My Top 10 Hostels and Budget Hotels in South America

Here are my top 10 places to stay while travelling through South America, all based on my own experience at the time of my stay during 2017.

Colombia

Casa Viejas – Minca – Colombia

£9 a night

Minca is a small village inhabited by 800 people at an elevation of 650m in the Sierra Nevada above Santa Marta.

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Casa Viejas goes into my top 3 favourite places is stayed during my 6 months in South America. The incredible views out across the valley where on a clear night you can see the twinkling lights of Santa Marta, the pure tranquility of just hearing the birds and the buzz of the jungle below. Waking up to this view every morning was such a treat.

Run by a French couple and their volunteers, Casa Viejas has the best breakfast in Colombia, served with fresh coffee straight from the La Victoria Minca that surrounds the hostel. Freshly filtered water is available, and with no wifi and evening meals served together it is great for socialising and getting to know your fellow guests each evening.

I recommend making the most of the tours available and visit the La Victoria finca via the water falls, and take in the unspoilt beauty.

Recommended – Accessible only by motorbike (with your backpack on your back is fun) or 4×4 this is perfect for travellers who who want to relax and enjoy nature and get away from buzz of the world for a few days

My Rating 10/10

 

Dreamer Hostel – Santa Marta, Colombia

£7 a night

Santa Marta is a city in Colombia. It is the capital of Departamento del Magdalena and the fourth-largest urban city of the Caribbean Region of Colombia,

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Dreamers is like being in an all inclusive resort, where you never have to leave.

Comfy dorms and beds, great shared bathroom with enough showers and toilets so you never have to queue (but avoid using the hand towel) there was a spate of pink eye going round when I was there.

There is Swimming pool  to cool off from the days heat or just chill and recover from your latest trek. There is tasty and well priced food available all day.

The location is perfect for visiting Parque Tayrona for either the day or you can leave your bags in the lock up and go off and explore further along the coast. Anyone doing the Lost City trek will find this a good base to start and finish. One of the best places to meet other travellers from all over the world with each evenings activities and organised day tours – really friendly staff that just makes the whole experience wonderful.

Recommended – Best place to start if you are a hostel virgin or just starting your trip and want to meet people and have some fun. Not for those wanting a quiet night.

My Rating 8/10

Ecuador

Lulú lama – Isinlivi, Ecuador

Price on request.

Isinlivi is a small village high up in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, it one of the town you stay in when doing the four day Quilotoa Loop.

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Lulu Lama is one of those hostels you walk into and think – is this really a hostel – it looks more like a ski chalet you would find in the Swiss Alps, with the wooden interior and burning fire keeping the place toasty warm.

The perfect place to spend a cosy night after a long days hiking . Super cosy dorms and private rooms, or splash out for the cottages that over look the valley.

There is a spa area where you will find a jacuzzi to relax those weary feet with a cold beer. Re count the days hiking with your fellow travellers over some home cooked food, laughing with those that got lost, followed by a game of cards by the fire .

Recommended – Single travellers and couples.

My rating 9/10

 

Hostería Izhcayluma – Vilcabamba Ecuador

£7.80 a night

Vilcabamba- Vilcabamba is a village in the southern region of Ecuador, in Loja Province, about 45 km (28 mi) from the city of Loja

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The perfect last stop in Ecuador before heading into Peru, this hostel definitely  makes my top 3. This is a hotel that offer dorms at hostel prices and the facilities are the best you can find at any hostel in South America.

A beautiful restaurant with an extensive menu freshly cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a separate bar with pool table to unwind after a long days trek, and a swimming pool to soak up the days rays. The highlight and added bonus for all you yogis, is the free yoga each morning and afternoon.

The cabin style private rooms each with a private balcony are perfect for couples or families. The dorms each with 6 singles beds (not a bunk bed in sight) –  each with a mezzanine floor and an incredibly large bathroom.

There are self orientating treks of differing difficulty that surround the hotel and well worth trying out while there.

Recommended – Yogis, couples, families and travellers that need some time out from the usual backpacking and hostel life.

My rating 10/10

Peru

Eco lodge – Mancora – Peru

From £53 a night

Máncora is a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru. It is located in the Talara Province and is capital of the Máncora District.

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The perfect treat for a traveller who has been on the road a few months and needs some luxury and comfort at a good price.

