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Ecuador Things to Do: 365 reviews and 725 photos
Isla Fernandina is the third largest island in Galapagos Islands with an area of 642 sq km. It is the most western island and it is also the youngest one. Vulcán La Cumbre (1476m) on Isla Fernandina is the most active volcano in the archipelago and it had its latest eruption in February 2009. I wish I had been there to see.
There are no introduced species on Isla Fernandina so the ecosystem has been well preserved. Here you will find thousands of Marine Iguanas (you will probably also see several feeding under water while snorkeling), nesting Flightless Cormorants, Sea Lions, lots of small tidal pools with interesting small creatures and much more.
Isla Fernandina can only be visited while on a cruise. The first time I went on a cruise in Galapagos Island we didn’t visit Isla Fernandina, so for my second cruise a visit here was definitely a must.
Isla Fernandina’s only visitor site, Punta Espinoza, is situated on the northeastern corner of the island. It is a lovely place to visit and it is definitely one of the highlights in this part of the archipelago.
We came here in the morning on the 6th day of the cruise with Cachalote. There is a dry landing and then the trail goes over sand and lava rocks. In the beginning of the trail there are lots of small tidal pools with tube worms, small crustaceans and mollusks and more. It is easy to spend a lot of time here exploring. We continued past some mangrove vegetation over the sandy part of the trail on to lava rocks. Here and there, there were some Sea Lions lying around but what is striking is the number of Marine Iguanas. I have visited several places in the Galapagos with lots and lots of Marine Iguanas but the largest number was definitely here at Punta Espinoza. It is an amazing sight to see! We also saw several Marine Iguanas under the water when we later snorkeled. At Punta Espinoza we also saw nesting Flightless Cormorants.
Snorkeling off Isla Fernandina
Snorkeling off Isla Fernandina was the best snorkeling during this trip with Cachalote. The highlight was to see several Marine Iguanas swimming and feeding on algae under water. I also saw a large ray swimming just next to me. Here I’m confused, because it had the shape of an eagle ray, but it didn’t have any spots. We also saw turtles, Mexican Hogfish, Hieroglyphic Hawkfish, King Angelfish, juvenile/intermediate white-tailed damselfish and much more.
The Marine Iguanas are most active under water in the morning, so the later you snorkel the fewer Marine Iguanas you will probably see.
Frigatebird, North Seymour
North Seymour is a small island (1.9 sq km) north of Isla Baltra, only a channel separate the two islands from each other. It is a flat island with a maximum altitude of 28 metres. Uplifting of underwater volcanic lava has formed the island. It was a slow process and it took more than a million years.
On North Seymour there are breeding colonies of blue-footed boobies, great and magnificent frigatebirds and swallow-tailed gulls. It is a great place to come to, to see blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds courting, or with chicks.
You can also see land iguanas on North Seymour. In the 1930s 72 land iguanas were moved from Baltra to North Seymour, because it was thought they had a better chance to survive there. On Baltra goats had been introduced and they were destroying the environment. Then, during World War II a US military base was built on Baltra and the remaining iguanas vanished. In the 1980s some land iguanas were taken from North Seymour to Charles Darwin Research Station for a breeding program. Offspring of these land iguanas have later been reinstalled on North Seymour and on Baltra. In 2008 there were 600 land iguanas on North Seymour.
I visited North Seymour on the last day of a cruise with Cachalote. We visited early in the morning, just after sunrise so we were the only visitors there. Later during the day, day trippers from Puerto Ayora will arrive as well.
Visiting North Seymour
We did not navigate to North Seymour during the night but started to do so right after our visit to Isla Bartolomé. That meant we arrived and anchored next North Seymour in the evening. We did so because the chance to see Galapagos Sharks swimming around the boat after dark is large off North Seymour. And yes, we did see several sharks around the boat.
North Seymour was the last stop on the cruise with Cachalote (Fernandina itinerary). We visited very early in the morning, just after sunrise, and before breakfast. There were very nice colours in the morning!
At North Seymour there is a dry landing and a rocky trail is making a loop. It is about 2.5 km long. The vegetation consists of low bush vegetation, Palo Santo trees and Opuntia cactus. Around the landing site there were several Swallow-tailed Gulls. Then the trail passes through the colonies of breeding Blue-footed Boobies and Frigatebirds, many male frigatebirds with their red pouches inflated. Some of the nesting boobies and frigatebirds had small chicks. Even though some birds were nesting close to the path, and even on the path, I think that in general the birds were not so near as they are on Isla Genovesa and Isla Española. Maybe this is because North Seymour is visited by more people, as day trippers also come here. Along this first part of the path we also saw a Land Iguana.
