Exploring Ecuador with a Travel Secret

Ecuador has it all: stunning beaches, dense jungles, snow-capped mountains, and lush plains. And when you spend them here you are among some of the friendliest people on the planet.

My husband, Warren, and I spent three months exploring the country…and we found a way to make huge savings, leaving most of our budget for enjoying the food, destinations, and culture.

The mountains in the Otavalo area were our favorite. Soaring peaks and dormant volcanoes surrounded green valleys, where llamas and horses grazed under blue skies.

The weekly Otavalo market is perhaps the largest in all of South America, jam-packed with fruit and vegetable vendors…weavers with their gorgeous blankets and wraps, and painters displaying their art. A handwoven wrap in steel gray became my favorite jacket and snuggling blanket for cool nights.

We loved spending our days at this market, starting with a sugary coffee and sweet bread made fresh right in front of you, followed by shopping, then a sit-down lunch of fresh chicken near the spice market area.

Ecuador is famous for ice cream, and it would be a shame to pass up this delicious dessert, available on every corner…so we didn’t. Most days we enjoyed this treat from a vendor with a cart in the square, sitting in the sunshine to eat cones of mango or other exotic-flavored ice cream.

After lunch you can scan the market for your own fresh fruit and vegetables, some of the largest and most colorful produce you will ever see. And don’t forget the fresh eggs. These yolks are the orange color you remember from your grandma’s house.

Ecuador is more than this, of course. We stretched our legs in the mountains, jungles, and lush valleys, stopping to photograph and sometimes pet llamas and horses. These animals don’t damage the grass, merely trimming it like a lawnmower would, and we found them outside many country dwellings to do just that.

The south of Ecuador is famous for thermal baths, especially around Baños. The live but dormant volcano, Tungurahua, creates the hot springs and the vibrant spa community around them. Soaking in these mineral-rich baths, surrounded by mountains and blue skies, is just about as close to heaven as we found.

We went to the town square on Sundays to watch the priest bless people’s cars. I’m not sure if that helps with their driving or not, but it’s fun to watch.

One of the most beautiful places we visited in the country was the gorgeous Quilatoa Loop. Whether you walk this loop or ride it on a rickety bus like we did, you’ll be dazzled with mountains, valleys, idyllic farms, and a turquoise crater lake under endless blue skies.

If there is a heaven on earth, Ecuador could be it. Low cost of living…abundant healthy food…slow cadence of Spanish…and mild weather, all make it ideal for long-term travel or expat living.

Editor’s note: Discover the money-saving travel secret that Betsy and Warren used to make their extended trip to Ecuador come true. Details here.

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