My final top 3 of my stays in South America, a small and boutique hotel with only 5 rooms, set around a beautiful garden and swimming pool. The bright pink flowers against the natural wood and bright blue sky are so inviting, I could have stayed here for days.

Off the beaten track away from the hustle and bustle of the Main Street in Mancora – you have real peace and quiet to take stock, write your blog or catch up on life.

Freshly baked breakfast and a super french host to look after you, even Tofu the dog is there to give you comfort.

The rooms are simple and chic, with wood slated walls, grey slate floor and white linens. The enormous king size bed and luxury cotton linens make you just want to cosy up with Netflix or someone else and never leave.

The luxury of having, shampoo , conditioner and soap and freshly washed soft towels all makes this worth it for at least one night for any traveller in the need of some me time .

Recommended – Travellers in the need for some me time

My Rating 10/10

 

Loki del mar, Mancora , Peru

£7 a night

Máncora is a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru. It is located in the Talara Province and is capital of the Máncora District.

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Loki is more like walking into an apartment complex in the Costa del Sol , than a hostel that only costs £7 a night.

Promoted as a party hostel, the Loki group have hostels in all the major cities in Peru and in La Paz, Bolivia.

After my luxury 2 night stay in Eco Lodge I was in the mood to party for a few days and Loki did not disappoint.

Full of young 20 something travellers, the day I arrived there was water sliding and gladiator drinking games going on. The music starts at 10am and eventually finishes when the bar closes, which can be anytime the staff deem it no longer full enough to stay open.

The rooms are a good size, mixture of single beds and bunks each with on suite shower room and separate toilets. The Pool is a real bonus and ideal for cooling down in the 30 degree heat or jumping in and joining the many games that are played. The evenings come alive with themed nights, with the day guests from the rest of the resort that come and enjoy the fun.

Happy hour is 6pm to 9pm everyday and if you get beer cap in the bucket you get a free shot. This never happened from want I could see!! The menu is pretty good too and not expensive, with a mixture of local and western food.

Recommended – If you want to sleep then Loki is not for you.

My rating 8/10

 

Wild Olive Guesthouse , Huacachina, Peru

£10 a night

Huacachina is a village built around a small oasis and surrounded by sand dunes in southwestern Peru

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This was a little gem of a find, very clean with plenty of space to relax and unwind and catch up on Netflix. The main living area had 2 great big sofas and large tv, it felt like being at home.

The rooms were possibly a little small for 6/8 bunks, but still very comfy and clean, with great showers and hot water –  Which is all you need after a day of sand surfing in the desert.

There is a cute restaurant attached to the back that over looks the oasis and does great breakfast and food.

Recommended – all types of travellers

My rating 8/10

£6 a night

Magicpacker Hostel – Cusco , Peru

Cusco s a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region and of the Cusco Province. This is the main base for all travellers wanting to trek to Machu Picchu.

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The magic packer was my base for a few days before and after my Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. The rooms were all really big, with larger than usual really comfy bunk beds.

The rooms are all situated around large courtyard, that is perfect for chilling in the sun on bean bags, breakfast is included in the price and isn’t bad for Peru. Its situated just out of the main busy part of Cusco, which makes it much quieter without having to walk-up a hill to get away from it all.

The showers were the best I have had in all my travels in Peru, powerful hot water and plenty of them. There is a lock up for you to leave your large backpack when going on a trek for a few days.

Recommended – For all travellers

My rating 8/10

 

Bolivia

Hostel Wara Uta, sla del Sol, Yumani

£22 a night includes breakfast and Wifi

Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is an island in the southern part of Lake Titicaca

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At the top of the hill nestled amongst a few other hostels and homes, this little hostel of no more than 4/5 rooms is so idyllic set in a beautifully well maintained garden. The rooms are clean and most of the time has hot water. Its a good walk from the boat with a few hundred steps and steep accent to get to, but so worth it for the views and the friendly greeting from the owner.

The hostel is perfectly located for exploring the island and trying the best restaurant for miles. Las Velas is a cute little restaurant snuggled amongst eucalyptus trees at the top of the village, a great place to unwind with a glass of red and watch the sunset.

Las Velas is a one man band owned by Pablo, a gourmet chef who use to work in posh restaurant in Lima.

It runs without electricity, meaning each table is lit by candle light and set inside the front part of Pablo’s house. The kitchen is to the rear where Pablo cooks and prepares delicious dishes like steamed fresh trout in white wine or homemade lasagne, with his head torch as the only form of light.