The trail then passes along a sandy beach where a few Sea Lions were laying in the sun and a Yellow Warbler was hopping around. On the lava rocks there were a few Brown Pelicans and in the sea they were plunge diving for fish.
Tena, which is the capital of Napo Province, is a quite small town with 23 000 inhabitants. It is situated where the rivers Tena and Pano meet and the town is surrounded by green hills. On clear days Volcán Sumaco can be seen if you are looking towards the northeast. Tena is a rainforest town so the rain falls all year round. As Tena is situated at an elevation of 500 metres it doesn’t get too hot. The average temperature is 24°C.
Tena is often described as an attractive and friendly town, but personally I somehow liked Puyo better (another rainforest town). Anyway, I really enjoyed all the fun things you can do around Tena. Many backpackers come to Tena for the excellent white-water rafting and kayaking you can do in the surrounding rivers. Others do jungle tours. While I was in Tena I went rafting twice which was very fun and I also visited two exciting caves north of Tena. In the town itself a nice place to visit is Parque Amazonico.
On my Tena travel page I have got more reviews and photos.
Rafting in Jondachi/Hollin
Rafting in Río Jatunyacu
Rafting in Río Jatunyacu (Upper Río Napo) is a popular tour from Tena. It is a river with a large volume of water and the rafting is class 3. The day I went there the rain was pouring down the whole day and along the day the water level raised quite a lot.
I did the tour with River People in Tena and that day we were quite many tourists as there was a group of high school students among us. We left Tena in a few taxis and I was happy that I got a seat inside the pickup truck and not outside. At the starting point we got instructions and equipment. As the rain poured down, making it colder, we were provided with wetsuits and jackets. On the river we were four rafts from River People and two rafts from Ríos Ecuador, and two safety kayaks. In our raft we were six people and one guide.
The water level was high and there were lots of big waves making the ride very fun. Some people fell in, others jumped in on purpose
After halftime we stopped for lunch. While the lunch was prepared we played games on the beach to keep warm. The lunch was well organized and very good; tacos with guacamole, beans, rice cheese and some salad. There were also fruits and chocolate cake. Yummy!
The tour ended soon after Jatunyaku had joined Río Anzu, in Puerto Napo. We had been rafting altogether around four hours (not including the lunch).
It is possible to bring a camera in a waterproof bag, but cloths and bags are left in one of the cars. In Puerto Napo there is a changing room so you can change to your dry clothes.
The rafting tour to Jatunyacu was $55 (August 2013).
Rafting in Jondachi/Hollin (class 4)
The rafting in Jondachi/Hollin is class 4, which means that it is more technical than Jatunyacu which we had visited the previous day. We did not know until the morning we went on the tour if we could go or not as there had been intensive rain the whole day when we went rafting on Jatunyacu. If the water level is too high in Jondachi/Hiollin it is more dangerous and they don’t do the tour. Luckily it had not rained during the night and we could go.
To go to the starting point we drove north from Tena to Mondayacu where we turned right on to a small dirt road. From where the car stops there is a hike down to the river. People from the village arrived because they were hired to carry the equipment. We wore our helmets and life vests and carried a paddle each, but the rest was carried by the village people.
Before starting the rafting we walked to a hidden canyon with a small waterfall and a deep pool. It was a very beautiful place. Some people made a 10 metres jump into the pool. I didn’t, but afterwards I regret it: I have never jumped into the water from that height and this would have been a great place to do it a first time.
This day we were six tourists and the guide Tim in a raft, a safety kayak and Tim’s sister guiding two tourists in kayaks. The landscape along the rivers is stunning with lush jungle vegetation in a canyon and some waterfalls coming from the sides. We could also see different butterflies and birds. And the weather was nice, some sun and clouds, but no rain.
Where the Jondachi joins Hollin we stopped for lunch. For lunch we got pasta, potatoes, avocado and salad. And as the previous day there were chocolate cake and fruits. It was a lunch that tasted very good after being on the river a couple of hours.
After lunch we continued. During the tour no one fell out of the raft, but at two places where there was less turbulence we all jumped in to drift with the stream.
If you only have time for one rafting tour I really recommends Jondachi/Hollin. It is more fun and challenging as it is more technical and the landscape is stunning.
The rafting tour to Jondachi/Hollin was $70 (August 2013). We all paid $65 though as this was our second rafting tour with River People.
It is possible to bring a camera in a waterproof bag, but cloths and bags are left in the car.
Sombrero Chino, Galapagos Islands
Sombrero Chino is a very small island southeast of the much larger island Santiago, only a narrow channel with turquoise water runs between the two islands. The name Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat in English) comes from the shape of the island, which looks like a Chinese hat from the distance. It is a volcanic cone.
