|Posada Mirolindo, Quito||If you need a hotel near the airport, this is a great choice. There are no hotels directly on-site at the airport, this is a 5 minute drive. Local place with character, standard breakfast served in the sunny patio.||http://www.posadamirolindo.com/|
|Otavalo Market||If I had it to do over, I’d skip this. Unless you are really interested in shopping, there are smaller less-touristy markets elsewhere.|
|Hostal Los Yutzos, Tena||It was nice to have a balcony on the river, but our room had cheap tile floors and for some reason smelled like mildew. Tena bars and restaurants walkable from room.||www.uchutican.com/yutzos|
|Limoncocha, White Water Rafting||We were happy with this tour company. Rafting on Jondachi + Holin rivers (Class IV), the rapids were pretty easy in November. The guide was professional but fun. 30 minute drive. BRING STURDY SHOES, it’s a muddy 30 minute hike down-hill to the put-in. We stopped riverside for a lunch of pineapple and tuna tacos with lots of veggies. The better rapids were in the afternoon. Beautiful just floating through the amazon basin and seeing all the trees and birds.||http://www.hostallimoncocha.com/limoncocha/|
|Posada del Arte, Banos||Perfect unique spot to stay in central Banos. Colorful halls decorated with local art. We had a nice room with a fireplace. There’s a patio overlooking Virgen waterfall that’s a great place to relax and have a drink. The breakfast was a welcome break from the Ecuadorian standard, yes juevos rancheros!||www.posadadelarte.com|
|Bike Banos to Puyo||There are a ton of places in town to rent bikes, the Posada we were staying at recommended one that worked fine. This was SUCH a fun way to spend the day. The bike lane was very well marked, it’s mostly downhill from Banos to Puyo and you stop at waterfalls along the way to break up the ride. The rental shop can give you a little map. A couple of the waterfalls have a space to lock your bike and require a 20-30 min hike to the falls. When you’re done riding, just find a bus stop, the bus belhop will shove your bike underneath, and for $1 you’ll have a comfy ride back to Banos!|
|La Piscina de la Virgen Hot Springs||To be honest, the murky brown water of these hot springs was kind of gross. Everyone’s required to wear a showercap. There are a variety of pools at different temperatures. But it’s a nice way to relax after a day of rafting or biking. Soak your bones with the locals with a nice view of the falls.|
|Hike around Chimborazo||We did this to spend time at altitude to try to prep for Cotopaxi. We didn’t need a guide, the short hike was pretty well marked between the first and second refuge. It was a lot of driving for a relatively short hike. The most entertaining part of Chimborazo was seeing the herds of Llamas and Vicunas (which are basically blonde llamas).|
|Hotel Rodelu, Latacunga||Nothing notable about the hotel, it was in a convienent location in town, the pizza restaurant off the lobby is really your best bet for dinner. There’s not much in Latacunga, only really stay as a convienent stop at the start of the Quilotoa Loop.||http://rodelu.com.ec/|
|Drive Quilotoa Loop||If you enjoy road trip time in the car, watching the mountains roll by, pausing for a farmer and his sheep to cross the road, and stopping when you see a market to stretch your legs and find lunch at a food stall, the Quilotoa Loop is for you. There are small towns to stop en route, as of Nov 2013 the Southern half of the loop was better paved, but the whole loop is completely manageable in a dinky rental car. Stop at Wednesday market in Pujili and the art gallery in Tigua is walls covered in colorful Ecuadorian paintings and masks, reasonably priced.|
|Lake Quilotoa Crater Rim Hike||One of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. At a minimum you must drive up and see the stunning blue lake and possibly do a short out-and-back hike, we found doing the whole loop rewarding. This hike is perched on the rim of a crater circling a beautiful blue lake. Keep in mind this is at elevation (4000m) and is not flat, lots of climbing. Many areas with steep drop-off on both sides, not for anyone opposed to heights.|
|Mama Hilda, Quilotoa Loop||We loved staying at this comfortable ‘like home’ D+B+B (dinner bed and breakfast?). Dinner served family style with other guests. Rooms have a cabin feel, comfortable common areas to relax.||http://www.mamahilda.com/|
|Horseback Ride to Cloud Forest||This was arranged by Mama Hilta. We loved being on the horses, riding through the mountains was so beautiful. The ‘cloud forest’ was a very small area and not much of a notable destination. We also tried stopping at a local cheese factory that was closed. The highlight was just the relaxed horseback ride.|
|Quilotoa Loop Hike||If you go to the Black Sheep Inn (next door to Mama Hilta) there are step-by-step directions to an AWESOME hike (take a photo with your camera so you can take the directions with you). It says 3 hours but took us half that. You have to have a sense of adventure as the route isn’t always completely obvious and at one point I think we were wandering through some farms. Fun way to spend the afternoon.|
|Hotel Vieja Cuba, Quito||Adorable hotel, good location in New Town walkable to bars and restaurants, loved the décor in the breakfast area.||www.hotelviejacuba.com/|
|Cotopaxi Volcano Climb||There are many options of tour guides based in Quito who will take you on a standard 2 day/1 night trip up Cotopaxi for about $210pp. We weren’t crazy with this company as when we showed up to get gear the morning of the first day, they had to DIG to find things that would work for us as a ‘large group’ had just come through and taken all the good gear (keep in mind I’d booked well in advance and they had insisted on a large deposit, so frustrating). I ended up with two left-footed crampons and an uncomfortably tight helmet and Joe had ripped snowpants.Before the hike you eat and sleep a little at the refuge at the base which is rugged and uncomfortable. Everyone in the refuge collectively wakes at midnight to eat breakfast and start the hike.
As a basis of comparison, Joe and I ran a half marathon in 2 hours the weekend before leaving for Ecuador and both found this hike to be one of the most physically challenging things we’ve ever done. At altitude, in the cold, in the middle of the night, hiking directly uphill in crampons for 6 hours straight. There is 50% the amount of oxygen at the summit of Cotopaxi as at sea level, which was a larger obstacle than I’d anticipated, there were a lot of moments I just felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.
The way up is pitch black so you basically are just following a line of head lamps up the volcano. Each guide has 2 people roped to them for safety. Maybe I was just light headed, but seeing the crater and panoramic view at the summit was truly stunning. There were a bunch of guys peeing on the summit which made for gross spots of yellow snow all around the perimeter.
The hike down is easy and flies, since it was light out, it was a much better view and interesting to see ice formations and fumaroles we’d walked right past on the way up.