Cotopaxi National Park to Pujilí

The Wanderbus is not just a mode of transportation looping around Ecuador. There are times when the bus veers off the main route, in this case the Pan-American Highway, and acts as a tour bus while our English speaking guide provides commentary on a destination. Cotopaxi National Park is one example of this guided excursion off the main road.

Reaching Cotopaxi National Park without a car is very challenging. There is no public transportation into the park, leaving the only other alternative to rent a car, something I am not quite brave enough to do outside my own country. Otherwise, the only access to the park from the nearest town is by taxi to the tune of $25 to $30 one way. Taxis are cheap in Ecuador, so that gives you an idea of how far it is from town into the national park. After many hours of research, I had all but given up on being able to visit the park on my own, so to find out we would be entering the park for a tour, along with a stop to do some hiking came as great news!

The Illinizas, Ecuador’s twin peaks as seen from the Pan American Highway.

The Illiniza peaks are among the highest in Ecuador, with Illiniza Sur standing at 17,217ft, and Illiniza Norte at 16,817 ft.

First glimpse of Cotopaxi Volcano, taken from the Wanderbus window. The name Cotopaxi means ‘Neck of the Moon’ in Quechua as once a year the moon passes over the cusp of the volcano.

Our driver pulls over to the side of the highway so we don’t miss this elusive view of this 19,347 ft Ecuadorian icon.

The small country of Ecuador is home to 84 volcanoes. My brother Don loves volcanoes. Driving down the highway in the Wanderbus, I send a note back to him with the subject line, “Volcanoes, Volcanoes everywhere!” The country sits right along the “Ring of Fire,” a major area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where more than 75% of the world’s volcanoes are located. At 19,347 ft, Cotopaxi is not the highest of Ecuador’s volcanoes. That title belongs to Chimborazo at 20,560 ft, which due to the equatorial bulge of the planet, is the closest place on earth to the sun.

However, Cotopaxi is likely Ecuador’s most famous volcano for two reasons. One, it’s still active. The last major explosion was in 1905, with activity as recent as 2015, which sputtered ash and closed the climbing trails for weeks.

Entering the south entrance of Cotopaxi National Park.

Almost 20% of Ecuador is protected as national parks.

The trail head for the hiking trail around Limpiopungo Lake.

Although the jagged peaks behind don’t appear to be very high, this is actually Rumiñahui Volcano at 15,607 ft.

Hard to see on this gray day, but the clouds do part to see most of Cotopaxi during our hike.

The second reason Cotopaxi is so well known is for its accessibility of climbing routes. While the climb is not considered “technical,” it does require the use of a harness, ropes, ice axes and crampons. Sounds pretty technical to me…

Our planned destination inside Cotopaxi National Park is Limpiopungo Lake, known to be one of the best places for viewing the Volcan Cotopaxi. However, our driver doesn’t leave this highly sought out view to chance. It’s a known fact that the later in the day, the less chance of seeing the elusive volcano through the cloud cover. So on the way to the park entrance when the clouds part, the driver literally pulls over on the Pan American Highway so we can all pile off the bus to grab a few photos.

There are a few wildflowers along the trail. These are likely some version of lupine, though they remind me of Tx bluebonnets.

These cold resistant orange flowers are called Chuquiraga.

It’s a real treat to get out of the bus and stretch my legs, not something you can do on local transportation!

The trail is empty except for the dozen or so Wanderbus group.

There are several hiking trails in this area.

One last glimpse of Cotopaxi before it disappears for the day.

After an invigorating walk to the back side of Limpiopungo Lake, we move on down the Pan American Highway to the small town of Pujilí for lunch in a local restaurant, three courses for a grand total of $2.75! (Since the year 2000, Ecuador has used the US dollar as their currency.) That’s another thing I appreciate about the Wanderbus, and that is their efforts to “keep it local.”

The little town of Pujilí is not known as a tourist attraction. We are only stopping for lunch at a local restaurant.

There is a pretty significant market in this small town, but sadly we are here on the wrong day.

As the Wanderbus continues on around its circuit, climbing higher into the Andes, I’ll be “hopping off” at the next stop for a few days in Quilatoa, coming up next…

Wandering Ecuador on the Wanderbus

Ecuador is one of the few countries offering the option of independent travel with all the conveniences of an organized tour, serving up the best of both worlds. The “Wanderbus” is a hybrid solution for those of us who prefer flexibility and solitude of solo travel as opposed to feeling like cattle being herded through the masses, following the umbrella-waving tour guide while making all the mandatory carpet and jewelry shop stops. The infrastructure feels like “cheating off someone else’s homework” to visit all the highlights while letting someone else map out bus schedules, connections, and arduous hours of research that can otherwise wear a person down. Continue reading

Getting Out of Guayaquil

When back in Quito trying to secure my last minute Galapagos cruise, I was under a lot of pressure to make my decisions quickly. It felt like a high stakes game, committing to the cost of the cruise without airfare, then trying to nab seats before the airfare went up or sold out. I had only a few minutes to decide what my return destination would be, and when.  I opted to stay in the Galapagos five extra days, thinking the cruise would only leave me wanting more.

