Monthly Archives: November 2017


Exploring Loja and its food – Ecuador

I really, really like the town of Loja in southern Ecuador!

I was fortunate enough to be there for part of the Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja, but aside from this, I also just really enjoyed the vibe of the town itself.   I also love that the architecture is very different to what you see in the Historic Centre of Quito or in Cuenca – much less grandiose.

Beautiful colourful architecture that has been restored in Loja - Ecuador

Doing things around the wrong way, it wasn’t until my final morning that I joined Free Walks Loja for – you guessed it – a free walking tour of the town 🙂  

Guide from Free Walks Loja explaining the history of the town - Ecuador

These guys have only just started up, and I hope they get the funding they were seeking to grow the business, because these walking tours are always a great way to get acquainted with a place and learn a little about the history in particular.   I try to find them everywhere I go.

For example, one of the most famous landmarks in Loja is the Independence Monument.  But it is just another monument/clock tower (and not terribly interesting) unless someone actually tells you about its history and the stories depicted in the panels around the 4 sides of it.

Monumento de Independencia - Loja - Ecuador

Aside from participating in the Festival, and learning a little about the history and architecture of Loja – the other thing I indulged in while I was there was trying as much of the typical Lojano food as possible.   For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, this will come as no surprise 🙂  

Bolón de Maní at Ricuras de Sal y Dulce

I started off with something that isn’t actually typical to Loja, but that I’d been super-keen to try ever since reading about it on the web – a Bolón de Maní.  A bolón is essentially an Ecuadorian dumpling made of green plantains mashed with a variety of other ingredients – in this case – peanut paste (in Ecuador you can buy pure peanut paste [very cheap] as well as peanut butter [very expensive – go figure!]).  

Bolón de Maní and the two sauces - Loja - Ecuador

Mine was bigger than a softball/baseball, and soft and warm with an obvious peanuty flavour.  It was served with 2 sauces: chile and coriander, and what tasted like spicy curry.   Absolutely delicious and enough for about 3 meals for me – all for USD$3!

Cecina at Mama Lola

I do use TripAdvisor as I travel, but find that their restaurant/cafe recommendations are a little hit and miss.  Probably because everyone’s taste-buds are different and I’m a bit of a self-admitted food snob.  But I decided to head out to try the #2 ranked restaurant in Loja – Mama Lola – which serves traditional Lojano cuisine.  I’m sooooo glad I did!

The first thing to know about Mama Lola is that it is extremely busy with locals coming in for lunch on weekends!  I was the only gringo there, but there was a queue out the door waiting for tables.  In the end I was joined at my table by 2 locals – a very common practice here and a wonderful way to meet new people and practice my spanish 🙂

Mama Lola restaurant packed at lunchtime - Loja - Ecuador

I ordered the Cecina, which is a very thin pork steak marinated in cumin and garlic, and one of the most typical dishes of Loja.   It usually comes with yuca and other accompaniments, and, in typical Ecuadorian fashion, I was presented with about 3 times as much food as I could possibly eat.

Cecina at Mama Lola - Loja - Ecuador

Yes – that’s potato bake, salad, pork, corn (top right), popcorn, two different sauces, and you can’t actually see the large chunks of yuca hiding underneath the pork steak.  It was very good, but I have to admit that I still prefer the fritada (braised pork) or hornado (slow-roasted pork) that you find in Quito.

Despite not being able to finish my meal, I spied the most incredible looking desert over on the next table and I figured I had to try it.  It turned out to be an amazingly light and fluffy cheesecake – the best I’ve ever eaten – and I have to admit I almost ordered a second one to take home with me!

Best cheesecake ever at Mama Loja - Ecuador. And beautifully presented!

Beautiful presentation as well!

And can you guess how much my cecina, my cheesecake and a large limonada drink cost me?  USD$7.25.   Ecuador is a fantastically cheap country for eating.

Repe at the Mercado Central

The other “must try” dish from Loja is a thick, hearty soup called Repe.  It is made from a base of green bananas, onions, garlic, milk, cheese and coriander, and tends to have lots of “bits” in it.

Repe de arveja con guineo - Loja - Ecuador

The one I tried at the Mercado Central was the Repe de Arveja con Guineo  – or Ecuadorian split pea and green banana soup.  And once again, it was cheap as chips (USD$1) and absolutely delicious.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad soup in Ecuador.  They really know how to do them well! 

