March 2023

At the beginning of March we drove to the national park Cotopaxi. The Cotopaxi is an active volcano with a height of 5.897m. You can drive in to park and, if you have a 4 wheel drive, all the way up to the “jeep terminal” which is a flat area where the tourist jeeps (and we 😉 ) park the car at an altitude of 4.580m. From here you can hike further up the volcano. We didn’t but we did enjoy driving up here. The first day the volcano wasn’t visible, so we camped in the area and drove back in the following day. Fortunately national parks in Ecuador are (except Galagapos) free of charge, so we could drive in as often as we liked. Most of the volcano was still covered in clouds, but there was a good chance it would open up later in the afternoon. While I waited at the bottom of the volcano comfortable in the van, Kilian decided to bike up the volcano to the jeep terminal and ride down. It was his highest bike ride yet (4.533 masl) and the first time on a volcano! It was also very, very windy. Then early in the afternoon the clouds started to disappear and I drove up, just when Kilian came back down on his bike. So we got to drive up together and enjoy the beautiful view. While driving down we spotted 2 wild foxes! It is great to see animals in the wild.

After Cotopaxi we had planned to hike another crater lake, Limpiopungo, but it was rather disappointing and without a hike we drove on to the coast. We wildcamped a few days at the coast at two different location in the area of Malta. We hadn’t been at the sea since September (Panama) so we thoroughly enjoyed the whole “beach vibe”. Binkie doesn’t really, he is definitely not a beach cat even though both locations had some grass and bushes. The heat also doesn’t help, Binkie prefers the cold.

“I don’t care about your stupid sunset at the beach ” 😉

Unfortunately for Binkie we had one more beach location in mind before going back to the mountains. We drove South to Puerto Lopez. From here you can take a boat tour to Isla de la Plata. Where you can not only find different kind of birds like the blue footed boobie but also turtles! This time we went to a campsite that had lots of trees and therefore shade. So Binkie enjoyeed himself a bit as well. The boat tour takes all day and it wouldn’t be much fun and would be too hot to bring Binkie. So before we went, we left the van locked up in the afternoon for several hours while we, with Binkie in his backpack got in to town, so we could check what the temperature would be in a closed van during the afternoon. Luckily when we got back the temperature was “only” 30C and we knew from experience that this is fine for Binkie, 35C is the max. So the next day we took the boat trip to the island. It was amazing! When we arrived we already spotted a few green sea turtles! After a walk across the island while spotting several birds we went swimming and snorkelling. And luckily I got close, very shortly, to two green sea turtles! We also snorkelled above the reefs in the shallow water and spotted many colourful fish. We used our dashboard camera which is waterproof. On our way back we even got to see a few smaller whales from afar. During whale season (June – September) you can also spot bigger whales here. We had a great time!

After Puerto Lopez we drove back up the mountains to national park Las Cajas at 4.000 masl. I’ll admit I was in doubt if it was really worth the visit as we had already seen several high altitude parks with lots of lakes. But I am so glad we went, it was a beautiful park with lots of lakes and different vegetation. Lots of cute streams and beautiful flowers and even a little forest. Officially pets are not allowed in any of the national parks. But we just put Binkie in his backpack and put the rain cover over it at the entrance, so nobody is the wiser. This is also the reason why we sometimes cover up the logo’s on our van with magnetic Dutch flags. Since it was sunny and there is almost never any shade in the parking areas we can’t leave him behind either and it is not like he is going to chase the local wild life. We hiked a little over 6km through the park, but due to the altitude we were both very tired after this. It was well worth it though!

Next stop was Cuenca, after all this nature a bit of a city adventure is nice. Cuenca has a lovely old city centre and also lots of different international restaurants. We met up with some other Dutch overlanders who we had met before and they happened to know a Belgian gastro pub. Here we ate Dutch / Belgian food like a “frikandel”: a fried meat snack which you can only eat in the Netherlands and Belgium. Kilian had a “frietje stoofvlees” and I enjoyed “kipsate”. While we were staying in Cuenca there was an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 near Guayaquil. A city a bit further South but Ecuador was shaking all the way up to the capital Quito. We were camping on a grassy field (campsite) with a few houses around it but they were far enough away. Apart from some vigorous shaking of the van, nothing else happened and we were fine. However down town a few old houses collapsed, killing one person. In Guayaquil the damage was more severe. We were there only a few days ago at the edge of the city doing some shopping before driving to Las Cajas. So I guess we were very lucky! Fortunately there were no aftershocks. In Cuenca Kilian also replaced our solar panel.

Cathedral de la immaculada concepcion

We now had only little over a week left on our tourist visa. Fortunately we had only 3 short stops in mind. First is the city Loja. A small city with a medieval looking castle and wall. I say “looking” because it was actually build in the 1990’s! It is the only city in Ecuador however to have a castle and a wall and they have done a good job. It wouldn’t look out of place in Germany.

From Loja we drove on in the direction of Vilcabamba. During this drive we had to deal with corruption for the first time. In between those two places we found the best wild camp spot in Ecuador (and Colombia as well). Quiet and save, at a small lake, next to a river, with shade and surprisingly enough even some internet! We enjoyed this spot for a few days during which we had it all to ourselves!

Then we arrived at our last stop in Ecuador. Vilcabamba is a cute village with a great relaxed “hippy” vibe. A lot off foreigners, especially Americans come here and never leave and we completely understand why. The area is mountainous but not too steep and there is lots of fresh water and green. Lots of opportunity to go for a hike or bike ride. The climate is ideal at the altitude of around 1.500 masl. Warm but not hot with cooler nights. Lots of sunshine but enough rain to keep the area green. The air is clean and the people are nice. We met some Americans who were living there and joined them for dinner at a restaurant with “southern comfort food”. They immediately treated us like old friends and we enjoyed the company. We stayed here for 3 nights and then unfortunately we had to leave.

We still needed another day to drive to the border and we always try to cross the border a few days before our visa expires. Overstaying your visa is very expensive, for the van alone there is a $450 dollar fine per day, so we don’t want to take any chances. On the 31st of March we drove in to Peru. And did we miss Ecuador! We even considered driving back, using up the last few days of our visa and then pay the rather hefty sum to be allowed to stay another 90 days. But we resisted the temptation because we will have to drive through Peru at some point and we still aim to arrive at Ushuaia at December ’23 of January ’24 so we are on some kind of a schedule. Whether the situation in Peru improves or not you’ll be able to read later.

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