Having my map of Ecuador in hand, the first area I explored off the beaten track was a 2-hour journey by bus from Quito: The Mindo Rainforest. It gave me a taste of what the Amazon Jungle itself might look and feel like. The town of Mindo is the entrance to a huge swath of land and is a nature reserve full of rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, stunning views. I stayed at a beautiful place called Hosteria Arasari .. click the link to check out the gorgeous grounds.. location and cabins. It was not expensive.. I think I paid about $30 a night. They have a bird viewing platform above the basic restaurant onsite.. great views! The town of Mindo itself was a tad hippie.. a nice cozy feel and friendly faces everywhere. On arrival I was confused as to why I could not get a coffee except for a Nescafe (no thanks), I trekked about 1.5 km to the Hosteria and they gave me the same line. Then, entering my cabin and finding no light switch working it dawned on me..no electricity! Mindo had had no power for 3 days! I never did find out why; welcome to crazy life in Third World Countries. I hiked several kilometers outside of the hotel area.. some amazing views, lots of wildlife and especially birds -the toucan! I have never been one for heights and so I passed on the zip-line experience (yet again). This day was June 23 and the temperature in this cloud forest was just a little above comfort for temperature and humidity, especially hiking.
I decided to take the road back to Quito from Cuenca. I wanted to head to the edge of the Amazon Jungle and so settled on the towns of Banos and Puyo. Each of these towns deserve an article all of their own! From Cuenca I took a bus to Ambato, then a bus to Banos. A few nights in Banos and then on to Puyo for a few nights. The buses were not as nearly as good as the first class buses that go from city to city in Mexico.. but sufficient for a few hours at a time. Also, Ecuador buses are VERY inexpensive. Expect to pay just $1 for a 1-hour journey. The Ecuadorians getting on and off the bus en-route were all very pleasant and at no time did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable in any way. I do have a rule in my life though: “I never worry, but I do manage the risk”. So traveling by bus at night does not seem like a sensible idea. Many travelers like to travel on overnight buses because it is cooler temperature wise and they can sleep and save on a hotel bed. My thoughts on overnight bus travel: bandits attack at night, many more traffic accidents happen at night and I would miss all the scenery along the way! Trust me, the bus on the narrow, winding road which is laid on the ridge of the Andes Mountains is something you do not want to miss. Breathtaking scenery and lots of interesting people and places to see along the way.
Map of Ecuador
A short story: A bus I took from Mexico City airport departed at 11 pm and in 3.5 hours I would be home in San Miguel de Allende. Along the way, in the pitch black night the bus stopped and outside were several large black trucks and many men with machine guns. A Federal officer asked us to get off the bus and present our passports, at the same time ALL of the luggage was removed from the bus and inspected thru an x-ray machine. We were on our way in less than an hour, but let me tell you, this was a very unnerving experience to say the least. In the dark it is hard to figure out the where, who and what of the situation. Enough said.
OK, so for more details about the spa town of Banos and the edge-of-the-jungle town of Puyo then please click on the links to those articles. All in all traveling around Ecuador was very pleasant, fresh air, cheap buses and a cleaner roadside experience than Mexican roads. Less trash here, more of a tidy place, even the junk is often piled neatly here!