I accompanied this with a typical herbal tea: Horchata Lojana – a warm, very sugary, rose-flavoured drink with spices.  It was OK, but I don’t particularly like sugary drinks (despite my sweet tooth), so it was both the first and last time for Horchata.

Horchata lojana - Loja - Ecuador

On my way out of the market, I decided to buy a tray of Lojano sweets including Bocadillos Lojanos (small squares of panela and peanuts) and Lojano figs. Not sure what the other ones were, but the bocadillos were definitely the pick of them!

Sweets from Loja - Ecuador

And on a last minute whim as I headed for the exit – I decided to try Sábila.  I had no idea what it was (the lady I bought it from couldn’t explain it to me) and I had never seen the word anywhere before – so why not!   Oh what a big, big mistake!

Sábila drink - Loja - Ecuador

Turns out Sábila is a drink made with Aloe Vera.  And although it has almost no flavour, I could not cope at all with the texture of it.  The best way I can describe it was that it was like drinking a jellyfish, and every sip I took, the aloe would stick to my lip and trail the glass as I moved it away from my mouth. 

It was beyond revolting!

I pride myself on being able to eat almost anything, but I have to admit I only managed about 3 sips and couldn’t do any more.  I gave the almost full glass back to the lady and took my leave 🙁


Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja – Ecuador

When deciding what I’d do for the 4 days I’d have to wait for Pedro and Raúl to return from the Galapagos, I discovered that the timing would overlap very nicely with the end of the 2nd annual Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja (otherwise known as the Loja Festival).  And given that I’d wanted to visit Loja last year while I was in Ecuador – it was really a no-brainer as to where I’d go.

In summary – the Festival was brilliant!  First up was one of the two shows I bought tickets to.

Itzel Cuevas – La Ilustre Desconocida

Banner for La Ilustre Desconocida

The short description for La Ilustre Desconocida says:

Rosa – a cleaning lady – has read a story before going to bed, and in her dream has made a decision.

Ahhhhhhhhhh…   So that was what it was about!! 

I have to admit that I was very lost on the details right from the very beginning 🙁   There was a lot of dialogue between Rosa and a sea-captain (both played by the actress, Itzel Cuevas.  I think the voices she had to put on contributed to my lack of understanding), with the gist being that Rosa was going to ditch her cleaning job and run away to the sea for a life of excitement and adventure.   Well, at least I think that was the gist…  

Images taken during Ilustre Desconocida - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 

It was a one-woman show and very impressive given the lack of props and the amount of dialogue.  But unfortunately not my thing.

Accordzéâm – Classique Instinct

The other show I bought tickets to was a very different experience!  

Banner for Classique Instinct

Simply put – if you ever get the chance to see Classique Instinct – do it.  It is the most incredible display of musicianship, performance and humour, and I absolutely loved it! 

How to do justice in describing it??!! 

A group of 5 musicians – a violin player, a double-bass player, a percussionist-drummer, a guitar-oboe player, and the most charismatic accordion player you have ever seen, play around with the main themes from Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Dvořák’s New World Symphony – re-interpreting them through every musical style known to the world.

Accordzéâm on stage - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 

Seriously!  Every. Single. Musical. Style.

Accordzéâm - Classique Instinct - double-bass tango - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 

Here is the double bass player tangoing with his instrument

One of my favourite parts was when the double bass player tangoed with his instrument, which led into the violinist soloing what I believe to be a very poor busking effort (like what you’d hear from a still-not-very-good-player on the street trying to earn a quick dollar), which in turn led into a Scottish-sounding version (open to interpretation), which led into what sounds like an Irish jig, which led into…   You get the picture 🙂    And this went on for 1.5 hours!  Seriously – it was incredible!

Throw in a story about the trout (narrated by the violin player in a very-hard-to-understand Spanish accent – he’s French after all, not a native Spanish speaker), and brilliant movement comedy (particularly from the accordion player) and it was an hour and a half of absolute enchantment.  Everyone was mesmerized.  And laughing.  And thoroughly enjoying themselves.

These guys are actually a French group called Accordzéâm who were invited to be one of the international guests for the festival, and I’m soooooo thankful that I got to see them play!

Street Art

There was a lot more to the Festival than just paid performances, however.  One of the key participatory activities of the Festival was the fact that anyone could grab some chalk and produce artwork on the streets that had been blocked off for the duration.