Recommended – for couples or groups of 3/4

My rating 8/10

Chile

Valle Mistrel – La Serena, Chile

£12 a night

Valle Mistrel is more like a hotel than a hostel, sometimes it make sense to pay a little extra to be in nice surroundings. From the front it looks just like any other small hostel that you stumble across, brightly painted and with sign posts with all the major cities with their distance.

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Behind the glass door, is large long and beautifully cultivated space. The reception area, what looks like use to be the living room to the original house, but now houses the new fleet of bikes for hire. I arrived in the middle of the night and made use of the sofa to kip until the reception was open. The night porter was a bit clueless.

This backs onto a large garden – come patio that follows the length of the building, where you will find most of the double rooms.

Plenty of seats too chill, and listen to the music that is piped from above, the trickle of water from the water feature and the Avery of birds all makes for a pleasant relaxing environment.

Each double room is clean and spacious, comes with complimentary soft white towels. Each with an ensuite and all the essentials you find in a hotel. The breakfast terrace over looks the Garden from the rear.

However, the new addition and the jewel in the crown is the incredible roof terrace, with bespoke furniture made of old furniture and the panoramic views of the whole city.

Just below are the new dorms, with the most comfortable bunk beds I have slept in yet. The only downside is no mirror in the ensuite .

Recommended – For all Travellers that like nice surroundings

My rating 9/10

Baños, Cuenca and the South of Ecuador

Back being a solo traveller having said good bye to Laura I head to Banôs. We said we would meet up further down the route.

Thanks to a couple of blogs I learned there are two options to get to Baños from Latacunga. Either a taxi to the main highway and flag down the Baños bus from Quito or take one of the many buses to Ambato. Then take a short taxi to the North bus terminal and get a bus from there to Baños.

I chose the latter and got lucky, as I got to Ambato and said Baños, I was put on a bus to Coca from the same station that went via Baños. The bus left in 5 minutes so I had to hot foot it to the terminal. Total journey was 7 hours costing less than $10

Arriving into Baños at 9pm, I decided to make the 15 minute walk on foot with my bags. What I didn’t account for was it all being up hill. I was booked into hostel ‘La Casa del Molino Blanco’, I think only because of the breakfast that was included. It certainly wasn’t for the atmosphere or Friendly staff.

I should have asked Holly, Dan , Lana and Ana where they had booked, as they too were all in Baños for a few days. Like so many of us doing the same route through South America.

Baños is a well visited town on the gringo travel circuit due to its adventure sports, hot thermal spring baths and the active volcano ‘Tungurahua‘. Oh and of course ‘La Casa del Árbol’ for that Instagram picture.

I booked a bike for $6 for the next day, to cycle the ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ to check out seven waterfalls along the route, which I was told would be down hill all the way.

This indeed turned out to be mostly true, but some of the route is along the main highway. So if your are a nervous cyclist this might not be for you.

It was great to be on a bike, as appose to on my feet. Although the slight up hill really takes it out of you at 1850m above sea level. The first 5 waterfalls weren’t that spectacular, but the valley and the river was.

I stopped a few times too look at the many zip lines that were strung along the banks of the river. Looks so much fun, but it would have to wait for another day.

Cycling into Rio Verde I come across two guys that I recognised from my bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga. Maybe because they had their tops off it made them stand out. So of course I had to stop.

Sadly one of them had a flat tyre and their bike hire company hadn’t given them a repair kit or a spare tube. I thought about offering mine – but what if it happens to me.!!!

Rio Verde was less than 500m, they would surely find a shop there to help them.

I carry on and come to the fast flowing river ‘Rio Verde’ and stop to take a picture. Two guys then asked me to take a few pictures of them. Hang on a second… I get a sense that these too are more than just friends. Gay-dar alert.

It turns out over lunch in fact Victoriano and Sebastián are a couple, and they live in Buenos Aries and were kind enough to invite me to lunch at a lovely place called Miramelindo. We then spent the rest of the afternoon together at the waterfall.

The highlight of this tour is the impressive ‘Pilon de Diablo’ or ‘Devils Cauldron’ waterfall. Walking down the steps to the base of the waterfall, the intensity and sheer power of the water hits you. You see the water cascading over the rock face and feel the full force of Mother Nature, while getting soaked by the spray.

