Roving Lonely Planet correspondent and altitude seeker Bailey Freeman recently returned from the highlands of Ecuador. She has a few tips for making the most of any trip to this stupendous region.
I am a mountain person through and through, since their quiet grandness makes me feel alive in a way that no other environment else can.
So when I got the chance to visit the Andes of Ecuador, I was immediately all in. In Ecuador, the Andes possess a distinctly fiery energy, the range punctuated by volcanic wonders (several of them active).
My journey specifically took me to Andean corridor home to one of Ecuador’s most impressive – and active – volcanoes: Cotopaxi. A tapestry of golden meadows, rocky peaks and high-altitude sky, the region grabbed my heart the minute I saw my first peak. It still hasn’t let go.
Driving in the Ecuadorian Andes
I start the day in the Ecuadorian Andes with…
A drive into the mountains. We arrived in the Andes straight from Quito, climbing to approximately 13,000ft above sea level and putting our altitude tolerance to the test. The drive into the mountains is one worth savoring: our destination, Cotopaxi National Park, is ringed by other magnificent volcanoes – Corazón, Pasochoa, Rumiñawi, Antisana and more. Here’s a spectacular view of Sincholagua as we approached the park.
Cups of Canelazo
In the Ecuadorian Andes, you must try…
Canelazo. After a long, windy day in the mountains, nothing warms the soul quite this delicious hot drink. A hacienda staple, it’s associated with hospitality and a warm welcome. A delicious combination of cinnamon, sugar, water, tart naranjillo juice and (if you’re feeling feisty) aguardiente, canelazo tastes like the landscape feels: soothing and exciting at the same time.
The top spot for an epic adventure in the Ecuadorian Andes is…
On top of a horse. I’m a big hiker and love getting to places by the power of my own two feet, but even I can’t deny how spectacular it was to wander this unbelievable place on horseback. Thanks to Tropic Eco Journeys, I had the chance to enjoy rolling hills and valleys of Cotopaxi National Park astride my own spunky steed (aptly named Tequila). We spent an unforgettable afternoon trotting across the high-altitude plain together, taking in views of wild horses galloping beneath Cotopaxi’s hulking peak and dramatic clouds gathering among the volcanoes.
Bailey’s accommodation in Ecuador
In the Ecuadorian Andes, I stayed in…
A cozy hacienda. If you’re staying in Ecuador’s Andean highlands, haciendas are absolutely the way to go, accommodation-wise. These guesthouses incorporate so many beautiful local touches – a personal fireplace, for example, will make you feel like you’ve been taken to a mountain dreamland. We stayed at the wonderful Hacienda Porvenir, where I spent the night in this adorable loft. We also enjoyed lunch at Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge, another fantastic option for those looking for a bit of mountain serenity.
As a souvenir from the Ecuadorian Andes, you should bring back…
A sense of awe and gratitude. This may sound cheesy, but it’s true. To the Kichwa (Ecuador’s largest Indigenous nation) and all those who visit, Cotopaxi is the mountain god. (When translated, its name means the “neck of the moon” – a reference to its crescent-shaped crater.) Standing in its presence is a sacred experience, the massive snow-capped cone so perfect and huge that it feels like someone dropped it there from another universe.
Bailey with her Nikon camera in Ecuador
The one item I recommend bringing to the Ecuadorian Andes is…
A good camera. It’s true that the equipment doesn’t make the photographer, but you’re going to want a tool that will help you capture every texture, every color, every change in depth. My Nikon was my trusty companion (even atop Tequila) and I’ll treasure the photos I snapped for years to come.