Don't just see Ecuador from a hotel room. // © 2015 Meagan Drillinger
Feature image (above): Join G Adventures on an action-packed trip through the country that includes biking. // © 2015 Patricio Hidalgo
The best way to see and understand Ecuador isn’t from a hotel room in its capital, Quito. And while the Galapagos Islands is Ecuador’s most popular ecotourism destination, it’s also far removed from traditional Ecuadorean life. For adventurous travelers who want a feel for both Ecuador’s natural majesty and a taste of its small-town living, consider an action-packed trip through the country’s interior with G Adventures.
G Adventures’ Ecuador Multisport itinerary is a nine-day trek through Ecuador’s inland area surrounding Quito. With a group of fellow adrenaline-seeking travelers, I went whitewater rafting through the Amazon Jungle, trekked through national parks and biked on an active volcano. Between these high-intensity activities, we stayed in budget accommodations in the heart of small villages. Although it is designed for the active traveler, the itinerary is gentle enough that clients without much outdoor training will still find the activities enjoyable.
The Ecuador Multisport experience begins in Quito, where travelers have time to explore popular sites in the city, including the well-preserved city center, or Centro Historico. From Quito, we hopped on a bus to the Amazon-basin town of Tena. The four-hour ride descends from the mountains of the highlands and deep into the jungle’s lower elevation. Tena, a main hub for activities such as rafting and kayaking in the rainforest, sits at the confluence of the Tena and Pano rivers. The rafting adventure consists of a full-day excursion in the cloud forest and down Jatunyaku River.
On the fourth day, we traveled by public bus to Banos, a city in Tungurahua Province. The town center is a bustling hot spot with international eateries, local markets and bars, making it a solid home base for travelers interested in horseback riding, canyoning, hiking, biking or rafting on River Patate.
But for G Adventures clients, Banos is the starting point for an overnight trek through Llanganates National Park. After a night in the city, we were transferred by private vehicle to the starting point of our trek. The hike begins at 10,498 feet above sea level, high in the rainy cloud forest. From there, we hiked for nearly two hours uphill to 12,467 feet, taking in views of the Tungurahua and Sangay volcanoes.
After a brief incline, the rest of the trek is downhill and relatively easy to maneuver. Afterward, we spent the night camping in tents at a local trout farm in the national park. Although the program does not break for inclement weather, rain is to be expected in this part of Ecuador. Tell clients to pack plenty of dry clothes, and be prepared to camp — even during a storm.
The final leg of the itinerary took us to the town of Lasso near the Cotopaxi volcano, just outside of Quito. We left the jungle and headed back into the highlands for a night of relaxation. And good thing we did: In the morning, we took a downhill biking excursion on the Cotopaxi volcano in Cotopaxi National Park, which starts at a staggering 13,123 feet above sea level.
The first 8 kilometers of the bike route are exceptionally challenging, as the terrain is mostly volcanic ash. The route is rocky, and bikes can pick up speed without warning. This first section is best left for experienced mountain bikers. However, there is also an option to pick up the trail after this difficult stretch and continue on a mellower bike route through the national park, which is equally beautiful.
After completing the journey, we got back on the bus to Quito for a final night and a farewell dinner with the group. Nine days felt like barely a taste of all that Ecuador has to offer. Luckily, G Adventures makes it easy for travelers who wish to extend their journey in a case where, like me, your client won’t feel ready to leave just yet.