Also high above you can walk along the wooden suspension bridges and see the fierce flowing Rio Verde disappear into a small hole in the rock and descend into the spectacular waterfall.

After a night of drinking cocktails and shots with Victoriano and Sebastián, all I could manage the next day was the short $1 bus ride up the hill to ‘La Casa del Arbol’. Entry $1.50

Surprise Surprise I bump into Holly and Dan, all little underwhelmed by what we see, we make sure we get the important shot for Instagram and play on the swings like kids. It turns out we are on the same bus to Cuenca that evening.

Sadly Ecuador doesn’t celebrate Halloween like we do, so no excuse to dress up. Instead they celebrate ‘Day of the dead’ on the 1st November. Celebrating those that have passed, by gathering at the local cemetery, offering respect and flowers while listening to live classical music which could be heard across the whole of the town.

A nice and more positive way of remembering those that have passed.

Ten pm had arrived and it was time to get the bus to Cuenca. This would turn out to be possibly the worse 9 hrs of my life. So far..

No leg room, windows that didn’t close and that rattled with every bump – something you learn quickly in South America is that their roads suck – and a seat that barely reclined. I got no sleep what so ever.

To make it worse, the bus was overbooked so there were locals standing in the isle and they still let more on. No wonder gringos get robbed on busses in Ecuador. It’s a massive problem so always keep your bags on your lap or around feet.

Arriving into Cuenca at 4:30 am, I had to wait at the bus station for my hotel reception to open at 6:30. Yes a hotel and my own room, hurrah .. Mainly because Cuenca was fully booked due to the weekend of festivities. The red satin duvet told me this room is not meant for one.

Cuenca turned out to be my favourite city in Ecuador, with its beautiful colonial buildings and magnificent ‘Cathedral of Immaculate Conception’ or ‘New Cathedral’.

I was lucky to be in Cuenca for the weekend, as from 1st – 4th of November the city comes alive to celebrate the ‘Day of the Dead’ and also celebrates its independence from Spain on the 3rd November.

The city was full of Ecuadorians from all over the country, here to experience the fantastic music, food, art and antiques festival that was sprawled along the banks of the ‘River Tomebamba’ and taking up every square and green space available.

The food festival had food from all over South America with at least 200 different tents offering a delicious delight.

The other highlight of Cuenca was, it was the first city I had visited where I could run along the banks of the River Yanucay. It was perfect for running 5km and nice way to start the day. On weekdays in the morning you can find a local Japanese resident that does Tai Chi where many other residents join in.

Conscious that I had been traveling 8 weeks now and only managed two countries, I booked a bus to Vilcabamba.

After much recommendation I booked into the ‘Hostería Izhcayluma‘ where I would meet Dan and Holly again. Thankfully Hosteria Izhcayluma ran their own bus service from Cuenca to the hostel which was $15 and takes 5 hours, two less than the public bus.

Izhcayluma was magical and exactly what I needed, a place to relax and to do free yoga each morning and an extra session in the afternoon for $5. The dorm was lovely, sleeping 6 and only $9 a night. Three beds downstairs and three more on a mezzanine above. It had real log cabin feel to it and the stone shower was enormous and a real luxury compared to most hostels.

Definitely one of my favourite hostels of the trip so far.

Taking advantage of the yoga in the morning, it was a ten minute walk past the pool to the most beautiful Shala I have practiced my downward dog. A view of the valley and mountains that surrounded us and just the sound of nature to relax you.

After a few days of relaxation and trekking the time had come for me to make plans to leave Ecuador. After two fantastic weeks it was time make my way to Peru.

From Vilcabamba it was a 45 minute $1.50 bus to Loja, and then a eight hour $10 night bus to Piura in Peru. The bus company I used was Amazonias and it was pretty good for Ecuadorean standards.

Getting off at passport control and walking across into Peru, was really simple. The whole process took 45 minutes at 4am.

From Piura it was my final 5 hour bus to my first stop in Peru – Mancora .

I can’t tell you how excited I was to be spending a few days by the sea, have sand between my toes and hot sunny weather .

Quilotoa Loop

While travelling I have found blogs a very useful tool to guide you through each country and the Quilotoa Loop popped up as an experience not to be missed and having now completed it myself, I would say it was my favourite trek and activity in Ecuador.

After a good nights sleep and more falafels for breakfast we pack our small rucksacks with enough clothing and supplies to last four days, but not too much to weigh us down while hiking. This was posing to be quite difficult, as the weather can change at any moment on the loop, from hot sun, to rain, to freezing cold.