Young people creating street artist - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 2017

Everyone from little kids to some incredibly talented artists created their canvases each day – only to have them scrubbed off each night, ready for the next group of artists.   There were some really amazing creations!

Several very talented Street Artists - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 2017

And even the Ambos (ambulance workers) got into it!

Street Art from Ambulance workers - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 2017

A variant on this idea were the blackboards (chalkboards) set up by the Universidad Internacional de Ecuador, which would pose different questions each day for passers-by to answer.  These questions ranged from ideas on how Loja could be improved to life goals – it was fascinating to read some of the answers given!

Opinion boards at the Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 2017


Festival of Lights

Similar to what I experienced the first weekend I arrived in Quito, Loja also lit up its key buildings in a Fiesta de la Luz. 

Festival de Luz - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 2017

Fortunately the crowds weren’t as bad as in Quito – and it is amazing to see how they pick out the features of the buildings to guide the theme for the lighting.


There were loads of more informal performances throughout the streets of Loja both day and night as well.   This group of older women were showcasing that “you are never too old” for dancing latino style, or anything else for that matter.


And of course there was the ubiquitous drumming group.  Love listening to these guys.


There were loads more things going on as well, and I had a brilliant time strolling the streets with my new friend (and Airbnb host) Fransiska.  We even got stopped by some students for a video interview about what we loved about Ecuador – we were two of the very few foreigners that I saw at the Festival!

Decorated Streets - Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja 2017

Crowds and decorated main thoroughfare for the Loja Festival

 I really hope the Festival Internacional de Artes Vivas Loja goes from strength to strength over the coming years, because it was a fantastic time!

Hiking Ecuador – Podocarpus National Park near Loja

My original plan last year was to travel from Cuenca to Loja and Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador before heading to Peru.  That was scuppered when I had to hightail it to Peru directly from Cuenca to arrive in time to do the incredible 10-day Huayhuash Circuit trek.  So when my friends Pedro and Raúl decided they wanted to visit the Galapagos for 5 days (I’m going there for 2 weeks later in December), I headed to Loja – just in time to catch the end of the Festival of Loja and the International Arts Festival.  

Even with only a few days to explore Loja, I was determined to do one hike in the nearby Podocarpus National Park.  So I arranged a taxi through my amazing Airbnb host, Fransiska, out to the trail-head of the Los Miradores Hike, to arrive as soon as the park opened (I had to get back for my first show at the Festival after all). 

The sign at the start of Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

Can I just say, this is an absolutely incredible hiking trail!  But not for you if you suffer from vertigo.

The park ranger told me it was better to hike in an anti-clockwise direction, which actually meant following the signs for the lakes route, rather than the above sign for the miradores.  His rationale was that this way I would only have to walk 2km uphill followed by 3km downhill.  Sounded good to me!

If you follow this advice, the trail starts off in thick forest on a well-defined path.

Views along the trail on Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

I cannot describe how beautiful it is, and how many birds you see – including this guy that seemed to be following me for most of the way.

Close-up of a bird on los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

I seemed to be the only person in the park – just me and the sounds of nature.  Absolute heaven!

The weather was not the best

Dense vegetation seen from the trail of Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja in Ecuador

but there was a spectacular showcase of gorgeous flowers wherever you looked

Various flowers on los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

and awesome plants as well.

Various plants on los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

I got the occasional glimpse out to the valley to the South

View down to the valley from Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

before breaking through the tree-line and onto the open ridge where the viewpoints are.

Me at the sign indicating the highest point of Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

No, I didn’t get to see much unfortunately.

Up until this point, the hike had been fairly easy, ignoring the usual challenges of hiking at altitude.   So I was very surprised to discover that it quickly turned much more technical for the next 2 km!  Essentially, on this section, you hike along the top of a reasonably narrow ridge that ascends and descends (I swear it was an M. C. Escher mountain!), and has steep drop-offs on either side.   Add in a pretty stiff wind with gusts strong enough to make me stumble, and it was an “interesting” time!

View along the narrow ridge of Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

You can just see the path tracking all the way along the ridge line

I had read online about using attached ropes for parts of this section, and this was not the first time I had used ropes while hiking recently.   However, I do believe they should have started them earlier than they did!  There was one place in particular that gave me significant pause – wondering how the heck I was going to get down the rock without slipping and falling and killing myself.

