Wednesday 15 May 2024

Back in Ecuador: Cloud forests, volcanoes and high mountains

We're back in Ecuador (and almost out of it), and I must say, it feels very odd; maybe because we won't come back or maybe because we're visiting the mountains more or maybe both but it feels great, peculiar and familiar in equal measures to be back.

First off, it's been great to be back in more mountainous areas. Thinking about it, in Colombia  I found the coast a bit hard (sorry Ioanna). The heat was a bit too much and I wanted to walk, yet it was too hot. Of course, it would be wrong to say Colombia wasn't mountainous; I mean look at Ciudad Perdida and La Mojarra.  But the truth is that we didn't hike as much as we are here.

Several of the wild, forested areas we've been to during our second time in Ecuador, are Maquipucuna, and (again) Podocarpus. Maquipucuna is an area within the Mindo valley, just off Quito. What's special about it - and made Dan very excited - is that is a unique bird watchers paradise. When the annual bird count is held, people flock to Mindo, and the area has won the world record six times! We even had hummingbirds eating out of our hands!

At Maquipucuna, we stayed for three days and camped in the reserve's grounds. We hiked every day and in our second day we got a guide to take us to the primary cloud forest in the reserve which was amazing. It felt wild and endless! We even spotted many fresh puma tracks on our way up, and then on our way down, we saw newer tracks and puma poo which probably meant that a puma was following us. Yikes!! Also, the birds were just insane: toucans, hummingbirds and so many other new species. Dan was constantly adding birds onto his bird list. It was truly amazing. And did I mention anything about the rain....? We were up a cloud forest after all! This was not just any rain, it was tropical, pouring, sky-on-our-head, 'where-is-Noah-with-his-boat' kind of rain!

But Maquipucuna was not the only cloud forest we visited, we also went back to Podocarpus National Park. And I say 'again' because the attentive readers of my blog would remember that this is our second time visiting Podocarpus, the first one was just after Christmas. Podocarpus was even more amazing than I remembered it the first time. The range of diversity in vegetation has earned the park the nickname “Botanical Garden of America" due to the fact that there are over 4,000 species of vegetation inside the park’s boundaries. This super diverse ecosystem is also home to lots of wildlife. Some of the rarer sightings include jaguars and spectacled bears, although in Maquipucuna spectacled bears are much more common and can be seen every single day during the autumn when the bears come down to eat their favourite fruit which is a small kind of avocado. Sometimes you might even see a mountain tapir (although we weren't lucky enough to see them). 560 birds also nest or migrate through the park and approximately 6% of the world's species can be found in the park while 40% of Ecuador's list of species can be seen within the park's terrain

In Podocarpus, we repeated and finished the hike we started when we visited the park after Christmas. And, just as our first attempt, we got wet, very wet...again! After making our way through the forested part of the park, we reached the park's ridge, and because it had not yet started raining, the view stretched for miles around. At this point, none of us would guess that we would be soaked to the bone by the end of this hike. Or as the Greeks say...'as wet as a duck'! It was brutal but it was still amazing to walk through miniature ecosystem underneath your feet, or as Dan described it 'an incredible fairy garden'. 

Apart from cloud forests we also visited more mountains, and in our case, volcanoes. First off, we drove up to Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi, is one of the most important volcanoes in Ecuador and it was amazing! It has large glacial sheets around it, its lower flanks are a reddish rock dropping into a beautiful paramo were wild horses and llamas roam. We were very lucky as we were reaching higher up to the volcano, the clouds started to suddenly clear. For a few minutes, we had the perfect clear view of the towering volcano top, and I can tell you that was magnificent!

To finish it all off, we did a two-day hike up to the Quilotoa volcano, one of Ecuador's most popular hikes. The hike was long and hard, especially the last day, mainly because it was always steep uphill or steep downhill, getting us through small traditional Andean villages (with many many dogs to ward off). When we finally reached the crater, at nearly 4,000m above sea level, the views down to the lake were so rewarding and hard to believe what you were looking at. You heard me right, inside Quilotoa's crater is an awesome, bright blue lake which was formed when the volcano erupted 800 years ago!!!

We're crossing to Peru in a couple of days and I can't wait for more mountains, crazy archaeology, insane history and many, many more adventures!!!!


  1. Hello Orestis, Are you measuing the number of miles you've walked? In animal terms your territory stretches far and wide. You guys are just extraordinary. Oh my I so envied you feeding the hummingbirds and seeing such an exquisite array of bird life. What is the water temperature of the lake inside Quilotoa's crater. Has anyone ever swum in it? I shall have to do some googling! Lots of love to you all, Margaret

  2. Hello Orestis and Ismene. This is Zoe. Amazing to see a hummingbird eat out of your hand! And the volcano , I love it! I am here to ask where you're going next?