We load onto the bus at the bus main bus station and head to our first stop Sigchos, a little village 2 hours from Latacunga, and in the middle of high hills covered by little farms. It’s best to get the earliest bus possible which leaves at 7am, if not the 9am as there are only few buses that run to Sigchos. The earlier you start the better chance you have of avoiding the afternoon rain.

The bus zig zags around the green hills, up one and down the next for what seemed like forever.  Dose up on the ‘calms’ before if suffer with travel sickness. 

There was no chance of being alone on our first day trekking, the bus was full of gringos and their back packs. With just the screen shot of directions from a blog for us to use to navigate, and the other gringos to follow I felt more assured that we wouldn’t get lost. How wrong could I be…

Off we set, like sheep following the gringos in front that seemed to know their way. Quickly we learn that its best not to rely on others and check the directions regularly, as one missed turn can mean crossing a river without a bridge and wet boots.

The first days hike to Isinlivi is estimated to take between four and five hours, depending on your fitness and capability of following directions and is meant to be the easiest of the four days.

One of the highlights of the loop is meeting other travellers that you get to know over the course of the four days. Today would be the day that I meet one of my favourite travelling couples, Lana from Bosnia and Ana from Mexico.

Ana having recently injured her foot, meant that Lana had to carry by herself this massive rucksack – it looked like it was packed to last a month not four weeks. The first part of the trek was a gentle meander down the valley to the river, crossing the bridge and through the village. Really quite pretty and so far relatively easy.

Well the easy part ended after taking the turn after the school, as it was all up hill by a good 200m to the top of the other side of the valley. Following the path that was also used by cow and mules, muddy in parts and steep in others, but really pretty. Stopping to catch my breath and looking across the valley the view was amazing and so different to any other so far, with patchwork or farms.

We make it to the top after about two hours of walking just as the rain is about to start. On our way up we see some of the others from the group, who have taken a wrong turn, and start a long climb up a much steeper and tougher route.

Arriving at our destination Isinlivi after just over three hours of walking, we are happy to find a happy welcome at the Llullu Lama hostel, a beautiful styled hostel that reminded me of staying in a ski chalet in the Alps. Maybe that’s because its run by an Ecuadorean-Dutch couple, the European influence definitely coming through.

The real positive to Llullu Lama, wasn’t just the roaring log fire keeping everyone warm, but the jacuzzi, steam and sauna. Sadly the only the jacuzzi was working on my visit. But after a long trek, there was nothing better than talking to a group of strangers half naked while drinking beer.

After good evening meal and delicious breakfast we were ready for day two of trekking. The sun was out again, and I had stripped down to just shorts and a vest, meaning I had to carry everything else. A group of eight of us left the hostel at the same time, all with the same instructions.

We were all told to not follow the second instruction due to a landslide a few week previous, but to take a different route. Well, we may as well have not had the instructions as they made not sense from beyond that point. Instead of going down the valley to the river, we managed to go up, up and up and cross the valley at a different point.

This making the route much harder, but far more beautiful than if we had just followed the river. Luckily a local lady told us to look out for the winding path down. Which we did and we found the river and some other lost trekkers. Although we had gone a much longer way, we all enjoyed it. 

Well except for Thomas the French guy. Who hated the fact that we were talking in English and not Spanish, or French. We all laughed when he took a wrong turn and was then chased by a dog and shouted at by the owner.

We always knew the last part of the trek to Chigchilan would always be the toughest, what we haven’t planned for was the extra effort we had to put in earlier due to getting lost. The last part indeed was steep and long. But there was determination not to let Thomas reach the top before us. Even with his walking poles to aid him.

Arriving at the Cloud Forest hostel, the mist started to cover the village and the temperature drop drastically. Now we understood why we needed our warm clothes. The only warm room was the main common room, that was full of about 40 people and smoke from the log burner. Tonight would be an early night for sure.

Well not before a few beers with our fellow trekkers, discussing how we all managed to take different route to get here.
Day three and the day we would make it to the top of the extinct volcano Quilotoa and see what all the fuss is about. Having beaten the average time for the previous two days, we decided to take it easier today and walk with Lana, Ana, Joe and Faye.

