Ecuador is a small yet extremely diverse country. It has the biodiverse Amazon Basin, the high peaks of the Andes Mountain Chain, the Enchanted Isles known as the Galapagos Islands and rugged Pacific Coast.
We entered the country through the Amazon region bordering with Colombia and made our way up through the cloud forest and through the Andes. It’s a place of immense natural beauty, towering waterfalls and sky scrapping volcanoes.
Today, I’d like you to give you a brief glimpse into this country. Here’s 13 photos that will show you the mountains, valleys, volcanoes, and people that we encountered while cycling through Ecuador. I hope you enjoy the ride.
For those wondering about choosing a good camera, don’t forget to check out our guide How To Choose The Best Camera For Travel.
ECUADOR’S HIGHEST WATERFALL
After a long day of cycling up the hills of the cloud forest, we made a detour to see this impressive sight. With a drop of over 150 meters, the Cascada de San Rafael is Ecuador’s highest waterfall. The water roars down the lush green valley and crashes into the pool below. The power of the splash greats a thick mist, which adds to the beauty of this waterfall.
The road never stays flat for long in the Andes. We cycled through a series of valleys and high mountain passes. Here, we climbed over 4,000 meters to reach a pass.
HITTING THE CURVES
While the ascents are long, the good thing is that most were a series of switch backs, not steep ramps. This climb had 13 curves. Just when we thought we were about to reach the top, another set would appear.
TAKING THE DONKEY FOR A WALK
In the high Andes, people live traditional lifestyles and rely on trade or selling crops at markets. In this remote region of the country, buses are infrequent so the next best option is to load up the donkey and head off. This family is on their way to the next town to make a sell.
I clutched my brakes to stop my high speed freewheel descent to take in the views of the dramatic valleys. The bright green vegetation, unique rock formations and winding roads made them quite the sight.
THE CONCRETE BITCH
Back when we first started touring, a cyclist in California asked us after a long climb, “wasn’t that hill a bitch?” Back then, I would have agreed with him, now I think he has no clue. There’s a 2 kilometer ramp before reaching Quilotoa, now that’s a bitch.
Not only is the grade over 17%, the road is over 4,000 meters. All we saw for 2km was concrete, the mountainside had been layered in it to prevent landslides. Oh yeah, there were strong gusts of wind. As I struggled to pedal up this beast, the wind would blow so strong that I would nearly be pushed down the hill.
I got off my bike, rested my head and shoulders on the handle bars and pushed my heavily loaded bike uphill. Even this was a challenge. The air was thick and the altitude had taken the best of me. I pushed while I counted my steps to 50. Every 50 I would stop, take a deep breath, give my muscles a taste of oxygen then start the next set of 50.
An hour later I reached the top of the pass. Antonio was there waiting for me. He gave me a kiss and said, “Not many girls would still have a smile on their face after that climb.”
Over 800 years ago, a volcano erupted then collapsed to form this 3km wide water filled caldera. This is one of the highlights of cycling the Quilotoa Loop. The water, is like a mood ring, the color changes as the suns rays pierce through the clouds. With heavy cloud cover the water appears a natural blue but when the light hits it, shades of yellow and green appear. This color is the result of dissolved minerals.
As we passed by hillside homes, greeting committees of youngsters would run out to the road. These girls said “Hola!”, shook my hand and then attempted to collect. “Dame plata!” Give me money! is their most common greeting. Sweets are also a worthy form of payment.
While their parents are off working the fields, these tough cookies are left at home with an older sister. The youngest, the one with the purple and black hat is holding a butter knife behind her back.
Despite their cuteness and weapons, handouts only create dependency. If I gave these girls some cash or even cookies, why would they ever learn to make a life of their own? There is no doubt that life here is tough. It’s cold, the poor soil and steep slopes make it difficult to farm. Despite these hardships, their ancestors survived in this land for centuries and these girls will find away to carve out a life here too.
Cotopaxi Volcano shoots up over 5,800 meters into the sky. The snow capped peak and symetrical shape make it a beautiful sight. We cycled to the base of this volcano, set up camp, and waited for the clouds to clear. Two days went by and it was still completely covered by clouds. Then one morning, we peered out the tent to see Cotopaxi had revealed itself. For the adventurers out there, climbing Cotopaxi is a absolute must.
CYCLING BACK IN TIME
Aside from the mountains and volcanoes, another interesting sight in the remote regions of this country were the decrepit houses. Some are hundreds of years old and had weathered the harsh mountain conditions. Tearing them down would take more work than leaving them. Cycling passed these houses made us feel like we had gone back in time.
As we cycled out of a valley we passed many towering waterfalls that poured down the mountainside. One great thing about traveling by bicycle is unlike a car, you can pull over wherever you’d like. We rested the bikes on the side of the road and stopped for a moment to take in the view.
KIDS AT WORK
There’s lots to be done when you live in a remote corner of the world and rely on the land to eat. Here kids give their parents a hand with the daily chores of farming. This boy was taking a siesta when we cycled by.
The people of the Andes farm the steep mountain slopes. The squares of crops are like a patch work quilt that blankets the land. When the sun hits these quilts, they light up and the colors become vibrant.