Our favorite type of vacation is to just get away, turn off, and decompress. What better place to get that accomplished than on a vacation at the beach. We have been to many beaches throughout the world and one of our top favorites is Playa Murciélago in Manta Ecuador.
Playa Murciélago is different from the usual beach vacations we take as it is a public beach located in a city. When we go to Manta we usually stay at the Balandra Hotel. It is a wonderful hotel with great staff. Best of all it is only a block from the beach and a very short walk. The roof top bar / restaurant at the Balandra Hotel is called El Faro and is considered to be one of the top restaurants in the city.
When you are on the beach you can rent a beach tent or a beach umbrella which comes with 2 chairs. On the weekday the rent for a tent is $2.00 (USD) and on the weekend $5.00. No need to lug everything with you down to the beach. In addition, all along the shore side of the beach are little shops, bars, and restaurants. It is a great place to experience the beach just like the locals.
If you decide that you want a little bit more action you can just drive along the coast to a few Xtreme Sport locations on the beach such as wind surfing or hang gliding. There is always something for everyone to do.
Just southwest of Manta, Ecuador is the Pacoche Wildlife Refuge. We would describe it as a jungle. It is a scenic drive 45 minute drive from Manta and a good way to see the local area. Upon arriving we were greeted by one of the Refuge’s Rangers. He informed us that we would be hiking the Pasaje del Mono (Monkey Path) and introduced us to our guide.
If you notice on the sign it even tells you not to touch the plants and there is good reason for that. For instance, on a very young bamboo plant it is covered in what looks like hair. That hair is very tiny barbed needles that once you touch them do not dislodge and hurt like the dickens.
The picture above shows you our guide. He was very informative and told us of the training he has to pass in order to be a guide for this wildlife preserve. Our guide happened to be born in the area and has been living there all his life so he knew about almost everything. Typical wildlife found in this preserve are Howler Monkeys, Panthers, Tarantulas, Owls, Hawks, Frogs, Termites, and several hundred species of hummingbirds, and that is just to name a few. We never saw any Panthers or Howler Monkeys but we could hear the Howler Monkeys very clearly. Our guide told us the jungle is a lot more active at night.
He said if you were to go camping there you do not sleep on the ground. At night he said the ground is almost completely covered with insect life and those insects are all being hunted by Tarantulas. So… there are a lot of those out at night too. The Tarantulas are huge. In the below picture you can see our guides hand and the Tarantula he coaxed out is as large as his hand.
This jungle trek was one of the best excursions we have ever gone on.
In the center of Old Town Quito is the Plaza Grande. One of the buildings there at the Plaza Grande, is the Presidential Palace. The inside of this building is open to the public by taking a tour.
The tours run about every 30 minutes and last about 30 minutes. It takes you to several of the large public rooms used for entertainment and is very informative. The picture below is the Banquet Room for large state dinners.
This is the Hall of Presidents, which has a portrait of every President of Ecuador along the walls.
Throughout the Palace are display cases which contain gifts given from foreign dignitaries to the Presidents of Ecuador.
Once you finish the tour, the Ecuadorian government says thank you by giving you a gift photo of your visit. It is a real special treat.
Every Monday at 11:00 AM sharp at the Plaza Grande in front of the Presidential Palace in Quito is a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance that takes place. It is the Changing of the Guard for the Palace. Before and after the ceremony the indigenous tribes of Ecuador perform.
The ceremony is presided over by many dignitaries from Ecuador and the world.
During the ceremony while their national anthem plays the crowd enthusiastically joins in. It is a wonderful ceremony to experience as well as see the pride of the people for their country.
About a little over an hour outside of Quito is a great place to spend the day relaxing and getting a massage. That place is called Termas Papallacta. This location is considered part of the gateway to the Amazon and situated there is a Spa and thermal baths.
These thermal baths are considered medicinal as they contain within them volcanic minerals. In fact, the thermal baths are heated naturally from volcanic sources.
The thermal baths range in temperature. You go from the hottest pools down to the coolest baths thereby removing toxins from your body. It is considered very therapeutic.
We highly recommend a trip to Termas Papallacta if you have the time.
A great way to spend a couple of hours in Quito is to enjoy the Botanical Gardens. The name is Jardin Botanico de Quito. The price for entry is very reasonable ($3.50 per person).
There a plenty of paths to meander through and just enjoy the day.
Once you finish your visit at the Botanical Gardens, you can continue your leisure walk throughout Parque Carolina (Carolina Park) or if you feel very adventurous you can visit the Reptile House also near the Botanical Gardens and maybe pet a snake.
Did you know that Ecuador is also known as the “World Capital of Orchids”?
Ecuador is one of the countries most rich in orchids with more that 4200 species.
It has a great diversity, but botanists continually discover new varieties and sizes. Orchids grow at the coast, the mountains, and in the Amazon jungle.
Not far from the city of Quito is a tourist attraction called “La Mitad del Mundo” (The Middle of the World). It was orignally thought that the equator ran through this location. This was due to a geographer named Luis Tufiño who in 1936 placed the equator’s location in that place.
However, with the invention of the GPS system it was discovered that the equator was 240 meters north of the current location. About a 5 minute drive from Mitad del Mundo there is a little tourist attraction that is on the equator that has all sorts of fun things to do. Such as how the coriolis effect is different when draining out of a basin water on the north side of the equator versus the south side of the equator versus directly over the equator. Simple experiments to demonstrate the equatorial effects on us and the things around us.
So when you go to Ecuador be sure to check out the fake equator line and the real equator line as they are right around the corner from each other.
On our trip to Quito one of the places we visited was La Basilica. The church’s real name is Basilica del Voto Nacional.
The Basilica is a 19th century church located in the historic “Old Town” section of Quito. According to the guide books it is the largest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas.
The church opened in 1924 and legend has it that the church will never be completed building. For when the church is completed this will bring about the end of days.
The church is very ornate with many gargoyles. You can also climb all the way to the top of the bell tower for some great views of Quito.
On any given day the market is bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables.
There is also a carnicería (butcher shop) and tienda de mariscos (seafood shop) as well as tiny restaurants.
As well as fresh flowers, spices, dried herbs, and whole booths dedicated just to potatoes. By the way, the potatoes in Ecuador make the best potato soup on the entire planet.