This time we were not going to get lost. Mainly because it was so well signposted along the way we didn’t need our instructions. Along this route as before we had lots of local children, offering to show us directions for caramel or sweets and aks for their foto to be taken.

The cutest were brother and sister, Dennis and Viviana and their cousin Lesley. Not one of the children we met had what I would call a typical Spanish name, there were all western names. 

After about 2 hours walking across the most beautiful landscape, that looked like a patchwork quilt under a perfect blue expanse of blue sky, with the sun shinning strong. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Stopping for some food, the other fellow trekker’s Holly and Dan caught us up and joined the group. So far most of the trek has mainly been flat or down hill, zig zagging along the valleys edge. This is where the fun begins, as we descend higher towards 3700m and the volcano crater rim.

Nearing the top of the sand track, I look back to see if I can see the others in the distance, but alas I cannot. Dan, Holly and myself had quickened are pace, and we could hear the sound of the dogs the others were disturbing as they descend upwards slowly. 

Reaching the top and seeing the expanse of green water that shimmered in the days sun was incredible. My first crater lagoon experience, and what a spectacular journey to get here. Pretty exhausted from the 4 hour trek, I rest and just take in the view.

Just then a cute little four year old comes up from no where, with the cutest smile saying “foto, foto” and sits next to me and starts pressing my selfie stick remote. “Otro, otro” meaning another. Even little kids out here on the top of a volcano know how to work an iphone.

Laura joins me with the others and we just rest and appreciate what we see before us. Also to rest, before the final one and half hour trek along the rim to the village of Quilotoa where we will spend the evening.

There are two options you can take around crater to reach the town. One that takes 5 hours and reaches the highest point at 3900m and the shorter 3 hour route. We opted for the shorter one as the weather was turning and we made it in one hour thirty minutes .

The alpaca hostel was our base for the evening, which turned out to be a great find. We got a room with two doubles beds for the price of a dorm. The log fire lit, we kept warm fully clothed under the three blankets, it was so cold. A night of playing cards around the log fire with our fellow trekkers Lana and Ana was the perfect end to a perfect three days.

Yes it was a meant to be four days, but we decided to not trek the final day to Zumbahua. Mainly because we were exhausted and most of it was along a road.

The following day it was back to Latacunga and goodbye to Laura as she heads to work on a farm for a month in the North of Ecuador and I continue South to Banôs

Exploring my Limits at 5000 metres 

Leaving Quito and Ronja behind Laura and I head to the nearest bus stop, to get the local bus to the most southern bus terminal 11km away. That’s how big Quito is… it sprawls on forever .

However as we soon realise the E2 bus we needed wasn’t as frequent as all the others, and we forget that travelling at 5pm on a weekday means rush hour in most cities. And when you are loaded with your backpacks – rush hour is not the time to be traveling on public transport.

Over the years I have moaned myself at tourists using the London underground at rush hour, thinking “why do it now, why not wait”. Well having being shunted about by the locals , the bus finally arrives, but it is full to the rafters.

They sure know how to pack them in. No chance of us barging in for the ride. We have no choice but to take a taxi, which again because of the rush hour traffic, took an hour to go 11km and cost $10. We both left Quito moaning how taxi drivers try and rip you off. Make sure they put the metre on when you get in, it is always cheaper.

The bus to Latacunga was completely empty, it was just us and the disco lights above our heads. Only costing $6, we thought amazing no one to bother us. But alas we were out of luck. We should have known, no bus ever travels far empty. Like all busses it stoped every time someone stuck out their hand and until it was full.

We opted to stay at Hotel Central due to a recommendation about the friendly staff. What I wasn’t excepting was the seventies decour and bright blue bathroom suite, the place looked like the set of ‘Faulty Towers’.

The owner, the lovely old Arabic lady that emigrated to Eacuador 50 years before, however more than mad up for it. Treating us to a wholesome breakfast that included falafels before our big day and even made homemade hummus for our evening snack, at the request of Laura.

Travellling to the entrance of Cotopaxi national park was simple enough, by taking the bus for Quito from the main bus terminal in Latacunga and ask to be dropped off outside Cotopaxi Park. It was only $2 and takes 30 minutes.

Once we arrived there were a couple of white 4*4 trucks waiting out side the entrance. Here we negotiated $20 each for our guide to take us in to the park and up to the 5000m point of the Volcano, via the lagoon at 3800 and the climbers refuge at 4800m.

