My tryst with Ecuador started even before I boarded my flight from New York to Quito two weeks ago.
I think it was 2014 and I was off on my first trip to Central America (Guatemala) then. The elderly Ecuadorian gentleman sitting next to me on the flight, wearing a black hat above his ponytail, smiled warmly as I tried to practice my rusty Spanish with him. When we got off in Miami to change flights, he waited in the departure area to hug me goodbye. Ecuador is your kind of place, he said, as we parted.
I had no plans of visiting Ecuador then, and quickly forgot about him, his kind eyes and his wrinkled smile.
Until I nervously boarded my flight two weeks ago – my first time in South America, alone, a newbie vegan.
I saw him, again and again, in elderly men, wearing black hats with long ponytails, with an understated elegance, on the cobbled streets of Quito and in indigenous Andean villages. And his words sort of sum up my first impressions of the country:
The first thing that strikes you in Quito: How can any capital city be so beautiful?
On that first night in Quito, my taxi from the airport
floated drove through clouds that had engulfed the cobbled winding streets. I woke up to a view of the lush, green, forested Cumbaya valley – an old basilica and colorful slate roof houses surrounded by the imposing Andes – from my Airbnb window. Lying on a hammock in my artistic, bohemian neighborhood of Guapulo, I saw laid back locals walk up and down the narrow, colorful, graffiti-filled streets, going about their lives as the imposing mountains watched over them.
Sure, at busy times of the day, the streets can get crowded with cars and people – as in any big capital city. But walk a little, take the stairs and find a quiet corner in a park, and it’ll be just you and the mountains – unlike any big capital city I’ve been to.
Also read: Honduras: We Travel to Realize Everyone is Wrong About Other Countries
The Andes are a treat for solitude seekers and solo travellers.
I was delighted and surprised on my first hike along the crater of Cuicocha Lake – not just because a prehistoric volcanic eruption created two big uninhabitable islands in the middle of its gorgeous blue waters, almost akin to the visual depiction of paradise – but also because here I was, all by myself, at 3,000 meters altitude, hiking for 5 hours, without a guide, feeling totally safe! That was the beginning of an intimate love affair with the Andes, one that continues on long solo hikes in Central Ecuador.
In Quito, it so happened that my Airbnb host was traveling and I had her apartment to myself; though a little restless about having to figure out the city entirely on my own, I never once felt unsafe – not in taxis and not while walking after dark. I didn’t even come across a single tout at the bus stop.
I have heard about people getting robbed in downtown Quito. But to me, the locals have been nothing but honest, friendly and curious about India. I hope it stays that way!
Also read: Solo Travel: To Go or Not To Go?
If you do your research, being vegan in Ecuador can be healthy and delicious; think quinoa!
My friends laughed and recommended fruit juice when I mentioned vegan and Ecuador in the same sentence (I’m looking at you, Zara and Ashray :p). So imagine my delight when I found an all vegan Ecuadorian resto in Quito – and my first meal was choclo soup, lentil croquettes, steamed vegetable tamales and a juice of quinoa and oatmeal!
I went on to discover that in indigenous Quichua communities, a large part of the diet is traditionally vegan – and perhaps the origin of trendy health food in the urban world. With my host family at Loma Wasi village, I typically ate soups of quinoa, corn and amaranth, with popcorn (quirky, I know) and a mash of sweet potato, broccoli, radish and home grown veggies with rice, rounded off with fresh lemongrass or chamomile tea with leaves from the front yard.
While eating out, I’m avoiding local, hole-in-the-wall kind of places because the smell of meat is just too overpowering. But in expat-friendly towns like Cotacachi, Otavalo and Baños, I’ve found plenty of vegan-friendly restos serving both local food and other cuisines with local ingredients – think quinoa! A little bit of research goes a long way towards finding a delicious vegan meal.
Also read: Why I Turned Vegan – And What It Means for My Travel Lifestyle
The indigenous Andean way of life in Ecuador is my vision for the world (and particularly, India).
I spent a week living with an indigenous Quichua family in the small community of Tunibamba, tucked away between Imbabura and Cotacachi volcanoes. What struck me most was the way they embraced economic development and urban comforts while keeping their traditional way of life – in other parts of the world, like in my Mayan village in Guatemala, it’s almost always a tradeoff.
With expat-influences in the nearby town of Cotacachi, the indigenous people have easy access to good supermarkets and varied cuisines. Yet agriculture continues as it always has; my host family grow most of the vegetables and plants they need for their consumption, and trade any extras at the Sunday market for things they don’t grow. They keep their traditional attire (flowery hand-embroidered white tops, long skirts, and beaded, layered necklaces for women), their faith in shamans and dream interpretations, and a diet – partially vegan – that leads to older generations being extremely fit even in their late 90s. Walking in Cotacachi, I once spotted an elderly Quichua woman in her traditional dress looking up something on an iPad!
I also learnt that these communities lean towards matriarchy, and in a world where women are looked upon as victims, it fascinated me to no end. This experience deserves a post of its own.
Also read: The Secret Lives of Costa Rica’s Chocolate Farmers
There’s more to Ecuador than the Galápagos Islands.
I saw so many people flying out to the Galapagos Islands directly from Quito airport. That means missing out on the incredible Ecuadorean Andes – active and inactive volcanoes, indigenous communities and their way of life, crater lakes, impressive hiking trails, cloud forests, and even the world’s tallest mountain Chimboraza (not Everest if you measure it by distance from the earth’s centre)! And the forests, wildlife and tribal way of life in the Amazon, and the coast with its black sand beaches and desert-like geography. My wishlist has grown everyday and in every conversation since I’ve gotten here.