Ropes to assist in the very steep sections of Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

The top image is the large rock I had to figure out how to get down without the assistance of a rope. That was my main “moment” on the whole hike.

But it was spectacular!   

Various views from Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

Despite the crap weather and the fact I couldn’t see any of the distant vistas from the miradores, I would say that this is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done – thanks to the diversity and lushness of the vegetation.

I eventually made it back to the trail-head and then began the 8km hike down to the highway along the access road.  When I signed out from the park, it turns out I was the only person to visit that day!  


If you are in Loja – you should definitely visit the Podocarpus National Park.  It is beautiful!  There are 2 shorter hikes that are much easier, and one longer hike that I’ll do next time I visit.  If you aren’t stable on your feet, are uncertain about rock scrambling, or suffer from vertigo, I wouldn’t recommend Los Miradores Trail. 

Also, ask your taxi to take you to the start of the trail-heads at the refugio to save you an 8km uphill walk.   It’s much nicer to walk back down it, and very easy to catch a bus back to Loja from the junction with the main road.

Time:  I took 5 hours to complete what is touted as a 3 hour walk.  I reckon it is longer than 3 hours if you take care over the more technical bits.  Then again, I did spend a lot of time watching birds and taking photos…

Cost:  I managed to get a taxi all the way to the trail-head for USD$8 – about 1/2 the price usually quoted.  There is no cost to enter the park, and the bus back to Loja cost USD$0.50.



Playa Los Frailes near Puerto Lopez – Ecuador

Aside from wanting to stay somewhere less touristy, the other main reason we chose Puerto Lopez as our coastal destination in Ecuador was its proximity to what is touted as one of  Ecuador’s best beaches – Los Frailes

It is literally about 10 minutes up the road, so we hopped a bus heading north and asked to be let out at the entrance to the park.

Signs at the start of the hike to Los Frailles beach near Puerto Lopez - Ecuador

From there it was about a 45-minute hike through extremely dry shrubbery that rustled at every moment with the movement of millions of lizards.  The Australian in me always thinks of snakes when I hear a rustle in the bushes, but fortunately we only saw one of those!

Dry shrubs line the hiking path to Los Frailles beach, and one of the lizards that was making all the noise - Ecuador

The hike takes you to visit a few other smaller beaches along the way

Different views along the hike to Los Frailles beach, including some smaller beaches you can visit

before arriving at an admittedly not-brilliant lookout over Los Frailes.  I know it is a National Park – but they really do need to build the lookout so it is higher and has a clear view 😉

Partially obscured view of the horseshoe shape of Los Frailles beach from the lookout along the hike.

They really need to build the lookout higher

Slightly reminiscent of Wineglass Bay in Tasmania, I’m sure it would have looked brilliantly blue and absolutely amazing under clear skies and bright sun.   But it wasn’t certain that we’d be lucky and the clouds would disappear, so after about 20 minutes, we headed down to the beach itself.

As it turned out, by the time we actually arrived on the sand, the sun had come out in all of its glory and we spent the next several hours swimming (well, Pedro and Raúl swam) and relaxing on the beach.  Given I don’t particularly like swimming, and it wasn’t terribly warm in the water, I walked to the end of beach to explore, and see what I could see 🙂

Rocks at the end of Playa Los Frailles, looking back along the horseshoe of the main beach - Ecuador

To get back to the main road, we had the option of hiking back the way we had come, or catching a mototaxi for $1 each.   We decided upon the latter and then waited on the side of the road (fortunately not for too long) for a bus back to Puerto Lopez

So happy that the sun decided to show itself today!



Agua Blanca community tourism initiative – Ecuador

The not-exactly-great-for-enjoying-the-beach weather during our stay in Puerto Lopez meant that we ended up going on a 4hr excursion to the small community of Agua Blanca.  We probably wouldn’t have made this visit if it had been sunny, and that would have been a shame, because it is a lovely 1/2-day trip to an amazing community tourism initiative!

We caught a taxi out there and were met by a local community guide who explained that Agua Blanca is quite an extensive archaeological site, with evidence of 6 different historical cultures.  He then took us on a guided tour of the small but very well done museum – explaining many of the pieces and how they fit in to the history of the area.  The tour is very informative (only in Spanish), but several of the main artefacts in the museum also had English descriptions.

Different archaeological artifacts on display in the Agua Blanca museum

There were several really impressive items, but the ones that captured my imagination were the burial urns.   There were examples in the museum itself, but also complete urns still in their original locations outside (protected by plastic boxes).

