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Danette Benton

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Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador was supposed to be a place that we flew into to get to our journey for the Galapagos Islands. Just a stopping point before proceeding further. I usually book a couple of extra days on the front side and back side of a trip when I have to do that because I usually find things to do in the stopping off place. It also gives me a chance to acclimate to climate, altitude, etc... Quito was a gem on the way to someplace amazing. I researched a few things about Quito before I arrived. I found out there was some nice hiking in the area. I saw a little article about the Mindo Cloud Forest. I heard about a market North of town and that most of the world's roses were grown there. Prior to arrival, this is mostly all I knew.

We stayed at the Hilton Colon in Quito. It was very nice and the staff were very friendly and helpful. This is the hotel we would connect at for our G Adventures tour to the Galapagos, so I felt like it made it easy to just stay there. There were always roses in the lobby. In the market, roses sell for $1.00 for 25 roses. Once we dropped our bags off at the room, we made our way to the Concierge's desk. He gave us brochures for tours. I am not a fan of tours. I asked him if he could get us a private driver who spoke English. The difference between a private driver and 2 of us taking a tour was $20.00 per day. He told us to come back in the morning around 8 am and he would have a driver waiting for us. We ate dinner at the hotel and called it a night.

The next morning we had breakfast and made our way to the lobby. The Concierge introduced us to our driver, Luis Saltos. Luis was amazing! He asked us what we wanted to do and see. We told him we would like to photograph Cotopaxi and asked him to tell us what we should see. He told us we would head for Cotopaxi first. Our first day's journey began.


We drove about 2 hours South of Quito. Luis stopped at a few places he thought would have good views and allowed us to take pictures. He then drove us into the Cotopaxi National Park. Cotapaxi is an active volcano. The name means "neck of the moon."


He went inside to find us a guide. (Park rules) and Julie and I shopped at some of the booths that were set up inside. We realized very quickly that we were dressed for the Galapagos, not a hike in the mountains. I had layered with a couple of lightweight jackets, but as we drove upward it was considerably colder. We purchased some alpaca scarves, a beanie, and an alpaca poncho. We were ready to hike.

Luis found his way back to us with a guide in tow. Her name was Paulina. She was dressed like the women dress in the mountains. Poncho, felt hat, and colorful clothing. She was so very sweet. She told us the day was cloudy, but with some luck, we might get a glimpse of the summit at Cotopaxi. I told her I believed we would have a good day. She said I had very good energy.

We drove up a little road that was worn like a washboard. Paulina said this was the massage and there was no extra charge for that. She explained about the trees. The crying trees came from Chile. The other pines came from the US.

We stopped in the car and she said we had arrived at "the magic area."


On one side of the road were feral horses. Behind them was Ruminahui. It is a dormant volcano. The name means "stone face." On our right was Cotopaxi. Lots of clouds were covering the snow capped summit. It was cold and windy and magnificent.

We took pictures of the horses, then sat and waited. Waited for the heavens to part and a bit of sun to come out. Most people don't understand that the biggest part of photography is waiting. Waiting for the light to get right. Waiting for an animal or wildlife to show up. Waiting for wildlife to look your way or run by you. It is in these moments that you just soak up the moment.

After a bit, the sun peaked through and we were able to see the snow capped summit. On an overcast day, this was going to be our best shot. She said summertime was better for those days. We shrugged our shoulders and smiled. We were there for the best time of year for the Galapagos and anything extra as far as a photograph was concerned, was icing on the cake. We were happy. Happy to be in this amazing place. We had good energy!

Paulina told us she wanted to show us more if we didn't mind hiking. "We love hiking!"

We passed a pair of red fox along the way.


We hiked to the top of a peak. There were bright orange flowers called, Chuquirahua (spurs of fire).

The view was breathtaking!


Paulina knew all of the flowers. She knew all of the volcanoes and mountains. It was as if they were family to her.

She walked across as I was shooting this shot. She tried to get out of the way. I told her "Please stay in the shot. You are a supermodel today!"

We hiked all over the side of the mountain. Once we finished, Paulina took us down to the lagoon. Limpiopungo (clean entrance gate). On a clear day, that is when you will get the reflection of Cotopaxi in the lagoon. These are the pictures I have seen in magazines. This day was not a clear day and not cooperating for that shot.