The lava landscape is very fragile on Sombrero Chino and visits are restricted to a few cruise boats (no daytrips). I visited Sombrero Chino on the second day of a cruise with Cachalote (Fernandina Itinerary), and it was a lovely sunny day.
After breakfast we took a short panga ride along the lava rocks of Santiago (where we were going to snorkel later) before heading to a small white sandy beach on the north side of Sombrero Chino. Here there is a wet landing.
From the landing point at the white sandy beach a trail follows the coastline for almost 400 metres to a rocky part where the waves crush in. Along the trail we saw Sea Lions, Lava Lizards, Marine Iguanas, a Galapagos Hawk, Sally Lightfoot Crabs and a pair of Amarican Oystercatchers. It was the first time I saw the Oystercatchers and I liked them very much. Sombrero Choino is a volcanic cone and you can see many interesting lava formations here in the lava flow and there are several small lava tunnels. The vegetation mainly consists of Sesuvium (Galapagos Carpet Weed).
It is a beautiful place and I liked the colours of the landscape very much; The blue and turquoise water, the white sandy beach, the black lava rocks and the green and red Sesuvium.
Puyo is the capital of Pastaza Province. It is a humid town on the edge of Amazonas, but as it is situated at an elevation of 950m it is not as hot there as in other rainforest towns.There are around 37 00 inhabitants in Puyo. It is not a very pretty town but there are some pleasant places to visit in the outskirts, like the lovely Jardín Botanico las Orquídeas, the ethnobotanical park Omaere and the trail Paseo Turistico running a couple of kilomertres along Río Puyo.
The first time I visited Puyo I only saw the outskirts along the road from Baños. I arrived by bicycle and went straight to the bus terminal to take a bus back to Baños. Two years later I came back, to see more of the town and vicinity. I went to three tour agencies to see if they organized any interesting tours, but they didn’t have any other customers to share activities with at the moment (the only tour was one for five days, starting two days later), so after two nights in Puyo I went on to Tena.
On my Puyo page here on VT I have got lots of photos and several written tips about things to do. You can see it here.
I had planned to visit Papallacta in August 2012, but I had just taken out pins from my wrist and had fresh stitches at that time. As I wouldn’t be able to swim in the thermal pools I went to Baeza and San Rafael instead. When the bus passed Papallactta the sun was shining and the surroundings looked very beautiful with green mountains. Unfortunately the weather was not as nice when I finally visited Papallacta a year later. Then it was grey and cold.
Tourists come to Papallacta to bath in the hot thermal pools. At Termas de Papallacta, about 2km above the village you will find both the Spa and the Balneario, where there are several pools with different water temperature. Some of the hotels also have their own thermal pools.
From the beginning I had planned to visit Papallacta earlier during my latest trip to Ecuador, and I then wanted to do some hiking in the area. My plans changed, but there seem to be possibilities to do some good hiking here.
Papallacta is situated at an altitude of 3300 metres so it is often cold, especially during the night.
At Termas de Papallacta you can choose to go to the more expensive Spa or to the pools at Balneario. I went to Balneario and the admission there was $7.50 (August 2013). To get a locker cost $0.50 extra, and you need to leave a $5 deposit for the key.
I put a few things in a locker but other things I put in a basket which was provided, a basket you then carry around with you. Bring plenty of water to drink, because after some time in the hot pools you will really need it. It is also good to bring a pair of flip-flops or sandals to use when you walk between the pools, especially on cold days (as it was when I visited).
There is a kiosk where you can buy drinks and snacks, but it closes already at 17.00. There is also a café/restaurant where you can it, but there you can’t go wearing your swimwear.
At Balneario there are nine hot thermal pools and three cold water pools. There are no jets in the pools at Balneario as there are at the Spa, but it is nice anyway to sit in the warm water looking at the green mountains in the background. All around the area there are showers. It was very cold in the air when I visited so when it was time to take a shower before changing to clothes I looked for a shower with hot water. However I could only find one with lukewarm water.
The Balneario is open 6 – 23.
Mountain biking down from Chimborazo
In the morning I was picked up outside my hotel in Riobamba at 8:15,and then we, the guide Alejandro from Pro Bici and James from England, went to a café to pick up some sandwiches before we started the drive to Chimborazo.
At some places along the road Alejandro stopped the car to tell us interesting things to know. We also waited for two other cars with a family who were also going on the tour with Pro Bici and we met them at a canyon where we went out to look at the view and plants.
There is a road going all the way up to the lower refugio, the Carrel Refugio at 4840 metres. The first thing we did after arriving there was to buy hot chocolate ($1) and coffee ($0.50). After that it was time to walk up to the second refugio, the Whymper Refugio at 5040 metres. As the altitude is very high it is good not to walk too fast. Coming back down to the first refuguio we ate our sandwiches and some snacks before it was time to start the 5h long bicycle tour.