Whole burial urns still in place, and a broken one showing how the remains were placed - Agua Blanca museum - Ecuador

From there, our guide led us on a short and easy walk through a landscape that was part wild and part farmed.  I was amazed to see Blue-Crowned Mot Mots several times on our walk, I didn’t realise that they were found this far south!

Hiking out to the sulfur pool at Agua Blanca near Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

The goal of our walk was a large sulfur pool with purported medicinal properties.   It was really beautiful, and really smelly (as you can imagine), and although I didn’t go in, Pedro and Raúl (water-lovers that they are) did enjoy a dip in the cold water.

Sulfur pool at Agua Blanca, near Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

Our guide left us there to enjoy the pool and mud massages (if so desired) for as long as we wanted.  Then we headed back to the museum via a lookout that offered great views over the valley that the community occupies.

Vistas from the viewpoint at Agua Blanca near Puerto Lopez in Ecuador

Overall, it was an incredibly well done tour and really fantastic to see a community preserving its history and using tourism to improve life for all.


I highly recommend the tour of the Agua Blanca community if you have a spare half day in Puerto Lopez.  Make sure you take your swimmers if you love the water!

Cost:  $10 for a taxi there and back to Puerto Lopez.  $5 entrance, which includes the guided tour and visit to the sulfur pool

Time:  Up to you really. But 3-4 hours is probably sufficient.


Puerto Lopez – Ecuador

In 4 months of living in Ecuador this year (and 1 month traveling through Ecuador last year), I’ve never been to the beach.   What can I say?  I’m really not a beach person! 

But my friends Pedro and Raúl most definitely are, so our first port of call when they arrived to visit, was the small beach town of Puerto Lopez – an 11 hour overnight bus ride from Quito.

View of Puerto Lopez from the lookout - Ecuador

Most tourists head straight for Salinas or Montañita, both of which are a little further south, but we were keen for the “fishing village” rather than “tourist trap” feel, and Puerto Lopez turned out to be a great choice!  It may have a different vibe during the peak of whale-watching season (it is one of the best places in Ecuador to see whales migrating), but it was pretty sleepy and definitely not touristy for our visit.

Unfortunately, it being November, we didn’t have the best weather – so we spent a lot of time walking along the foreshore

beach huts and fishing boats along the beach in Puerto Lopez - Ecuador

and watching the fishermen run the gauntlet of birds while they brought the fish in from the boats.

Scenes at the fish market as hundreds of birds swoop the men carrying buckets of fish from the boats - Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

In fact, the fish market is one of the most fascinating parts of town, and where you can find most of the locals as well.

The beach and town of Puerto Lopez behind the fishing boats that sustain the community for most of the year

The beach and town of Puerto Lopez behind the fishing boats that sustain the community for most of the year

There was a glimpse of what Puerto Lopez might be like during whale season, with make-shift (but somehow permanent) bars lined up along the beach near the main part of town (you can see the umbrellas in the image above).  It was quite amazing the variety of cocktails on offer at each one, but it was all fairly quiet during our stay, and quite often we were the only ones sitting on the loungers drinking the most amazing Maracuyá (passionfruit) smoothies I’ve found anywhere.  

We stayed 3 days in Puerto Lopez, one of which was specifically to visit Los Frailes Beach – touted to be the most beautiful in Ecuador.  But the bad weather also meant that we did an excursion out to Agua Blanca, a small community just up the road, and one which has developed an incredible community-based tourism initiative.    

A Random Performance in the Park – Quito

I was hankering for an awesome Empanada de Viento this afternoon so I decided to walk the 45 minutes from where I’m staying to Parque La Floresta and my favourite chefs in all of Quito.  Seriously, all the food from these food carts is incredible!

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

An Empanada de Viento is a heavenly mixture of fried pastry, tart cheese and sugar – and you really have to try one from the lady with the 3rd food cart from the left one day!

Empanada de Viento - Ecuador

While I was there tonight there was a group performing dances based on the traditional folklore of different regions of South America.   Unfortunately I missed the start of it so I didn’t get the full story behind the dances, but they had to be modern interpretations given that I recognised some of the music from the current Ecuadorian Top 50!

It was an amazing spectacle, with such energy!


It looks exhausting – but a lot of fun 🙂


And with incredible costumes!  This one was from the Cayambe area just north of Quito.


