Our students visit Otavalo, located north of the Equator. Here, the tranquil streets and sprawling markets will provide an interesting contrast to the modern city of Quito. In recent times, the market has begun to focus strongly on the tourist trade, although thousands of indigenous from the surrounding communities still descend on market day to buy and sell.They are considered to be one of the most successful indigenous groups in Latin America, and can be found selling their wares in almost every Ecuadorian city, as well as in Europe and the United States. While in Otavalo students will visit Taller Mindada, a cultural site specializing in the local history and development of various textiles, as well as a musical workshop where students will be able to see the creation of a simple Andean instrument and try playing others.
What To Bring to Otavalo
Quito, formally San Francisco de Quito, is the capital city of Ecuador, and at an elevation of 9,350 feet, it is the highest capital city in the world housing the administrative, legislative and judicial functions. The students will visit the Capilla del Hombre, the famous museum containing many works by Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guyasamin, and they will also participate in a City Tour, visiting the historic center, La Catedral, La Compañía de Jesus, buildings of political importance, and many other culturally relevant sites located throughout the city.
Points of Interests
1. La Catedral
The Cathedral sits on the Plaza de Independencía, which it shares with government buildings including Carondelet, the governmental palace. While not as painstakingly decorated or as old as some of the other churches in Quito, the building has several unique qualities. The Cathedral houses some of Ecuador’s more famous relics, including the body of national hero Antonio Jose de Sucre, who won Ecuador’s independence on the hills outside of Quito and later was assassinated on his way home from a meeting in Colombia. Also displayed are some original paintings from the Quito School, which, similar to the Cuzco School, depicts rather bloody religious scenes, often mixed with indigenous ideas. The design of the Cathedral, like that of many other churches of its era, contains Moorish influences.
2. La Compañia de Jesus
Some call this the most beautiful church in all of Latin America. Begun a few years after the founding of Quito in 1534, this church took over one-hundred-and-sixty-three years to build. Reports put the amount of gold used at the construction between 7.5 and 11 tons. Intricate artwork and designs cover the walls and the paintings on the ceilings have earned the church the nickname of the “Quito’s Sistine Chapel.” While some of the former artwork remains, some has also been taken from the church and put into secure storage, while other pieces were shipped to Spain to generate money for the crown.
The church is also the final resting-place of Mariana de Jesus, who is considered to be Quito’s saint. Legend has it that Mariana de Jesus, following a string of diseases and natural disasters that killed 14,000 people, offered her life to God in exchange for the salvation of the rest of the population. She immediately fell ill and died, and according to the story, the city was spared. Upon her death, doctors bled her and threw her blood into the garden of her home. From this spot a lily sprouted, and for that reason when she was canonized, the pope dubbed her “Lily of Quito.”
What To Bring to Quito
3. Volcán Cotopaxi
On a clear day from Quito or on the road north you can see the snow-covered peak of Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second-highest mountain and a dangerously active volcano. Cotopaxi is said to erupt on average once every 125 years.
4. Cerro El Panecillo
This hill is located to one side of the historical center at about 9,895 ft. It is known as El Panecillo due to the resemblance that the Spaniards noticed between the hill and a type of small bread (panecillo). The Spanish conquistadors built a small fortress from 1812 to 1815, as well as a water tank at the top in order to provide their soldiers with the precious liquid. The focal point of the peak is the Virgen de Legarda, an impressive sculpture that can be seen from any point of the city. It is better known as La Virgen del Panecillo.
The Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument marks the place where, in 1736, Charles-Marie de La Condamine’s expedition made the measurements that located the Equator. Despite this accomplishment the French team of scientists was off by 300 meters, an error which was discovered upon the invention of the global positioning system GPS. Nevertheless, it is a great place to get a foto with one foot in either hemisphere. A pre-Columbian monument from one of Ecuador’s pre-historic cultures was discovered on the hill in front of the monument, on the exact line of the Equator. There is also a museum that contains a model of Quito, a planetarium, various exhibits, several restaurants, an open arena that is occasionally used for folkloric-dance performances, and a small chapel where couples can marry with one spouse standing in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern.
Salasaca is a village inhabited by some 12,000 Salasaca Indians famous for their exquisite tapestries, history, and for being one of the most vibrant indigenous cultures of Ecuador. This group which was once located in Bolivia, but was conquered by the Incas and forced to move, thereby being less of a threat to the Incan empire. This tribe is considered one of the most interesting ethnic groups because of their surly and rebellious social behavior, strong traditions and customs their reluctance to mix with whites, and because they still live in relative isolation. As you head southeast from Salasaca towards río Patate, nestled precariously in a steep valley you will begin to catch smoky glimpses of the famous Volcán Tungurahua, the 5,016m peak which is always threatening imminent eruption. From the town of Patate, where you will be staying in the Hacienda Leito, you might get the chance to hear, feel, and see Tungurahua giving a spectacular show of bursting lava cascading down its sides. Not to worry, although the hacienda in Patate sometimes will receive a light dusting of ash, there is nothing to be concerned about for it is at a safe distance from the thundering giant.