I told Paulina, what I really wanted was a shot of a llama beside the mountains. She said, "My mama has a llama. We will go meet him." We travelled back down the narrow road and sure enough we ended up at her mama's house and met the llama.

She said, "He does not spit." Julie and I walked up to him and I was talking baby talk. He was very curious and put his nose and lips right up to mine. I fell in love with this llama!

We bid farewell to Paulina. Luis said he would take us to the equator next.


We drove North of Quito for this stop. In the town of Mitav Vilmundo. Luis took us to the museum Museo de Silio Intinan. We took a small tour there for $4.00. They stamped our passports with the 0 latitude and equator stamp. The tour was very interesting. She told us about the indigenous people who settled in the area. She showed us a burial site and a kitchen that were original to the site. We then walked to the 0 latitude. She showed us that you can stand an egg on a nail head at the Equator. They had a line painted on the ground and she asked us to walk on the line. Each time you would feel a pull, either to the Southern Hemisphere, or to the Northern Hemisphere. She showed us sun clocks and told us we weighed one kilo less at the equator.

She poured water into a basin right on the line of the equator. The water drained straight down. No circular motion. She then walked the basin to the Northern side about 5 feet. She poured water into it and it drained clockwise in a circular motion. She did the same thing about 5 feet on the Southern Hemisphere side and it drained counter clockwise in a circular motion.

We shopped at the little shop inside the museum.

Luis drove us back and we talked to him about places to eat. He told us about a place near the hotel. They serve guinea pig (Qui) and goat. We opted to eat at the hotel.

I had an Ecuadorian soup called Locro de Papa. It was potato with cheese and avocado. Delicious!

We meet Luis at the lobby early the next morning. He tells us he will take us to the Mindo Cloud Forest. This a about 2 hours Northwest of Quito. Up a windy mountain road. It is everything you picture as you drive up. Lots of curves with slow drivers, then our driver is passing on the curves, etc... You get the picture. I just shut my eyes. We pass through some small communities on the way. We pass through a small village with long green houses. Luis explains that the roses are grown here. There is a market on the street with roses every where. We arrive at Mindo. Luis takes us to El Viscanco. It is an open thatch roof cabana. You walk in and sit at a bar looking out into the rainforest. There are hundreds of hummingbirds. They have banana slices on the trees. Luis said this attracts birds.


We stay in this place for about 2 hours, taking pictures of hummingbirds until our eyes are crossed. It was quiet and peaceful and beautiful!


We leave the hummingbird place and head through the small town of Mindo. There are hikers from all over the world in town. Walking, shopping, hiking gear in tow. Luis takes us to a lift. The man takes $8.00 from us and away we go. Up over the rainforest.


The clouds are formed from the humid air off of the Pacific Ocean and the humid air off of the Amazon Rain Forest East of the Andes coming together at this point.

The clouds hang over the rainforest like a thick smoke. It is a beautiful view from the lift.


Next we walk about a mile down a path to a cable car. (Terabita) It is bright yellow and takes you across another part of the rainforest.


The trails are steep with roots and lush green on the side, in front, overhead.

There are beautiful flowers and ferns.


I have had drivers take me to spots I want to photograph. They will usually take you to the spot, then say, " Hike 5 miles in that direction and you will come to a waterfall." Luis was with us every step.

We hiked about a mile and a half down a steep trail that led to 5 waterfalls.


The air was damp and humid. Everything seemed to be dipped in moisture.


At the bottom of the trail was a beautiful waterfall.


Rio Mindo River

We hike back up the trail and repeat the cable car, hike, lift, and back down to the base. Crossing the tree line one more time before leaving.

We head down the road and arrive at Hosteria Mindo. We are met at the door by a very nice lady. We tell her we would like some lunch. She tells us to place our order and she will turn it in to the kitchen while we get started in the butterfly garden.

She walks us through 2 doorways and explains that they breed and raise butterflies. They have eggs, pupas, caterpillars, and butterflies. All of the stages.

There are butterflies and beautiful flowers everywhere.

You have to watch where you walk for butterflies on the floor and rails.

After about 30 minutes, the lady comes and gets us. Our lunch is ready. We sit at a table in a thatch roof open air cabana. A nice young man waited on us. I had a smashed olive, sundries tomato, cheese, and basil sandwich on quinoa bread with a vinagerette. It was served with french fries and a coke. Very delicious!