And I love how happy these guys look to be dancing – especially the guy in white and black.  This one has its origins in Bolivia.


I sat there for about an hour watching the performance, until I got too cold to stay.  Loved every minute of it, and finding these random performances in the middle of parks is one of the many things I absolutely love about South America 🙂



Hiking Ecuador – Fuya Fuya

Along with Volcán Pasachoa, the other mountain that for some reason I desperately wanted to climb while living in Ecuador this year was Fuya Fuya.  It was actually for this reason that I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week – the Cascada de PegucheLaguna Cuicocha and the Día de los Difuntos were just bonuses 🙂

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find other people who want to hike to the summit of a 4,200m mountain, especially when it turns out that Otavalo is very quiet outside of the two main market days (Wednesday and Saturday) and very, very few tourists actually stay there (they tend to do day tours from Quito).  So in the end, I sprung for the whole taxi fare to take me to the trail-head and hiked on my own.

Maps.Me screenshot with markers indicating the route I took while hiking Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Maps.Me markers showing the route I took while hiking Fuya Fuya

I started out early, hoping that I could reach the summit of Fuya Fuya before the clouds obscured everything and the rain came. 40 minutes later, the taxi had delivered me to Laguna Caricocha, which is one of the Mojanda Lakes and the starting point for the hike. 

One of the Mojanda lakes - Laguna Caricocha under very grey skies. At the start of the hike to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The weather was looking pretty grim upon arrival at Laguna Caricocha, one of the Mojanda Lakes and the start of the hiking trail to the summit of Fuya Fuya

From there, I took a straight shot up a very steep hill, which turned out not to be the main trail after all.

The very steep hill I climbed at the start of my hike up Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

In fact, I was about 2/3 the way up to the summit of Fuya Fuya (not the top of this first hill) before I managed to make my way across to the main hiking trail.  And although I probably made things way harder for myself by bush-bashing through the páramo, it was all good – I was heading in the right general direction.  

As always, the views  were stunning.

Paramo scenery while hiking to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

And were made even more special when I starting coming across wildflowers in the steep upper reaches of the climb.

Wildflowers and Paramo scenery while hiking to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Fuya Fuya actually has two peaks, and I’d been told to make sure I took the right hand route (which is slightly lower) once I got to the saddle point.  This is because there is a tall rock that needs to be scaled if you take the left hand route.  I ended up hiking along the ridge to the left-hand side just to see, but the infamous rock was very visible and very obviously not doable without equipment (or a death wish).

View of the highest of the Fuya Fuya peaks from the saddle. Near Otavalo in Ecuador

So I backtracked and headed for the right hand peak, which itself had a smaller rock that needed to be scaled and which I admit gave me a brief pause.

The slightly lower Fuya Fuya peak as seen from the saddle point. Near Otavalo, Ecuador

Yes, you climb straight up to the top

But the views were totally worth it!

Panorama of the view from summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador. Includes the Cotocatchi, Cayambe volcanoes and Laguna Caricocha

The valley to the north and Laguna Caricocha from the top of Fuya Fuya

Panorama of the view from summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador. Includes the Cayambe, Antisana and Cotopaxi volcanoes and Laguna Caricocha

The view to the east from Laguna Caricocha to the other peak of Fuya Fuya. Obscured in the photo (but visible in real life) are the snow-capped volcanos of Cayambe, Antisana, Cotopaxi.

As you can see, the weather improved enormously while I was hiking and by the time I got to the summit, it was absolutely incredible.  I pulled out another wonderful App I have called Peakfinder, and could see Cotocatchi, Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi, with a glimpse of the Chimborazo volcano on the horizon.   All the snow-capped volcanoes were a little disguised by the background cloud, but their peaks were clearly visible when I first arrived.

It was so beautiful, and such a lovely day, that I ended up finding a rock to stretch out on and just stayed up here for a couple of hours admiring the view.   Really – it doesn’t get much better than this!

View Laguna Caricocha from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Laguna Caricocha and the Cayambe volcano (just to the right of the lake) from my perch at the summit of Fuya Fuya.

Me relaxing on a large flat rock at the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

This is the life!

Eventually the wind picked up and the clouds started to come over, so I decided to make my way back down the other trail.  Apparently this is actually the main route to the top – the one with the signs (well, sign) I’d read about on the internet.

