A Week of Nature Ecuador Style: Part 1

May 20, 2015


Looking back on our last week in the Quito area of Ecuador, there is no way to do it without thinking to myself, “that was such an awesome week!” Several days spent outdoors enjoying nature and fun outdoorsy things. As much as I love exploring cities and towns of all sizes, taking in the architecture, the culture, the people, the ideas, and the language, there is something so wonderful about taking in the things that are provided by Mother Earth herself.


Volcán Cotopaxi

We started our week with a hiking trip to Volcán Cotopaxi. One of many volcanoes in the “Avenue of the Volcanoes,” Cotopaxi has a glacier-topped cone and stands at over 19,000 feet high. Even from miles away, we could see this snow-capped beauty awaiting us on the horizon. It was stunning to see, and with every passing moment the excitement grew knowing that we were about to conquer it. We arrived at the ranger station of the park where we picked up our guide who would lead us up the volcano. Our next stop was a little homepage_body_image_2.jpgbuilding that was home to a historical presentation of the volcano and the surrounding area. We learned what plants and animals were present in the area and which ones had vanished, likely due to the human impact. We were also able to see images of the glacier now versus 20 years ago and how much it has shrunk, also likely due to the human impact. With our brief lesson complete, we sat down in the small café for a complementary pastry and coca tea to help with any impending altitude sickness. Snacks and tea demolished, we made our long drive through the barren flat lands at the base of the volcano (a great place to camp) to the parking lot at the volcano’s trailhead. Because of the altitude of the entire hike, we were instructed to take it slowly so as not to suffer from altitude sickness. All but Teague were ready and willing to take this leisurely stroll up the volcano. As we climbed, the views became more and more spectacular of the surrounding valley. Looking up we were teased with periodic views of the glacier high above us as it peeked through the clouds. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. At one point on the hike up, it even started to snow a little! And when you haven’t seen snow in many months and you know you won’t be seeing it fall again for a while, you can’t help but revel in its novelty. We finally reached the refuge, which was still under reconstruction after an avalanche several years earlier. When it’s done, it will be quite a nice place! From here it was just a short jaunt up to the edge of the glacier. The icing on the volcanic cake! Fifteen minutes prior we had been excited about a little bit of falling snow, now a glacier! We were like little kids being let out of the house for the first big snowfall. We explored the glacier, which in some parts stood several feet taller than all of us. We climbed on and up the glacier. We made and threw snowballs! What a glorious treat after several hundred feet of vertical hiking! We hung out at the glacier for probably a half an hour or so, playing around, taking photos, and enjoying the great views before making the trip back down. Normally the story would end there. But I’m traveling with Teague O’Connell. The story never just ends right there. Rather than take the long and winding trail down that we had taken to come up, which is nice for those slow and leisurely strolls up a volcano, we took a more direct route down a loose, thick dirt trail that was perfect for volcano dirt-skiing down. Way more fun than strolling down. Once we arrived back at the parking lot, our ride was waiting for us, with our fantastic driver asking how it was and what we thought of the whole experience. Of course it was AWESOME!! While sharing our excitement and stories, we emptied the roughly 2 pounds of dirt and rocks out of our shoes and socks and happily crammed back into the SUV, ready for a restful ride back to Quito with a delicious lunch stop on the way.


The next stop of our nature week was in Mindo, just a few hours north of Quito. This quiet little town in the mountains hadn’t been on our radar until we encountered a large number of people asking how to get there and what it was all about during our Workaway. At that point, we knew we had to go and check it out. We also decided that we would just rent a car to drive there since it was so close. It 10846252_390065711151337_9184208875078514705_n.jpgturned out to be a great decision as it allowed us to drive to all of the different activities that we were interested in, rather than having to rely on the taxis. Our first stop was to the Mindo Butterfly Garden, which had quite a setup before even entering the garden. At first I was a little skeptical of what to expect, after all it is just a bunch of butterflies. After paying the fee, which was a little high in my opinion, we were escorted in by one of the staff members, who gave us a brief introduction about the sanctuary and what they are all about. At the Mindo Butterfly Garden, they hatch several hundred butterflies to be reintroduced into nature. Because of the fact that it was cloudy out, the staff member gave the trees in the garden a little bit of a shake to encourage the butterflies to come out and play. It went from about four butterflies to about 200 butterflies in a matter of minutes. Who doesn’t like to be surrounded by 200 butterflies!? The best part was that we had the place all to ourselves for the first half of our visit.

Within the garden there are several trays of fruit, which the butterflies of course just love. So by scooping up a little bit of extra-ripe banana on our fingers we made lots of new beautiful winged friends in no time! I had a badass butterfly friend who had lost a large section of one of his wings (obviously in a butterfly battle royale) who hung out with me for nearly my entire time there. It was very enjoyable. In addition to my awesome new friend, I had plenty of other little friends come and go, on my hands, my shoulders, maybe even my head (they’re like ninjas sometimes, so you don’t always know they’re there). At one point, Teague was just covered in butterflies. I’m pretty sure he loved it. After about an hour or two of frolicking with butterflies and taking way too many photos of them, we headed out and ventured over to our next natural wonder. This time in order to get to it we had to take a small cart across an exceptionally wide and deep valley to reach the Santuario de Cascadas (Waterfall Sanctuary). It was one of those, “holy shit I hope we get to live to tell people about this ride!” kind of experiences. But I figured that if the cart operator’s dog felt comfortable in taking the ride with us then it must be OK. Either that or he is a really stupid dog. Either way, we hiked through the jungle down to several lovely waterfalls that would have been super fun to splash around in if the weather was a little nicer as the water was absolutely freezing. I tried to get in, and was the only one to do so, but I only got to about my knees before calling it quits.

After the waterfalls, we talked about the possibility of doing some zip lining or some river rafting but we all decided that again, it was just too chilly to subject ourselves to it.

We ended up staying for two nights in Mindo, which was enough for us for the time of year, but had it been warmer, it would not have been quite enough time. The town of Mindo itself is quite cute and I would have really enjoyed staying for just a day or two longer. 

That concludes Part One of Two of my Week of Nature Ecuador Style Series. At the conclusion of this week I just couldn't get over all the things that we had seen and experienced and how absolutely wonderful it was! This also serves as one of the many reasons why Ecuador should be on your list of places to visit, and not just for the Galapogos!

Roam on!




Written by Jen Hays
Jen is a marketer with a passion for the digital world and an insatiable desire to travel and explore all that the physical world has to offer; marrying the two to share her experiences with and inspire all who join her along the way.

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Category: Activities

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