As you drive along the road the forest is dense with trees and shrub, but further into the park the pine trees start to thin out and there in front of you is the magnificent sight of the snowed topped volcano Cotopaxi. The size is impressive, as it expands for what seems like miles. The lagoon at the base was much smaller and less spectacular than I was expecting.

Excited about our climb we quickly leave after ten minutes and make the drive higher to the base of the volcanoes cone. From here it will be by foot all the way to the climbers refuge. The climb was slow, and zig zagged up the side of the volcano, the earth and rock turning from black and grey, to a red colour from the last eruption.

After thirty minutes the crunch of our feet on the red soil, changed to the crunch of snow ever increasing as we climbed further upwards towards 4800m. The air was getting thinner and my breathing faster. I had to stop and take a few big long breathes to control my breathing. The cloud started to clear slightly and you could see the white top of the volcano glisten in the days sun.

On reaching the climbers refuge after an hour of climbing, we stopped for a food break and to recharge our bodies for the final 200 metre climb to the glacier. We met a traveller from San Francisco that was attempting the summit at 6900m the following day, and would be spending the night at the refuge. This requires some pre training at similar heights and knowing how to climb across glaciers. Although only 1.5km to the summit, it takes 6 hours to climb.

This is something we were not prepared for, but walking to the edge of the glacier – we were ready. 200m again doesn’t seem that much, but when your this high it can hurt and is really slow. After another thirty minutes of climbing we made it, I checked my phone and it said 5011m. Whoop Whoop.

The sense of achievement when we arrived was incredible, Laura and I hugged each other as we were so happy we had done it. Our guide sadly had had enough and wanted to head back down quick sharp.

However not until we got the perfect shot… which was proving difficult due to the cloud cover being so thick. But alas the cloud started to part and the glacier started to shine brightly under the suns rays piercing through the days clouds.

The decent down was much quicker and more direct, but still had its effect with my heart racing quicker and feeling a little dizzy once in the back of the 4*4. Running the last few metres turned out not to be such a good idea. We headed down in the car, back though the Park, and our guide stops the truck. I turn to see the Cotopaxi in all its glory, the cloud having parted and leaving it naked for all to see.

It was back to Latacunga for some rotisserie chicken and potatoes, as this seemed to be the only cuisine in town, well other than ice cream and more hairdressers than tanning shops on an Essex high street. What I wasn’t expecting was the chicken feet in my chicken soup, but it was rather yummy once I removed them.

To be honest Latacunga isn’t known for it beauty, its probably one of the ugliest cities I have ever visited, but it had a great feel about it and sense of community. Every third resident was dressed in the local dress for the area, which included a fedora hat for both the men and woman. The women wearing such wonderfully colourful combinations of greens, purples, pinks and black.

Latacunga is also the best place to leave your heavy bags and do the 3 three or four day Quilotoa Loop a few hours away. Tune is for this and more tales of Ecuador.

Hello Ecuador…

Quito and Climbing Volcanos 🌋

I finally left Colombia and made the twenty two hour journey from Cali to Quito. Crossing the border was simple enough, just remember to get your exit stamp from the Colombian side and walk across the bridge to Ecuador and queue for the entry stamp. This can take some time depending on the time of day, I queued for an hour at lunch time.

Arriving in Tulcan you immediately see and feel how much more poorer this border town is, compared to Colombia. All the buildings are run down and there are a lot more street vendors. The seven hour bus to Quito was only $6, however the buses are much like the buildings here. They have seen better days and they are constantly stopping to pick up and drop off locals or food sellers during the journey.

On the road I am instantly taken in by the staggering scenery, the bright blue sky, against the grey rocky mountains that scale many 1000 of metres above you. Passing through Otavalo I see my first snow capped Volcano, ‘Volcán Imbabura’ towering over the town and the water from the lake bekow glistening in the evenings sun. Not much protection for the people of Otavalo if she was to ever blow her top, maybe it’s an extinct Volcano…

Arriving in Quito, it’s late and we haven’t booked a hostel, so I use my rough guide in iBooks for a recommendation . Bluehouse Hostel seems good enough, and after a $8 taxi ride we make it to a large house that would have once been owned by a rich family in the one of only two areas its safe to stay, centre-north.

Laura , Ronja – our new German traveller friend – and myself luckedout with a private room with an ensuite and balcony for the price of a dorm. Which we had for our entire four day stay. Bluehouse was a great place with a really chilled vibe, and mostly friendly staff. 