As we ate, we looked out of the open window onto the gardens.

We could hear toucans.

After lunch it started to drizzle a bit. She gave us umbrellas and we walked out into a garden on the other side of the butterfly house.

There was a beautiful path that circled  around a  garden.

There were 2 towers made of bamboo for viewing. We climbed up in them hoping to see the toucans we heard earlier.

There was a pond and everywhere you looked, was beautiful!

There was another hummingbird garden  with a deck. There were a few hummers, but the rain kept them from coming out.

As I walked through this place. I thought of how many years it must have taken to build all of this.

The planning and forethought it took to see this to fruition.

The woman that owns this place has such a friendly and welcoming personality. It is no doubt this was her design.

They have cabanas where you can stay here. I would definitely recommend a stay at this wonderful spot!

As I walked out through the garden, I thought, "This is the most zen place I have ever been in my entire life!"

Luis took us back to the hotel. We made plans for him to pick us up after the Galapagos Islands. We went to Mama Clorinda's for dinner. It was amazing! We had cheese empanadas, humitas (tamale with corn and cheese in a corn husk), and a chicken and corn tamale that was wrapped in a banana leaf. The girl that waited on us was especially sweet.

The day after we came back from the Galapagos, we wake up and are down at the lobby at 8am. As promised, Luis is there waiting on us. Today we are headed to Otavalo. (The market) We head N on the Pan Americana Norte towards Columbia. We drive along side of the Pisque River below.

We pass through Taba Cunde, where they grow all of the roses. On the way to Otavalo, Luis pulls over and stops at a place called Mira Lago. He tells us there is a great view there. He takes us into a small building where Juan Carlos, the hat maker works. The Panama Hat originated in Ecuador. They were made for workers in Panama. Hence the name. Juan Carlos makes the hats that go into town for a much higher price. He was so careful to fit us and explain the difference in the quality of the hats. The weave is tighter on the better ones and he showed us how to look at that, holding a hat up to the light at the doorway. We both bought one of the "best" hats. He told us they take one month to make.

We shop a bit in the store next to the hat maker. We take pictures of the Lagoon San Pablo, then we are off to the Condor Park.

At first, as I walk around, it is like a zoo. They rehab birds here and they are trying to bring the Andean Condor back.

There is a beautiful viewing area with the Andes Mountains in the back drop. We go to leave and the lady tells us the flying demonstration is about to start.

This was amazing! They take the birds out and let them fly over the Andes.

They brought one bird after another.

I couldn't decide whether to try to get pictures or just watch them sail over the Andes.

One by one he let them fly.

I thought, "Is all of Ecuador just amazing and zen?"

The flying demonstration ended and we headed to the market at Otavalo.

I bought some beautiful hand embroidered napkins from this sweet lady.

We shopped for awhile then I told Luis to take us to a local place to eat. We went into a little shop and had cheese empanadas and morocho. (A corn and milk drink) At the restaurant Luis tells us he can take us to a better place for Alpaca items and tapestries.

We go to Peguche. We go into a shop called Artesenia El Gran Condor. The woman that owns the shop has her business downstairs and her family lives upstairs.

She shows us the different types of wool.

She shows us how they make the thread and dye it.

We buy tapestries, an alpaca blanket, and more scarves. Her work was amazing!

At the end of her street, we walk through a small market and into a forest.

This is the community of Pucara Alto.

Julie and I pay a man a dollar to take our picture with Lena and Marta. Love me some llamas!

We leave here and head to Cotocochi. This is a town where all of the leather makers are congregated. We bought some leather goods and headed back to the hotel as it was getting late. On the way back, Luis pulled into a shop. He bought Julie and I Bizcochos. Wonderful biscuits that you eat with hot chocolate with melted cheese in it. YUMMY!

Luis gets us back to the Hilton Colon and we bid farewell. We eat a quick supper at the hotel and go to ur room and try to figure out how we are going to get everything in our suitcases. We had each bought a leather duffle on wheels at Cotocachi and hoping we could make it work.

Luis picks us up the next morning at 4 am to take us to the airport. Luis was such a great driver and nice man! We bid him farewell one last time at the airport and start our trek back home.

I found out once we were there that Quito and the surrounding area is a world class hiking mecca. The food is great! (Did not try the guinea pig) The people were so kind and genuinely helpful. I would love to go back for more hiking in the future.

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