Ecuador, A Legal High – Part Two

Published Date Author: , April 28th, 2013
by Ryan, BudaBB, Budapest, Hungary
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Otalvo, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBB

Otalvo, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBBBeyond Quito one suggested place to plan a few days is Otavalo, a charming town with a 70% indigenous population just 59 miles north. Located in the northern Sierra region, a bus from Quito will cost you $7.00 for the 3 hour ride, but most hotels run a shuttle day tour for $35-45.00 per person.

Unlike Quito, Otavalo gets hot and generally stays hot until the sun goes down. Located at 8,856 feet above sea level, the sun beats down. Light pants and short sleeved shirts are best. Have your sunscreen handy.

Otalvo, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBBAn excellent choice for a stay is Hostal Dona Esther ( just off of the main square at Juan Montalvo 4-44 y Bolivar. Be aware that breakfast here is not included in the rates; pay attention to the menu prices, so there are no surprises at check-out time. There are few alternatives for breakfast in the city, so if you are a morning feeder, partake here.

In Otavalo you can walk just about anywhere you want to go; the city is very compact. Otavalo gained fame for its extensive handicraft market held on Saturdays, but due to its popularity, a smaller version is held daily. It is recommended that you do plan a Saturday visit as the city explodes with street vendors that bar almost all traffic in town.

Otalvo, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBBOn the main square of the daily market, you will find the upstairs restaurant Buena Vista (Salinas 5-11). Plan ahead and reserve the single table on the balcony to view the market transactions below. If you are in need of a caffeine fix, The Daily Grind on the central square can fix you right up with their excellent espresso drinks or hot chocolate. There are only four bar stools for seating, so get the java to go and sit in the park to people watch. It is a worthy time investment to spend a couple of days in Otavalo making sure you are there on a Saturday.

From Otavalo, you can arrange a day tour to visit Cuicocha (Guinea Pig) Lake, a lake formed in a 3,000 year old crater. For outdoorsy types, there is a 5 mile hike around the rim of the crater which takes 4 hours minimum to complete. It is not for the faint of heart or those who have avoided the gym for the last 5 years.

Venture to Cotopaxi National Park where you will discover the world’s highest continuously active volcano. Once in the park, you can hike, horseback ride, mountain bike or camp. What is not recommended is the tour to Parque Condor, where the emphasis is on the raptors; your chances of seeing one are slim. For the side trips, bring a sweatshirt or jacket. It can get cold up on the volcanoes.

Cuenca, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBBFor anyone interested in becoming an ex-pat, a trip to the southern Sierra city of Cuenca is a must. As the third largest city in Ecuador, it is a haven for US, Canadian as well as European ex-pats. The cobblestone streets and colonial buildings are what make it feel more like a town than a city, but like Quito, it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Prior to the Spanish, Cuenca was the second largest city in the Inca Empire after Cusco in Peru.

The original inhabitants were the Canari who lived in the area for centuries starting at about 500 AD, before being conquered by the Incas in the late 1400s. The Museo del Banco Central has been built on the Pumapungo archeological site, which once held an Inca palace. Admission is $3 and well worth the nominal cost. Besides the colonial and religious artwork, there is a magnificently large display of life sized dwellings from various regions of Ecuador.

Cuenca, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBBOutside of the museum, as you tour the ruins for free, you can look over the cliff to see the outstanding botanical garden below. For the hale and hearty, climb the steps down to see the garden up close and possibly run into a llama or two on the way. There are about six llamas tethered in the area, but the babies run freely. When you walk beyond the gardens, there is an aviary with a variety of birds. Now it is time to hike up the stairs again as the only exit is back through the same way you entered.

The center of the city is graced with Parque Calderon, marking this as the historical center of the city. Aside from lush trees, statues and fountains, you are likely to be bewildered by the sight of stuffed toy horses of various sizes, along with an elephant and generally a living St. Bernard dog. These are all props for the photographers that eke out a living getting children or adults to pose while getting a photo snapped and printed on the spot.

On this square sits two cathedrals, Catedral Vieja aka Iglesia del Sagrario built in 1557, it is the oldest structure in the city. Stones from the Inca ruins were used in its construction. Catedral Nueva replaced it in 1967, after 82 years of construction. It was started in 1885. Since no city can have two cathedrals, the elder one closed as a house of worship. The architecture for the Catedral Nueva aka Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion was based on the Battistero in Florence.

Cuenca, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBBIt is in this city where you will have one myth dispelled. Panama hats are not from Panama, but are from Ecuador. After their creating a sensation at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855, they had to be shipped from Ecuador to Panama and from Panama directly to Europe. Hence, Panama received the credit for their origin. Made from the fibers, paja toquilla, from the leaves of the Carludovica palmate palm, a craftsman may take 3-6 months to create one superfine hat.

In Cuenca, now the central hub for Panama hat making, there are numerous places to buy your Panama. First stop in at Casa Paredes Roldan-Sombreros Barrance at Calle Larga 1-41 set between General Torres and Padre Aguirre. There you are able to see some displays of the hat making process and if lucky, one of the apathetic, dour salespeople will give you a demonstration. Best bet is not to buy a hat here as they are very high priced. You will find many other options around the city.

Cuenca, Ecuador - Ryan, BudaBBOne of the joys of Cuenca is the small street malls that are down an alley or the abundant street vendors selling everything from batteries to avocados. When the hunger pangs set in, one good choice is Raymipampa right next to Catedral Nueva. If you can get a table near the window, you will have a view of Parque Calderon. Prices are moderate and the menu includes meat, poultry, and seafood.

What is a delight about this restaurant decor are the light fixtures using various kitchen elements. One light may be a teapot, cup and saucer, while another may be forks, spoons and knives, but all are done in an antiqued blue to cut an chance of glare. Note that many restaurants are only open Wednesday through Saturday. Sunday through Tuesday are dead zone times in this city.

If you want to find the ex-pats for a chat or just jealously gawk at them, you will find many hang out at the Coffee Tree restaurant located at Calle Larga and Borrero. One would think that with the immense ex-pat commerce, the menus would be translated into English, but guess again.

Bone up on your Spanish for most things in Ecuador, but don’t let a language barrier put you off. Another new, but very charming eatery is La Vina at Juan Jarmillo y Luis Cordero. There is also a La Vina, so look for the n to find the right place. La Vina has beautiful murals on the outside walls as well as the interior. It can be quite romantic for dinner.

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