I say “mostly”, because the miserable dwarf like woman, that just shouted was not nice. We nicknamed her ‘Orc’ . Breakfast of , fruit, porridge, toast and coffee is included in the $10 price and you even get a towel.

Not having wifi for 24 hours meant I hadn’t had a chance to see what the local guides were like in Ecuador. To my surprise, they were more attractive than I had imagined. 

After getting the usual increase in messages, primarily because of being one of only a handful of gringos that seemingly use the same local guide app.

After sifting through, I reply to Danilo, a Brazilian who lives in San Fransisco but is on vacation for one day in Quito. Sounds mad right, 12 hour flight for just a day!!!

Anyway we agree to meet and see the city together, taking in the many colonial buildings and stunning Church’s and Cathedrals, like La Compañía de Jesús. We even stumble across a mass taking place inside the extravagantly gold decorated La Compañía. Interesting to see so many young families in the congregation, very different to the blue rinse brigade back home.

After what was probably my most expensive lunch on the trip so far at $20, we decide to try out one of the 6 best locations to see the whole of the city. 

  1. El Panecillo, Old Town
  2. La Basílica, Old Town
  3. Parque Itchimbía, Old Town
  4. Guápulo, centre-north
  5. Parque Metropolitano, Northeast
  6. El Teleférico, Volcán Pichincha

 The Basílica del Voto Nacional was the closest and it is hard to miss when exploring the City.

As Quito is the second highest seat of Government after La Paz at 2850m, it’s best to take your time when walking about. Poor Danilo was having a tough time walking up the hill to the Basílica.

Paying the $1.50 for entry, I was pleasantly surprised at how high you could climb to get the best view of the city. I imagined just taking the stairs to the first level, and that would be it. Oh no you walk across narrow wooden planks that cover the eaves of the inside roof, and up a few ladders to the top of one of the main turrets. It Reminded me of Tom Hanks being chased in the film ‘Angels and Demons’.

From the top, you can see and take in the expanse of the city that just goes on for as far as the eye can see, or until a steep mountain or Volcano gets in the way. Which I soon come to realise, there are a lot of in Ecuador. I bid Danilo farewell, and give him some tips for his trip to london in December. ‘Sink the Pink’ being a must.

The old town of Quito is small enough to do in one day, as most of the points of interest are there. However there are plenty of day trips to take advantage of to the surroundings areas, which can be booked at most hostels. 

The closest Volcano to Quito, is Volcán Pichincha. Still an active Volcano last showering Quito with ash back in 1999, it has two summits and two posible climbs. Ruca being the easier and Guagua being the harder, but both reaching 4700m at its summit. Ruca can be accessed easily by the Teleférico, which takes you to 3947m/12,950ft – this would be my highest altitude yet.

After a twenty minute ride up on the Teleférico, the city gets smaller and further away, the cloud got thicker and the air thinner. To think I still had to climb another 700m was daunting, but the excitement of trying to achieve it drove my determination and I had Laura to keep me company who was equally as excited.

The advice is not to attempt the summit after 11am, otherwise you will be coming down in the dark as the suggested round trip time is 5-7 hours, depending on your fitness. Thankfully both of us are in pretty good shape and the climb was quite gradual, climbing ever higher with the clouds parting and forming around you all the time.

As we got higher, our pace got slower and the vegetation disappeared to just grey rock, it felt like we were walking across ‘Mordor’ with Frodo and Sam. This is when I learn that Laura and I are massive Lord of the Rings fans. As we get higher, the terrain is more difficult, with steeper climbing. One wrong foot and it’s goodby from me.

The cloud gets thicker and the temperature drops as we get to the top. No sooner had we made it, but we had to come straight back down due to a hale storm with hale stones the size of marbles falling from the black sky, and the rumble of thunder getting ever closer. We were not prepared to see out a storm 4700m high, where anything could happen.

A bit disappointed we couldn’t enjoy our achievement a little bit longer, we make the climb down on the advice of some pro climbing Germans. We managed to reach the summit in just over three hours and made the decent in under two hours. As a first time climber, I would definitely recommend Pichincha to get you ready for some of the higher peaks.

Still quite giddy from our achievement, that evening we hatch a plan to climb Cotopaxi the highest active Volcano in the world and take the four day Quilotoa Loop.

Stay tuned to see if I make the 5000m climb