zipline before walking across the bridge. The glass is full of sensors, displays and speakers. Step on one and there’s the horrible sound of glass cracking. Look down at your feet and the display will be breaking into shards. Eden has decided she will do the jump. Once she’s ready, the floor disappears from under and she drops roughly 80 metres towards the river bed before the rope catches her and she starts to swing. She loves it.

Casa del Árbol is a garden on one of the peaks under Tungurahua. It was built as a monitoring station to warn Baños and the surrounding areas of volcanic activity and its full of beautiful flowers. But the main attraction are the swings at the end of the world. 

These are set right on the edge of the valley and they’re huge. They swing you right out into nothingness and give the most incredible views of Tungurahua. There can often be queues, but Eden and Mali have come on a quiet day and can spend as much time as they want flying out over the valley.

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