The only trail sign I saw on the hike up Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

A few more of these would have been helpful

This whole hike is just spectacular páramo scenery.

The main hiking trail descending Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The descent was also incredibly steep, and, just like on Pasochoa, I ended up grabbing fistfuls of páramo grass to help me descend.  However, at some point I realised that the route I was taking looked like (and was as slippery as) a giant, grass slippery dip…   And so yes, I actually decided to slide, rather than walk down 🙂

The very slippery main trail descending from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The descent from the summit of Fuya Fuya – exactly like a slippery dip!

I ended up with hiking pants and undies full of páramo, but I also managed to find $5 – undoubtedly dropped by someone else who had had the same idea!

The $5 note I found on my way down from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador


From there it was an easy hike back down the actual trail to the Mojanda Lakes.

The main hiking trail as it climbs to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

My original plan was to hike all the way around the Mojanda lakes as well, but given that I ended up spending so much time stretched out on the rock at the summit, I didn’t have time before my taxi returned to collect me.

I did, however, manage to do a quick hike along the road out to the base of Cerro Negro and the turnoff to Laguna Chiriacu before having to turn back.

View of Cerro Negro on my hike along the shore of Laguna Caricocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Looking up at Cerro Negro – an alternate hike in this area

Overall, it was an incredible hike and I’m so grateful for the amazing weather I ended up having!  Definitely a highlight!


If you like hiking, this is a great acclimatization climb that is not technical at all (well, except for that rock).  Especially if you have good weather!  In order to also hike the Mojanda Lakes after climbing Fuya Fuya, I would suggest you ask your taxi driver to pick you up at the end of the road near Laguna Huamicocha, rather than where he drops you off near Laguna Caricocha – that way you don’t have to back-track.

Cost:  I just used a taxi arranged by my hostel for USD$30.  He collected me at the hostel when I asked, and returned to collect me at Laguna Caricocha at the requested time for this price.

Time: To climb Fuya Fuya takes about 3 hours.  I spent about 6 hours out here and wished I’d stayed 8.

Hiking Ecuador – Laguna Cuicocha

Most people come to Otavalo for the enormous Saturday market on a day tour.  They catch the bus up from Quito early in the morning or the night before, shop, and then catch the bus back, without ever stopping to explore the surroundings.  Which is a shame, because Otavalo is ringed by volcanoes and there is a lot of great hiking to be done.   

One of the easiest hikes (if you can call doing anything between 3,100m and 3,500m easy) is the 14km circuit around the rim of the crater that contains Laguna Cuicocha (I also hiked to the summit of Fuya Fuya, which is much more difficult).  Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like many people do this – I only came across one Ecuadorian family who had carted a portable BBQ and boxes of food (!!!) up to the highest point for a picnic, and a group of older North Americans who had also only hiked part of the way around (and the not-so-interesting part at that!).

Which is bizarre – because it is a beautiful hike!

I had managed to convince my Argentinean hostel room-mate to do the hike with me to share the cost of the taxi out there (one of the hardest things about hiking in Ecuador is actually getting to the trail-head).  She was up for a 9am leave-the-hostel, but I convinced her it would be better to leave at 8am 🙂  We arrived at 8:40am to a beautifully still lake and almost perfect reflections. 

Almost perfect reflections in Laguna Cuicocha as seen while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

I’ll never understand why people don’t want to start out as early as possible given the possibility of seeing something so amazing.

We then set off on the hike in an anti-clockwise direction.

My Argentinean room-mate hiking the the trail around Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Given it is an eroded crater rim, there are plenty of ups and a few downs, especially for the first half, but the trail is extremely obvious and very well cared for.

Images of the well-maintained trail around Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

There really isn’t too much to say about the hike itself – nothing spectacularly interesting happened along the way, nor were there any real challenges.  It was all just about the changing views of the lake.

Various views of Laguna Cuicocha, taken while hiking the crater rim near near Otavalo, Ecuador

And the views to the surrounding volcanoes, particularly Volcán Imbabura, and Volcán Cotocatchi, which towers above it.

Views of the surrounding volcanos while hiking the rim of Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Volcán Imabura (top) and Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom) from the the rim of Laguna Cuicocha

The name Laguna Cuicocha means “Lake of the Guinea Pig” in the Quechua language, possibly named after the shape of its largest island – Teodoro Wolf (the smaller island is called Yerovi).