Before we left Alejandro gave James a walkie-talkie so that we could be in contact at places where Alejandro could not go with the car. From Refugio Carrel we followed the bumpy dirt road 8km down to the Tourist Centre at the entrance of the reserve. From there we cycled along a quite flat dirt road for a while. For me this was the hardest part because the wind was very, very strong. Besides the wind here the weather was nice during the tour.
Then we cycled along the paved main road for 1km before turning left at a path to go off road for a while. The views of Chimborazo were stunning and we saw several Vicuñas. After another kilometer on the main road we turned right and cycled on a dirt road passing through the community Pulinguí San Pablo, where Casa del Cóndor is situated. We cycled a short distance on the paved main road again and then turned left by the canyon. Now it was going uphill and the altitude was about 3800 metres. Having a cough I felt I needed to take it easy and therefore stopped a few times to catch my breath before continuing on the cycle.
Then it went downhill again and we cycled to an old Inca site where there are some large stones scattered around and where traces of three house grounds can be seen. There is also a spring with mineral rich water here and we filled our water bottles. We stayed here for a while, eating the rest of our sandwiches and snacks, but also to wait for the other group who was on their way down (it would be difficult for the cars to meet).
From the Inca site we went in the car uphill but stopped when it was starting to go downhill again and changed for the bikes again. The dirt road here was quite bumpy with lots of stones. The landscape was beautiful and we passed farmland and a village. I hoped no barking dogs were going to come running after us as that can happen during this part, but luckily they didn’t.
The last part we cycled on the main road again down to the small town San Juan. When we arrived to San Juan it had just become dark and it was around 18:30. We stopped by the church (which had been pointed out to us when we passed in the morning), put the bikes on the car and drove back to Riobamba.
It had been a great tour, it was fun going downhill from Chimborazo, we were lucky with the weather and the landscape was beautiful with stunning views of Chimborazo. Absolutely a tour to recommend.
The price of the tour was $50 (July 2013).
Directions: Provincia de Chimborazo
Tourists mainly come to Riobamba for trekking, mountain biking and to organize a Chimborazo climb. For two years I have now wanted to climb Chimborazo, but last year when I was in Ecuador I broke my wrist and this year I first had a fever and then a cough, and thus not feeling well enough to acclimatize for the climb. I came to Riobamba anyway to at least do the mountain biking tour to Chimborazo with visits to the refugios.
Riobamba is situated in the central Andes at an elevation of 2750m. There are around 180 000 inhabitants in Riobamba, and the city is the capital of Provincia de Chimborazo. The name Riobamba comes from the Spanish word río (river) and a Kichwa word meaning valley. The city is situated in the Chambo River Valley.
The area was first populated by the Puhurá Indians and then for a short period by the Incas. The Spaniards founded Riobamba in 1534, not at the present location but near the village Cajabamba 17km away. In 1797 the area was struck by a terrible earthquake and Riobamaba was destroyed by a landslide. After that Riobamba was moved to its present location. In 1830 Ecuador’s first constitution was signed in Riobamab.
The average temperature in Riobamab is between 14°C and 23°C year round. There is a wet season and a dry season (May – September)
Besides trekking, mountain biking and climbing in the vicinity of Riobamba there are other things you can do as a tourist. From Riobamba you can take a train to either Urbina or Colta, there are a few museums and you can stroll around and visit some of the squares and churches. Saturday is market day and many people comein to town to sell their products. There is also a market on Thursdays.
Directions: Provincia de Chimborazo
Sani Lodge is an ecolodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon region. It is situated at lower Río Napo in a corridor between Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the north and Yasuni National Park in the south. Sani Lodge is situated about 3h downstream from Coca, but the lodge is not situated near the big Río Napo but at the quiet lagoon Challuacocha. The location by the lagoon is lovely and it is very tranquil.
Sani Lodge is owned and operated by the local Sani Isla community. Many members of the community are employed at the lodge and to give everyone the chance to work here the staff rotates. Profit from the lodge is going back to the community and is used for education, health and different project. For example all medical emergencies for the members are paid for.
The biodiversity around Sani Lodge is big and there are around 1500 species of trees and many climbing vines and flowers. Around 570 species of birds have been recorded and 13 different species of monkeys (we saw five during my visit). During the visit we did many peaceful canoe rides on the lagoon and small streams, and we did many jungle hikes in the rainforest.
When I visited Sani Lodge I stayed at the camping, a cheaper option than the more expensive cabins. It was a very nice experience to sleep in a tent with the sounds of the jungle just outside.
I have made a separate travel page about Sani lodge with many tips and photos from my visit. You can see it here.
Directions: Lower Río Napo, the Amazon region.
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