The ruins of Ingapirca, located approximately two and a half-hours from Cuenca, are the most important Incan ruins in Ecuador. Ingapirca is set on a picturesque hillside and overlooks a small village of the same name. The area surrounding the ruins is used primarily for agriculture and raising cattle, with traditional methods (hand and animal power) still used by the majority of farmers.
The main structure, the so-called Temple of the Sun, demonstrates some of the Incas’ finest mortar-less stonework, and is surrounded by seemingly less important ruins thought to be residences and storehouses. There is still debate over the use of the ruins, and archaeologists have at times referred to the ruins as a temple, fortress or as a royal stopover for imperial runners between Quito and Tomebamba (Cuenca).
Declared a national recreation area in 1977 and a national park in 1996, “El Cajas” (“boxes”) covers an area of 29,000 hectares (72,000 acres) of mountainous terrain between 9,700-13,500 feet. The park is situated on the western cordillera at the continental divide, about 30 km. West of Cuenca. A once glaciated region (note “U”-shaped valleys and rigid peaks) over 400 lakes and lagoons formed after the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago. Today, the park is littered with these paternoster lakes, all interconnected by visible and subterranean rivers and waterfalls. High altitude and moisture are the dominant climactic variables in El Cajas, forming two interesting ecosystems: Montaine cloud forest and Andean páramo, or shrubby high altitude grassland.
More contemporary Cajas popular history dates to 1989 when an upper-middle class teenage girl claimed to have been visited by the Virgen Mary while camping in the park. Monthly pilgrimages to the sanctuary are still made by people from all over Ecuador and from all different backgrounds. In the last decade the young girl’s story has been discredited by the Ecuadorian media, which reflects popular discourse on the topic today. Nevertheless the site is still of religious and spiritual importance for many Cuencanos.
Cajas is also unique in that it is run by ETAPA, the local municipality of Cuenca. It is the only park in Ecuador to be run at the local level (though still funded nationally), and many of the employees of the park have a long family history with the area. This was done in part because Cajas provides most of Cuenca’s drinking water (+60%), which is managed by ETAPA. It’s elevation and climate means it can get very cold, especially at night. Heavy fog can reduce visibility to just a few feet, making a knowledge of the area and a compass very important.
Climate: During the day, the weather in El Cajas can vary depending on whether or not the sun is out. If the sun is out, temperatures can reach the 80s and most folks will want to hike in shorts and a t-shirt. On the other hand, if it is overcast and rainy, cold temperatures will require that you come prepared for harsh conditions. The key to staying happy is staying dry, and the best way to dress (for any outdoor trip) is in layers. The “what to bring” list below is meant to help you prepare for our overnight stay in El Cajas.
What To Bring to El Cajas
The small town of Gualaceo hosts the largest indigenous market in the area, where one can purchase fruits, vegetables, meat, spices, etc. There is both an indoor and an outdoor market. You can see indigenous vendors dressed in their colorful traditional clothing. Every Sunday campesinos and tourists come to buy goods. You can find fine woven and embroidered goods and if you get there early enough a very large selection of wool sweaters. In addition, a trip to the animal market could be an unforgettable experience. You may also want to take a walk along the river and visit the town church and plaza. Up the hill is the town of Chordeleg, which is famous for its jewelry and handicrafts museum.
What To Bring to Gualaceo
The capital city of the province of Guayas, Guayaquil, is not only the largest city in Ecuador, but also the nation’s main port and the center of Ecuador’s manufacturing and fishing industry. With a current population of approximately 2 million inhabitants, the generally hot and humid climate has transformed in recent years from a seemingly disorganized city to an international destination and the focal point for export of common products such as banana, cacao, coffee, minerals, flowers and textiles. This large natural port on the Pacific coast contains a rich mix of biodiversity as a result of the convergence of the salty Pacific waters and the fresh water from the Guayas river allowing locals to make a living through fishing and collecting a variety of shellfish.
This is a busy fishing village of about 15,000 situated in the Manabí province of the Pacific coast. The main industries here on the beach are fishing and eco-tourism. A few kilometers off the coast lies La Isla de la Plata, famous for being an old pirate hide-out and also known as a the ‘poor mans Galapagos’ for the few species that inhabit the island which can also be found in the Galapagos. In and around Puerto Lopéz one can take time to whale watch, visit Parque Nacional Machalilla, hike local trails and see archeological sites or explore the local night life.
What To Bring to the Coast:
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