Wide view of Teodoro Wolf Island in Laguna Cuicocha while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

The shape of Teodoro Wolf island perhaps gave the lake its name

And although I didn’t see any guinea pigs, there were the last vestiges of what must have been an amazing bloom of flowers and orchids about a month before!

Many different flowers that lined the hiking route around the rim of Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

All up, I took about 4.5 hours to hike around the rim, but that was with a couple of long stops to chat, and taking lots of photos.  For me, the first half (going anti-clockwise) was the most rewarding, as the last third basically tracked along a road.  Though I admit there were great views across to Volcán Cotocatchi.   

Volcán Cotocatchi as seen from across Laguna Cotocatchi while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

I didn’t end up calling into the tourist enclave at the end, but my understanding is that boat trips on the lake only cost a few dollars if you don’t want to hike.  However, you would be missing out on the best part, as you really need the height that the rim provides to have the most spectacular vistas.


Do this hike!  It is beautiful and well worth the effort.

Time:  about 4.5 hours

Cost:  USD$12.50 each (USD$25 for the taxi).  I was lazy and just got the taxi provided by the hostel, given I could split the cost.


Día de los Difuntos – Otavalo – Ecuador

The 2nd November is “All Souls Day” in the Catholic calendar, the “Day of the Dead” in Mexico, the “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Deceased) in Ecuador.  I didn’t realise it when making my plans, but Otavalo turns out to be one of the best places in all of Ecuador to experience this important day.

Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

The tradition (particularly strong amongst the more indigenous peoples of Ecuador) is for families to visit the cemetery, taking food and drink for a picnic on the grave of the deceased.  Yes, you read that correctly, ON the grave of the deceased.   The idea is that the souls of the dead visit on this day, and families need to provide plenty of food so that these souls can gain strength to continue on their journey to the after life.

I asked at the hostel when the celebrations started, and they advised me that between 11am and 1pm would be the best time to see what was going on.  So off I set in the blazing sun to the indigenous cemetery.  It was not hard to find – really, you just had to follow the crowds!

Follow the crowds - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

Lining both sides of both access streets were people selling flowers, wreaths, fruit (especially sweet pepinos), and food.  Lots and lots of food – the most popular seemingly being the fish Tilápia, fried, of course.

Everything the deceased could need - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

Fresh flowers and wreaths (top), food and fruit (middle – sweet pepinos are the greenish things), hornado (roast pork) and tilápia (bottom)

And everywhere you looked, there were women selling the most traditional of treats for this particular occasion – Guaguas de Pan (bread babies). 

Guaguas de Pan - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

These are sweet breads shaped like babies (guagua or wawa means “baby” in Quechua) that have been wrapped in swaddling (note, they don’t have arms), and decorated with colourful icing.   They can be plain or filled with a fruit jam, and in some parts of Ecuador, they can also take the shape of an animal.

Food and flowers purchased, the families then entered the cemetery to find the plot of their deceased.  And what a spectacle it was!

Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

It was absolutely packed!  And full of action!  From people tending the graves

Tending the grave - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

to musicians playing for the deceased

Praying and music - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

to everybody laying out a picnic on top of the graves.

Picnics on the graves - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

It was incredibly difficult to move and find a place to stand to take it all in.  It was just amazing to see such a healthy attitude towards death!

Healthier attitude towards death - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

After about 2 hours of wandering around, I left with a touch of sunstroke (why I didn’t put my hat on, I don’t know!) but returned at 2:30pm to see how the day had unfolded.  Wow!  What a difference!  There was almost nobody left at the cemetery!

After the party - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

3 hours later and the cemetery was almost deserted!

It was a great opportunity though to wander around admiring the freshly-tended graves and marveling at the bootprints that trampled the dirt mounds.  I felt really self-conscious walking all over the graves, but it is what everybody did and nobody blinked an eye.  

After the party - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

I was also surprised at the lack of rubbish left behind in the wake of so many people and so much food!  Very a-typical for such a large gathering in general, and for Latin America in particular.

From the cemetery I headed back into town for a very late lunch and decided I had to go the full traditional spread.   So fried TilápiaGuaguas de Pan, and Colada Morada – a thick, sweet, drink made with purple (or black) corn, spices and berries.  Yum!

lunch - Tilápia, Guaguas de Pan, and Colada Morada

The Día de los Difuntos really was quite a sight and if you happen to be in Ecuador on November 2, I’d encourage you to definitely experience it.