Have you ever arrived somewhere and gotten a sign that you were in the right place?
When I arrived to Ecuador for the first time, I saw a rainbow.
If that’s not a good sign, I don’t know what is.
Truth was, I’d wanted to visited Ecuador for ten years.
When I first started to learn Spanish in high school, I didn’t know any native speakers to practice with in person. So I found them online.
One of my closest online friends was from Ecuador. He’d send me photos of the mountains and vegetation I’d never seen in my life. It was because of this friend that I started to become interested in traveling to South America.
After two years of teaching in Colombia, I was finally able to visit. I was backpacking alone through Colombia, and somehow found my way to the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. I arrived at sunset.
The next morning, I woke up in paradise.
Exaggeration? Not for me. Ecuador was the country where I instantly fell in love. INSTANTLY.
It. Was. BEAUTIFUL. Perfect weather, and beautiful blue skies. Adorable cobble-stone streets. No sign of Romeo Santos music anywhere. (My neighbors in Colombia had a habit of blasting Romeo Santos at all hours of the day. You’d get sick of it too if you listened to it as much as I did.)
If you go to Ecuador, add the Imbabura providence to your list. You can easily visit in a day trip from Quito. You could easily spend a week there. I’ve spent up to a month there on vacation. It’s got mountains, volcanoes, lagoons, and beautiful vegetation.
At risk of making this blog post sound more like a love letter to one of my favorite places in the world (well, let’s be real now, it already is), here are 11 reasons why I fell crazy in love with this region that’s tucked in the Andes.
1. Walking through the cobblestone streets in Ibarra, the capital of Imbabura, and also known as the Ciudad Blanca (White City)
The centro of Ibarra is pretty safe during the day if you’re a solo traveler. Even at night, it didn’t feel shady, though don’t expect a wild nightlife (go to Guayaquil for that).
But it’s very nice to walk around. Ibarra is such a picturesque city with a cozy vibe meets mountains. There are several plazas around the city, and parks and cafes to relax at. And ice cream. Paila is their type of ice cream – it tastes less creamy, but you can get it in several flavors of tropical fruits you’ve probably never heard of.
2. Walking around la Laguna Yahuarcocha (and enjoy an empanada)
That’s pronounced ya-war-COH-chah.
You’ll have to either take a bus or taxi to get here. I spent the afternoon walking around the lagoon. There are also some restaurants where you can have something to eat with a view of the lagoon, or eat an empanada at one of the smaller cafes.
Oh, and the view. The VIEW. How is this place real?!
3. Eating a big ass empanada
I swear I’m not making this up. This was real. And it was absolutely delicious.
4. Cevichocho is a thing. It’s the best thing.
Cevichocho is like ceviche, except instead of seafood, they use chochos, which is a type of bean (the closet I’ve been able to find back in the States were lupini beans, but they just weren’t the same). You mix it with plantain chips, fried corn, lemon juice, salt . . . it’s so, so, so good.
5. Feeling like you’re on top of the world at the city lookout (mirador)
You can see the entire city from here. From the day, it’s fun to see the small cars moving through the city, and how organized everything looks from above. At night, the whole city is sparkling.
6. Visiting the Mercado Artesenal in Otavalo, where I bought a poncho
But why stop at a poncho? You can buy a hammock, a painting, jewelry, tapestries . . .
Otavalo is a small town about a half hour from Ibarra by car. You can buy just about anything there, but it’s most famous four its street markets, where locals will sell handicrafts, textiles, jewelry, and more. It’s a great place to do Christmas shopping.
7. Go to the restaurant at Puerto Lago near Otavalo.
They also have a hotel, but I just went to the restaurant. The food was delicious, and the view is amazing, as you can see.
8. Taking a short hike to see the Peguche Waterfalls
The Peguche Waterfalls are just outside of Otavalo. It’s not too strenuous of a hike, and the waterfalls are pretty and refreshing.
9. Going for another hike around La Laguna Cuicocha
This is one of the most beautiful and calming places I’ve ever visited. The Laguna Cuicocha is a crater lake you can spend the day walking around. It’s at the bottom of the Cotacochi Volcano (it’s inactive). The views of the laguna and two islands inside, and the views of the land around, is breathtaking. And so green.
10. Another hike? Just kidding; going on a mini road trip to Laguna Grande de Mojanda
Laguna Grande de Mojanda was one of the most silent and serene places I visited. And the wind was harsh; it felt like a slap on the face.
And it was not easy to get here, which is why I can’t recommend hiking here. When I visited, I don’t think I saw anyone else. There’s a lot of land to drive around. But being here in this silent and serene place almost felt mystical. I’ve never visited a place where noise and air pollution were practically non-existent.
11. Going to this unidentified mountain for another hike (you’re in the mountains! What else was I going to recommend), and setting foot in the snow
So, I don’t remember what this place is called. This is incredibly embarrassing when you’re writing a blog post of places you recommend people visit, only to not remember the name of the place you visited.
I’ve tried to find out, and the closest result I’ve gotten is Volcan Cayambe. Which isn’t even in Ibambura, it’s in Pichincha (the providence where Quito is). But the Volcan Cayambe is closer to Ibarra than Quito, and I’ve already written this much, so it’ll stay in this post.
Climbing this volcano was. A. Hike. And getting to the hiking area was semi-terrifying, as the roads looked so narrow it felt like the truck was about to fall off. But getting to the top, touching the snow, and seeing all the snow and ice was worth it. Being up there felt surreal.
Did I convince you to go yet? Aren’t you totally amazed that a place like this exists?
If you’re not, then let me ask you: what have you got against mountains, and nature, and volcanoes, and beautiful places? How could you not want to visit?
I don’t know how to conclude this blog post. But I will say that Imbabura was a breath of fresh air for me, and so many “fated” events in my life happened here. I hope everyone finds a place in the world they feel like they were destined to visit, a place that they fall madly in love with.
I didn’t believe in first sight; and then, I saw Imbabura, and was forever changed.