I’m so in love with the Andes that I don’t know if I’ll make it to the Galápagos. But I hope to get to know some Amazonian tribes in as authentic a way as possible, and perhaps offer myself up for some traditional Shamanic healing.
Also read: 10 Awe-Inspiring (yet affordable) Airbnbs to Stay in Central America
Does Ecuador sound like your kind of place?
Look out for soon on the blog:
- In Photos: A Glimpse of Andean Ecuador
- Being Vegan in Ecuador
- How to Stay Safe When You Travel Solo
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Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, “sustainability influencer,” social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes that travel – if done right – has the power to change us and the world we live in.
Awesome trip as a solo traveller, I just did that in India on my own. I do know what you mean that the smell of meat in restaurants is just a total turn of, I am vegetarian myself.
That’s amazing Cornelia! How was your trip to India? Can’t wait to read about it 🙂
Thank you Shivya, you can view some posts on my blog, I recently published, yet there will be coming many more. The trip was most amazing, I actually totally enjoyed being a solo traveler. It gave me so much room and time for all my photography work I’ve done there
Quinoa burger looks yummy 🙂 happy travels , keep inspiring as always..
One of my fav finds! And thanks Niki 🙂
Beautiful picture. Nature at its best.Enjoy!!
I’ve just come back from 7 weeks in Ecuador – I knew almost nothing about the place before I went, but was bowled over by it. One of the most beautiful countries, with gentle, generous people – and the easiest country to stay healthy (easier, even than my home country – the UK).
I’ve been in the same boat as you Carroll – I went in knowing almost nothing and am finding myself totally bowled over! And wow, I thought the UK was miles ahead in healthy food, this puts things into perspective.
Great post, nice to travel with you sitting in an armchair. Thank you!
Nice to have your virtual company!
I did Ecuador in July 2015. Places visited – Quito / Cotopaxi, Quilotoa Crater Lake, Banos (simply mind blowing),Chimbarazo,Ingapirca & Cuenca. Easily the best trip of my life so far!
That sounds incredible Satish! I ended up doing half those places with a lot of time in each, and loved it so much too 🙂
I live in ecuador, it is awesome
Lucky you, I can imagine living here myself!
The people after which the Decathlon brand Quechua is named?
I didn’t see the connection until your comment Ben, but it could be possible! Who knows!
I agree with you, Shivya. Travel in Ecuador is magical. And yes, mainland has so much to offer. However, Galapagos has its own charms too as you witness evolution in the making. I hope your travel takes you to Galapagos and Amazon forests too.
Beautiful post. Awesome Photos.
Loved Cuicocha lake pic.
Reading your experience with the Andes gave me such pleasant chills, and along with quite a gorgeous photo. You described exactly what I want to feel. Thank you for the inspiration 🙂
Looking forward to your blog about staying safe when traveling solo, as that is something I continuously worry about!
Awesome trip as a solo traveller and nice pictures
Everything looks beautiful.I never give much tough about Ecuador and after reading this and see your Instagram, Ecuador is on my “Must go List”. Thk u, great post 🙂
Fabulous post and can’t wait to see and read more about your trip! Thank you for taking me there with you!
A very interesting read seems like a beautiful place with good food! Looking forward to read what’s coming next
Ecuador sounds amazing! So cool and calm and I like the local mountain feel! Great write-up Shivya!
I just love your writing style!! And the description of the capital city is just fabulous!! And I know how it feels when people say u shan’t go to a place just because you are a vegetarian. ( my friends say that ever if you choose a place for vacations, just don’t even think about Indonesia!😳)
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Really enjoyed reading your article and related with most of it as I am currently in Ecuador. Good luck for future endeavors.
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When you mentioned your conversation with the man on the plane some years ago, I almost immediately remembered my own experience with Ecuadorans that I met in Dunbar, Vancouver on one of the local flea markets. They were from Guayaquil and we had a wonderful conversation about their fantastic city, about all the bananas, sun, and beaches. But they were happy to live in Canada, and endured different climate.
I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but even though I agree with you about the fact that Ecuador is one of the safer Latin American countries, I would still not consider it safe enough. Have you heard about the recent murder of two Argentine backpackers that took place there? It is always better to keep in mind that bad things can happen anywhere.
It was great reading about your experiences of Ecuador. As I was reading through the post I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Ecuador and Bhutan. That country too has majority of its population living on agriculture, they too follow their traditions and customs to the tee and that shows in their sense of dresses and the fact that they need to consult religious leaders for major tasks. Even the fact that Bhutan too is a matriarchical society.
Considering the fact that I loved Bhutan so much, looks like I would love Ecuador as well. The Andes mountains have always been a point of fascination since school days. Hopefully one day I’ll visit this South American nation.
Well, i think solo traveler experience more hard time, on other hand solo traveling means freedom, you can travel anywhere, anytime.
Ecuador sounds amazing! So cool and calm and I like the local mountain feel! Great write-up Shivya!
Thanks for the glimpse into Ecuador ! Adding this to my bucket list .
It seems like a beautiful place reading the post.I think its the only Latin American country for Indians where Visa is on arrival.Hope to live the experience in person there someday.
Shivya, I applause your courage to travel solo considering how the world is now but, I also believe that a good-positive attitude is necessary when you do so.
Good to know you enjoy that amazing country and as I can see you have make followers, including me.
Keep posting information.
What a great post! I have never heard of this beautiful place until today. To my surprise, Ouito is the highest official capital city of the world. I am planning to visit my brother next month and I will surely plan a trip to this beautiful town. The post and pictures are truly captivating.
It’s wonderful that you visited the land of Ecuador. I’m glad many people come to visit the land of my birth, and my family. I wish I was there now with my cousins.
Aside from my family, I mainly miss the mountains and the food.