Why Your Next Running Vacation Should be to Ecuador

(Author’s note: Full disclosure, this was a complimentary trip paid for by the Tourism Department of Quito. I will still be giving a fair review as if I had paid for the trip myself. Also, I’m a pretty simple-minded guy from the South, I’m not a 15 star reviewer on TripAdvisor or anything like that. These are honest thoughts that won’t require a thesaurus to find out if I’m complimenting or criticizing the location. Any places or restaurants that didn’t leave an impression, good or bad, are not mentioned.)

Day Uno

I arrived late the previous day and stayed at Casa Aliso for the night. This was a beautiful little boutique hotel in the city. After spending the night in several different hotels, the small boutique ones seem to be the best value and experience. It also gives a more authentic feel to the trip. You get all the luxuries of a big hotel, with the environment of a mom-and-pop joint.

First stop was the Basilica Towers. As you’ll hear on the podcast to come, I have a deep southern accent and it took me the entire trip to pronounce this place correctly. Bah-silly-ghu was the way I finally got it. This landmark was gorgeous. The best part is that you were able to climb all the way up the clock towers and look over the city. Neat fact, even though the Basilica is designed in a Gothic style, they actually used animals from the Galapagos instead of gargoyles as statues.

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We had lunch at Cedron, a nice little place downtown that is part of one of the boutique hotels. The food everywhere down here was delicious, and I’ll talk about its impact towards the end. Afterwards, we browsed around in one of the busier parts of Quito. There were many old churches that are must visits if you appreciate architecture, or just a lot of gnarly paintings of Jesus. We also toured the local San Francisco Market, which had some of the most interesting selections I’ve ever seen. That place smelled amazing though. It had the freshest fruit and vegetables I’ve ever tasted, and it was cheap. We visited a few local shops where there local toy makers, chocolate bars, and the most amazing ice cream I’ve ever had in my life.

We visited the Ultimas Noticias 15k Race Fair afterwards.Ultimas Noticias’ fair was extremely similar. There were actually many of the same vendors there. Getting your bib and goodie bag was extremely simple and quick. They did have a pretty in-depth gait/heart rate analysis station. Afterwards it was on to dinner at P.P. Botella EC. It was here I discovered the magic of micheladas, a ‘beer-a-rita’ style Mexican drink that is a-maz-ing.  While the food was extremely fantastic, the drinks were even better. This is a must-visit restaurant. It is a great blend of Ecuadorian culture with a familiar vibe. Back to ze hotel!

Day Dos

While this trip was a consistent 7 to 9 on a scale of 10, there were a couple experiences that were an 11. These are memories that I will never forget and consider once-in-a-lifetime. It starts at Tucanopy. This place is a family-run reservation for the Choco Cloud Forest. It. Was. Fantastic. Not only are the guides, whom are also the owners, super-friendly, they are extremely knowledgeable about the area and how the vegetation works in the ecosystem. The visit was a constant variance of long, suspended walkways and blazing ziplines. I wish I could have gotten more exotic pictures, but the trees are so thick it is hard to capture how high up off the ground you are. The final suspended bridge took you up to the top of a tree that was over 300 feet off the ground. From here, you attach to a zipline and take off on a route that is over a half-mile long and exceeds speeds of 40mph. As you zoom from point-to-point, you’ll see some of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever see. The food here was almost as good as the views. This place is about an hour outside of Quito, but well worth the trip.

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As amazing as it was, the most unique part of the trip was about to happen. We stopped at a small ice cream parlor on the side of the road that had a recently built shed attached to it. We were stopping for a ‘craft beer experience.’ Being from a town that has quite a few amazing breweries such as Monday Night, Reformation, Sweetwater, and Red Hare, I was perplexed by this small shed. What I discovered was a family business that is destined to succeed. I can’t say enough about this place. Not only did the father take the time to walk me around, he explained why it was important they kept the business within the family. While many people judge success by the amount of money you make, this guy believed it is judged by taking care of your family and raising your kids with values. The food here was the best I had the entire trip. I had a tasted a lot of the same foods over this trip, just at different locations. The Cerveceria Gourmet did it the best though. I ate the food so fast, I forgot to take a picture. The beer here was some of the best I’ve had in my life. The quality was on par with Victory, which if you haven’t had yet, get it. I don’t care which part of Ecuador you travel to, go to Tucanopy, and then come eat and drink here.

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Later in the day we visited the ‘Middle of the World.’ So there is a ‘real’ Middle of the World, and one that the Franco-Spanish Geodesic Mission claimed in the 18th century. There is a whole bunch of science that says they are both right and both wrong. Google the differences if you want, it is pretty nifty, but be prepared for a worm hole of science, reddit, and wikipedia. Both are really awesome and I advise visiting both. The ‘real’ one is a private museum that has a lot of Ecuadorian history, including about the tribes that live in the Amazon. The other is government-owned and is a great place to go on a nice day and play with the different experiments that can only be done on the equator, such as balancing an egg on a nail. Both of these places are must-visits on your trip.

