I´ve spent the last three weeks winding my way north up the Ecuadorian highlands and then moving west out to the coast. The scenery has been stunning, Ecuador is a small country but the terrain to extremely varied. The Andes run down the cetner of the country meaning you can get from snow capped volcanoes to balmy palm lined beach in a matter of hours.
My first stop after the Galapagos was Cuenca. Cuenca is a beautiful colonial city with a few very good museums. My favorite part of Cuenca was visiting an old factory behind the dirty bus station. Tucked behind the bus station was the Homero Ortega hat factory. Homero Ortega produces and ships out Panama hats (orginially from Ecuador). As any Ecuadorian will tell you, the hats originated in Ecuador and were simply renamed after they became popular in Panama during the banana boom.
The next stop was Banos, a small and charming but heavily touristed town tucked in a deep valley. Banos was named after the the thermal baths that make the town famous. Banos was a nice relaxing stop. From Banos we did a 60km bike ride on the narrow shoulder of a major highway to Puyo.
Laguna Quilatoa and Volcano Cotopaxi were the next stops. Laguna Quilatoa is a crater lake tucked into the volcanic hills near Latacunga. The population is indiginous and weather was cold and rainy when we were there. The crater rim hovers a few hundred meters over the lake and the fog and cloud prevented us from seeing the lake during most of our stay, but after a hike into the crater we were able to finally view the
Also just outside of Latacunga is Cotopaxi volcano, a nearly perfect snow capped conical volcano. The weather when we visited Cotopaxi was foggy too, meaning clear views of the entire volcano weren´t possible. We were able to drive up to snow level in a 4x4 and hike to a refugio while it was snowing.