That might have been true had I reversed the order and done the land portion first, followed by the cruise. But on the heels of the heavenly cruise, Puerto Ayora felt like hell, or at least Continue reading

Galapagos Islands Day Eight: Black Turtle Cove and “See Off Day”

The Beagle has a clever way of getting guests up and out early so the crew can begin to prepare for the next round of guests arriving that same afternoon. We will be up before sunrise for a boat tour around the estuary, Black Turtle Cove. No sweaty hikes requiring another shower. No swims requiring the packing of wet clothing. Just a cool morning ride around the lagoon in the zodiacs. Continue reading

Galapagos Islands Day Seven: Sombrero Chino and Santa Cruz Islands

Last night after dinner when I came up on deck to take my usual photograph of today’s itinerary and our chart progress posted on the whiteboard, I turned on the camera with every expectation that it would function perfectly. After all, it’s now taken almost a thousand photos since I paid $140 to have it repaired back in Quito. Instead, I heard a sickening grating sound, and saw only half the view through the viewfinder. A grain of sand was stuck in the “curtain,” the retracting shield that covers the lens. I thought I had been so vigilant in taking care of the camera since the repair job, so I was surprised to look into the padded case to see several grains of coral sand. What a heartbreak! After trying every method I could think of from blasting air through a straw to prying with an open paperclip, the “curtain” would not fully open. Lights out. Continue reading

Galapagos Islands Day Six: North Seymour and Bartolomé Islands

Day Six rolls around, and already I am starting to get that feeling that the end is upon us.  Time is going way too fast, and there is no way, no matter how hard I try, to slow it down. Every moment is precious, from the quiet mornings up on the teak deck, still wet beneath my bare feet from the morning dew, to the near-full moon shimmering on the water, casting enchanting moon shadows across the surface until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. I don’t want it to end. It’s that old catch-22 dilemma of not wanting to spend my last couple of days feeling sad, but not being able to stave off sadness because we are careening toward the end. Continue reading

Galapagos Islands Day Five: Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands

We awake on day five moored to a buoy off the shore of Santa Fe Island in what is billed as “One of the most beautiful coves of all visitor sites in the Galapagos.” And I must admit, the description is not exaggerated. This cove is idyllic, taking every adjective I can think of to describe it…calm, clear, turquoise waters in a secluded cove just beckoning us to jump off the side of the boat for an early morning swim. Continue reading

Galapagos Islands Day Four: San Cristobal Island and Kicker Rock

We wake up on San Cristobal, fifth largest and easternmost island and home to the archipelago’s capital, to what would be our earliest breakfast time yet, 6:20am. As much as I am the antithesis of a “morning person,” I am coming to enjoy the earlier departures. For one, it’s cooler, as some of the hikes in the direct equatorial sun can get quite hot. But also, as we near the larger inhabited islands, we risk running into more people, like the San Cristobal Island day trippers for instance. Fabian and our Beagle crew have moved our itinerary to an earlier departure to avoid a 90 passenger ship that is now in close proximity. So it’s well worth it to get up at the crack of dawn to enjoy having just our small group on the trails. Continue reading

Galapagos Islands Day Three: Española Island

The Beagle has two zodiacs, or rubber dinghies used for ferrying passengers back and forth to land; one smaller and one larger. There are times when we all crowd into the larger of the two, but other times both boats are used. On this day, I learn a valuable technique…always try to get in the smaller boat, as it will only have one crew member, the helmsman. The larger of the two boats will always have two crew, the driver, and Fabian. With only one crewman, the smaller boat must wait for the larger boat to land first, so there is adequate crew to secure the boat and assist the passengers upon exiting. This is a long way to say “the smaller boat gets a longer boat ride.” On the landing in Española, this pays off in spades. The area where we would be making our dry landing is a “sea lion nursery,” Continue reading

Galapagos Islands Day Two: Floreana Island

Though it was a rolly passage to Floreana, so much so that at times I thought I might roll right out of my little bunkbed, I am thrilled to pieces to be on a sailboat again. While the majority of cruise ships in the Galapagos are catamarans, which admittedly offer more room and greater swell stability, I am a diehard sailor at heart, and find indescribable thrill and inspiration from being on a monohull at sea.

Though half my fellow crewmembers are skilled sailors, sadly, we won’t even see the sails unfurled on this trip for three reasons. One, the Ecuadorian Government keeps tight rein Continue reading