A tiny little outpost of town that once served as a retreat destination for Incan royalty, Vilcabamba was dubbed “The Valley of Longevity” in the 1980’s due to many of its inhabitants claiming to be over 100 years old. Although those claims were later debunked by researchers, most of the hostels and tiny shops in town have capitalized on the marketing opportunity, dubbing themselves with names like “Shop of Eternal Youth”, even though they still sell Doritos, beer, and Coca-Cola. In fact, the entire surrounding area has the same calming vibe of Bali lifestyle, complete with beautiful scenery, happy locals, and plenty of meditation, yoga, and sacred healing classes.
Montañita is Ecuador's premier beach destination. The surfer vibe promotes a relaxed environment and the small town is popular with both long-term backpackers and local weekenders to catch some sun and sand. In fact, it reeks of some of the same quirks as Southeast Asia's best tourism destinations. At night neon lights and deep house beats permeate through the night, ensuring that getting to sleep before dawn is downright impossible. During the day the streets are lined with handmade jewelry sellers and tiny mini-markets selling mostly beer, chips, and cookies. There's even a requisite alley of breakfast street food vendors, all with different versions of the same menu: pancakes, omelettes, sandwiches, and fruit shakes.
Hemmed in by luscious green cliffs and constantly covered by clouds that drift down to obscure the epic mountain views, our arrival in Banos at first seemed to usher in a period of never-ending rain. After getting continuously soaked in the rainforest, Steve and I were eager for a change of pace but unfortunately during our first few days in the Andean mountains we couldn't seem to turn a corner without encountering another downpour.
The boat ride into basecamp seemed more like going to a zoo in a boat or going on a ride at Disney Animal Kingdom. One thing is for sure: it felt completely surreal. As the rain began to lighten intermittently, Romula began stopping the boat every few minutes, pointing out no less than four different species of monkeys, toucans, bats, owls, and even an adolescent Anaconda.
Quito is a massive, energetic city filled with culture, architecture, and nightlife. Perched in the Andes over 9,000 feet above sea level, the city will quite literally take your breath away. With a population of almost 3 million, the Ecuadorian capitol pulsates with energy from the opening of the central market at 6am to the closing of the bars and discotecas in the Mariscal neighborhood at 3am.
Immediately upon arriving at La Casa de Cecilia, a group of tiny wooden houses built on the edge of a nearby stream, the sights, sounds, and smells of Mindo began to refresh my spirit. The sound of tumbling water permeates through the entire property, making for a calming undertone. On the porch are a set of hammocks, perfect for binge-reading a book and relaxing, taking in a few deep breaths of the crisp mountain air.