Day Tres (Race Day)

So this was the day of the actual Ultimas Noticias 15k Quito. There were going to be a little over 18,000 runners this year. I’ll be using the Atlanta Track Club’s Peachtree Road Race as a comparison since it is the largest road race in the world and there is a good chance the people reading this have done it. The race is a 15 kilometer (9.3 mile) race through Quito. They did a fantastic job with this event. Everything was set up the way you would expect for a race this size. All the corals were done by expected finish times and they had pacers with giant balloons behind them in case you needed to play catch-up. The course was absolutely gorgeous. At one point, you hit a long, flat, straight-away. Towering over you as you approach is the Basilica Towers I mentioned earlier. It was one of the most fantastic memories from the trip I’ll remember forever. As you close in on the last kilometer, you descend in the national futbol stadium. Aside from the gorgeous course, this is where the Ultimas Noticias 15k separated itself from other large road races.  You come through one of the tunnels emptying to the field. As you round the corner, you hear the roar of thousands of people in a packed stadium. Your feet hit track and and you see the finish line. As you sprint with all you’ve got, you pass waves and waves of people on your right, and one of the most popular bands in the culture playing a concert to your left. You hunch over, completely out of breath because you’re running at the elevation of 9,300 feet and feel like you are about to die. It was amazing. The festival area was on point. There was everything you could imagine. As you turn in your timing chip, you are given your swag bag with all the normal sponsor goodies. You can go back and enjoy the concert, or follow the signs to transportation, whichever you fancy. We headed off and ate at El Esmeraldas, which was fantastic. Another ‘must-eat’ joint.

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Day Quattro (I know, I’m Southern, leave me alone.)

Ermagosh. Volcano-running time. We headed up to Tierra del Volcan for this day. Whatever you do, come here for at least two days. Tierra del Volcan is a little hacienda outside of the Cotopaxi area. They offer hiking, horseback riding, biking, and climbing. The service and food here were both amazing. They’ve got paths for hours that you can run or ride via horseback. If you are feeling really adventurous, you can hire a guide to summit Cotopaxi. I wish there were a better way that I could do this place justice with my words. We spent a good portion of the day horseback riding. The horses were exceptionally trained and the guides know all the points to hit to get the best pictures. It was so peaceful. If I ever feel so stressed out that I need a vacation, this is where I will come. There is no way to have a care in the world while you ride around in the cool wind on a horse on the side of a volcano.

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I didn’t think this trip could get much better, but I had a surprise left. The first was Termas de Papallacta. Ho-lee-crap. This place is located around 12,000 feet from sea level in the magical High Andes landscape. It is another small hacienda on a volcano, BUT, with a full spa and massage parlor. AND…AND…hot springs everywhere. The heat from the volcano warms all the small bodies of water in the area creating hot springs. Oh, it is 3am and 35 degrees outside? It is ok, I’m going to get in this pool of water that is a deliciously warm 85 degrees. Even the tile bathroom floor was warm. Again, I could rant on and get a thesaurus to tell you how great this place is, or you could just go here and have a once in a lifetime experience.

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Day Cinco

Sadly, this was my last day. This mini-vacation was capped off with a visit to the La Compania Rose Plantation. I’ve never seen so many beautiful roses in so many different colors in my life. It is a family-owned family plantation that believes in taking care of their employees. I watched the workers harvest the flowers, snip them to what was ordered, and send them out. They send out around 30,000 roses a week. That is a lot of roses. What was really surprising, was how cheap it is to have them shipped from Ecuador to the United States. It was less than $25 for a dozen roses including shipping, to any address in the continental United States. If you want to buy roses from them, I’ll link it below.

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Summary

This was a trip-of-a-lifetime. As I mentioned in the note at the start, this trip was paid for by the Department of Quito Tourism. But I know one thing, I’ll be returning on my own accord to share the experiences of this country with my friends and family. Ecuador, for a such a small country, has massive varieties of ecosystems. You can go to the beach and enjoy warm rays. You can kayak through the Amazon and see sights you’ve only seen in movies. Visit Quito and eat some of the most delicious foods you’ll ever stick in your mouth. Head to Cotopaxi and summit a mountain covered in snow, in July. Seriously, do yourself a favor, plan a trip to Ecuador. I’ve traveled the western hemisphere pretty extensively, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t visit this place. There is a lot more information on the official Quito website. I actually used their travel tool to ball park a return visit for 7 days. Airfare/hotel for two came out to about $700 per person.

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TL:DR – Food

This post is kind of long, but there was so much to say. I wanted to include a small list of places we ate that are worth visiting at all costs if you are within a few hours. Not all places we ate are mention here or above, and some are repeated from above to make the list complete.

P.P. Botella in Quito – Amazing nightlife, food, and drinks. It has a local vibe, but with American comforts. I’d spring for dinner here on a weekend. Some of the best soup I’ve ever had.

Cerveceria Gourmet in Quito – I don’t even know how to link you to this place. They are on Untapped, and there is a video on YouTube. You can find information listed here with their address and phone number. Oh dear God. The best beer and sausage. I could have stayed here all day and ate and drank if they would have let me. Ever watched the episode of Family Guy where Peter gets a job at the brewery? That would be me here. Must-visit.

Cafe Mosaico in Quito – This place serves American recipes with Ecuadorian ingredients. Dee-lish-us. The ambiance here is unique as well. They have a patio that overlooks the city. I would definitely eat here at night so you can take in the view.

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Charles Harper

Social Media Dude at Obstacle Racing Media
Charles is an avid runner and general klutz. He was terrible at running in high school and is trying to fix that while in his 30's. He is kind of hick-ish and has a man crush on Ryan Atkins and Atkins' dog, Suunto.
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