Lago Agrio

The tropic city Lago Agrio, also know as Nueva Loja, ist the capital of the jungle province Sucumbios. It was founded as a base camp of the large oil companies a few decades ago, and everything in Lago Agrio is about oil and the petroleros. The lively city center is ok though and you can find some good hostels, restaurants, laundries and everything else you may need. Getting a room with a fan or air-con is essential in Lago Agrio.

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Some street in Lago Agrio

Most tourists come here to visit the rainforest, but it takes quite a while to get there. The area surrounding the city has many oil fields and even more ecological problems.

It is also worth noting that the province of Sucumbios is very close to Columbia, and the northern areas are not considered to be very safe due to the FARC which operates close to the border and often crosses it.

Lago Agrio is a hell of a bus ride away from Ambato. We took the overnight bus but I hardly slept (I’m tall). Advice: do not put your hand luggage on the floor between your legs in these buses, it is NOT safe there — keep it on your lap all the time. And be especially careful before the bus leaves from the terminal, when many people enter and leave the bus while it is waiting for departure. We met several people who had stuff stolen from them on the bus.

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Some street in Lago Agrio

For us, Lago Agrio was little more than the gateway to Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, which is definitely one of the most impressive places I visited in Ecuador.

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Baños

Baños is a small city in central Ecuador which is very popular among tourists. It is known as the Gateway to the Amazon and famous for the many sports activities offered there, e.g., canyoning, rafting and kayaking. Some interesting hikes can be started directly from the city. You can also do bungee jumping from a bridge over the Pastaza river.

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People doing bungee jumping from a bridge over the Pastaza river

The town is close to Ambato and lies directly at the foot of the impressive and very active 5,023 m high volcano Tungurahua. It is currently not possible to climb the volcano due to its activity and it is often covered in clouds, but we were lucky and did at least catch a glimpse of it on our way to Ambato.

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The Pastaza river at Baños. Note the waterfalls on the right.

We only spend very little time in Baños and the weather was rather rainy, but I liked it. Due to the many tourists, there are countless hostels, bars and restaurants. Try the excellent fruit juices in the market hall — and if you like it very sweet and sticky, the local sweets called melcocha.

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The volcano Tungurahua

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Cajas National Park

The Cajas National Park in Ecuador lies about 30 km from Cuenca in the highlands at 3100 to 4400 m above sea level. At this altitude, it gets rather cold and windy even that close to the Equator, and you better bring appropriate clothing. When we arrived at sunrise, the ice was melting on the grass.

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The sun rises over Parque Nacional Cajas, Ecuador

We were lucky with the weather, and the temperature was about 10° C during the day.

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Lagoons at El Cajas

The scenery is very beautiful, with many lagoons in  with a tundra-like vegetation. There are very few trees, and the ground is very wet in many places so bring good hiking shoes. Trouts live in the cold rivers and lagoons and can be bought in all the restaurants and villages of the area.

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Puya hamata at Cajas NP

Many rare and endangered animal species live in the NP, but it is usually very difficult to spot them. The plants are very impressive, too.

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Chuquiraga jussieui, Cajas

We started our hike at the pass Tres Cruces at 4,167 m and walked for a few hours, passing by Laguna negra and Laguna larga before we met the street again.

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Typical grass in Cajas NP

This really was an impressive hike.

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Cuenca

Cuenca is a city of about 330,000 inhabitants in the southern highlands of Ecuador. It lies roughly 2500 above sea level and many people we met consider it one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador due to its many historical buildings.

The cathedral is very impressive, but the markets and parks are also also great. Just walk around a bit and you’ll find something you like. There is an excellent coffee-roasting establishment very close to the cathedral. I do not consider the instant coffee sold throughout the country a beverage and I loved that place.

 

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View over Cuenca from the new cathedral

We spend quite some time in the Cuenca area because we know people there. We also went to see countryside and climbed through a small valley following a river.

 

 

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Some valley we hiked in

It never gets cold in the area, and on sunny & hot days, a trip like this is excellent.

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Climbing using all the tools we could find

The vegetation was pretty cool, with lots of interesting stuff to see.

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Vegetation near Cuenca

Here are two more shots of the new cathedral. This one is the front, from the park across the street.

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The new cathedral at Cuenca

And here is what it looks like from the market where they sell shoes and clothes, a few blocks away:

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The new cathedral at Cuenca

Pretty close to Cuenca, and on the road Cuenca — Guayaquil, lies the National Park El Cachas, which we visited in a day trip from Cuenca. I’ll write about it in my next post.

 

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From Frankfurt to Cuenca

The trip from Frankfurt am Main in Germany to Cuenca in Ecuador is pretty long and thus a bit annoying. We flew with Iberia and had 2 stopovers and 3 flights, adding up to almost 15 hours on the plane:

  • Frankfurt — Madrid (2:40 h)
  • Madrid — Quito (11:30 h)
  • Quito — Guayaquil (1 h)

Add the 4 h bus drive from Guayaquil to Cuenca and the waiting times between the flights. Overall, this trip takes about 24 hours.

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View from the plane

We spend a night in Guayaquil before taking the bus to Cuenca, and I was really happy with that decision when I finally arrived at the airport there.

Guayaquil is the largest city in the country and famous for its large industrial port, heat, bad water system and high crime rate. I can’t tell whether this is justified because we moved on to Cuenca, where we know people, early the next morning.

Minibuses which go directly to Cuenca (without picking up people on the way and stopping every few meters) leave very close to the airport in Guayaquil, opposite the Holiday Inn hotel. You can really walk there from the Airport, even with your luggage (which we did the other way around on our way back). The bus terminal is also close to the airport.

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Our Ecuador itinerary

Ecuador is a very diverse country with 4 distinct regions. These are, from west to east: the Galápagos Islands (La Región Insular), the pacific coast (La costa), the highlands (La Sierra) and the Amazon rainforests in the east (El Oriente). As the name suggests, the country lies on the Equator, but it can still get pretty cold in the Andes.

The flight from Germany is quite long and annoying, but the trip was definitely worth it. We flew from Frankfurt via Madrid and Quito to Guayaquil. On the way back, it was Guayaquil — Madrid — Frankfurt. Here is our itinerary:

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From Guayaquil (1), we went to Cuenca (2) and spent some days in the region, visiting the city itself and El Cachas National Park. From there, we traveled through Ambato (3) and Baños (4) to Lago Agrio (5) in the north-east to visit the impressive Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (6). Then we went back via the central sierra, passing though Baeza (7), Quito (8), Latacunga (9) and Quilotoa (10), where the crater lagoon is. From there, we went to Riobamba (11) to see the vulcano Chimborazo (12). We spent the last few days near Cuenca, where we know people, and left from Guayaquil.

Here are the links to all the posts in this blog in the order we traveled them:

Cuenca

El Cajas National Park

Banos

Lago Agrio

Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (part 1/3)

Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (part 2/3)

Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve (part 3/3)

Baeza

Latacunga

Chimborazo

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