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Experiencing Ecuador: From cool mountain air to thermal pools

Val Eisnor goes thrill-seeking in Ecuador.

photos_articles_85.jpgIf you are an adventure seeker looking for a thrill, Ecuador offers a host of outdoor adventure activities to whet your appetite. Many tour companies offer hiking, biking and white water rafting adventures from the capital city of Quito; a 14 day tour will provide ample time to experience them all.

From Quito, we are whisked away to Urbina Mountain Refuge for our Mountain bike excursion. Passing through small villages and dodging stray cows and pigs along the way, we arrive at Cotopaxi National Park. We meander up the winding road, as the early morning cloud cover slowly dissipates exposing brief but stunning views of the Cotopaxi volcano.

Our adventure begins at an altitude of 4,420 meters (14,500 ft). We unload the bikes and begin our downhill descent. It is not as easy as it appears but soon the road levels out and it is a leisurely pedal back to the park entrance. (We didn’t spot any condors on this ride except at the museum.) We make our way to Refugio de El Chimborazo where we have amazing views of Mt Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest point at 6310 meters (20,702 ft) and learn the history of the Trans-Andean Railroad.

We rise early and begin our ride from Chimborazo to Riobamba. The ride today takes us along single track and mountain village roads. It’s a full day of biking and after lunch in Guano we face one last climb before finishing for the day. We feel invigorated and are already looking forward to hiking the Ingapirca trail.

photos_articles_83.jpgIt has just started to rain as we arrive in Achupallas to begin our hike. Our gear is loaded and being carried in by donkeys. We hike along farmland, passing grazing sheep along the way. We arrive at Cuchi Corral, our campsite, completely drenched but are soon warmed by a hot meal and now that the rain has subsided, a campfire. It’s the perfect time to reflect upon the Incas who used this trail so long ago. We retire to our tents and drift off to sleep listening to coyotes howling in the distance.

We are up early and off for another full day of hiking. We climb to the highest peak of our hike before we begin our ascent, which offers up stunning views of the valley below. We arrive at Los Paredones and end the day listening to the crackling sounds of the campfire under the stars. After a good night’s sleep we finish up the last leg of our hike at the Ingapirca ruins where we learn about the Inca culture before making our way to Banos.

After enjoying two restful days in Banos, visiting markets, receiving massages and soaking in the thermal hot springs, we set off for our three day white water rafting trip. We receive our safety briefing and set out for the rapids on the Jondachi River. We spend half a day on the river and arrive back to the hotel with lots of time to explore the town of Tena and enjoy dinner at one of the local restaurants.

photos_articles_84.jpgWe are up early the next morning for a full day of rafting on the Quijos river. The rapids are much faster here and everyone is up for a challenge. We manoeuvre our rafts through the bends and holes with very little mishaps.

The next day is our last day on the river and it is much more peaceful. We are soon on our way to our overnight stay at the Thermas Papallacta. Here we have a variety of thermal pools of varying temperatures to soak in with views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. A great way to unwind after three exhilarating days on the river.

The final overnight stop is in Otavalo before we head back to Quito. After a visit to the market for some handcrafted wares we take a short taxi ride to Cotacachi for great leather products.

Once back in Quito, a side trip to the Equator is a must. Nothing like being at 0 degrees Latitude to experience balancing an egg on a nail, the centrifugal forces on a sink or learn the traditional customs of the Andean people.

For more information on Ecuador visit www.lonelyplanet.com/ecuador

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