It’s top 10 time again, and this one is a tricky one. While avoiding the folly of ranking countries it must be said that Ecuador has the least downsides thus far, there’s simply nothing to pick at in Ecuador, nothing. It’s in this feature that naming a top 10 is tricky, Ecuador is the emotionally stable counter to Cuba’s bipolar craziness, it’s hard to rank one good thing above another. All the more amazing is the surprise packet that is Ecuador; from complete basket case to captivating revelation in recent years, Ecuador is not only a great place to visit, it’s a lesson to the world. Not to mention an advert for shorties; with most Ecuadorians barely able to peer over a well pruned box hedge a tall person could feel out of place, but of course, the people are graciously welcoming at every turn.

10 – Parque condor
Just making it into the top 10 is the man made bird sanctuary, Parque Condor. It’s always a bit conflicting to see wild animals in captivity but the majesty of these great birds is unmistakable. We were able to see them up close and flying free and its in this instance that we were given an experience we’ll definitely remember.

IMG_0559.JPG

9 – Lago Quicocha
One never forgets their first time… and Quicocha was our first volcano in Ecuador, as special for us as it was for Quicocha. The short walk we took around the lake was all things that combine beauty and force. With imposing black craters more familiar for us when it comes to volcanos this tranquil lake and picturesque scenery masked what was unavoidably right in front of us, a volcano.

8 – Quilotoa volcano
Ecuador has the avenue of volcanos so it’s no surprise to see another in the list at number eight. Quilotoa is also extinct with a stunningly beautiful lake bordered by an aggressive and unmistakable volcanic crater. What’s more is that Quilotoa boasts a great local community of indigenous people. Speaking Quichua, many people here live in traditional homes, wear traditional dress and live a lifestyle that inspires pure romance to any who choose to visit and be welcomed.

IMG_0573.JPG

7 – Quito Architecture
It’s widely known that Quito is a beautiful city, it says so in the guidebook; but that’s said about a lot of cities to disappointing results. On this score however, Quito blows away all expectations. With the backdrop of the grand local terrain forming the perfect setting, the beauty of the colonial architecture in Quito is matched only by its abundance. A romantic city that needs to be seen to be believed.

6 – La Mariscal
Yes we’re still in Quito, what an amazing city; just having ‘Quito’ as an entry would be a travesty. The historical grace of Quito central is offset by the modern party district of La Mariscal. Now every city has one of these places, what makes this so notable is the style in which Ecuador brings its culture to the fore in a very modern way. The manner in which La Mariscal elegantly avoids the trappings of all temptations superficial and gaudy is nothing short of masterful.

5 – Quito Basilica
We always feel a touch conflicted in a church balancing the grandeur of the buildings with the unfortunately disproportionate hold on power and money. But off the high horse, the Basilica is a beast in its own right, and given that we could climb up and through this monster it will remain in our minds as an event that typifies a great city far above all else. Places of importance are so rarely accessible, but here we replace foreboding with welcome, a total winner.

IMG_0601-0.JPG

4 – Parque Cajas
We only had a small look into Parque Cajas but that taste was enough to confirm the wonder that only a natural environment can. With aggressive landscape at approx 4000m above sea level, the feeling of foreboding beauty is palpable. That balance of beautiful vs imposing is always an emotive driver and Parque Cajas achieved this sensation with consummate ease.

IMG_0661-0.JPG

3 – Eating in Quito
Where to start? Eating is Quito was a complete gem with the entire range of experiences on offer. From the delicious and authentic food in the central market we were treated to the quintessential travellers culinary experience. Take this all the way to the fine dining of La Choza and the jaw dropping setting of Vista Hermosa and we have the whole box and dice.

IMG_0621-0.JPG

2 – Party time in Cuenca
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good old fashioned hangover, and an even longer time since we thought it was worth it. In Cuenca, ably aided by team Poland, we found ourselves being locked into a small local bar at one point to dancing in a restaurant at another. Cuenca is a beautiful city in its own right and the relaxed, welcoming nature if the locals made being festive inviting; no, irresistible.

IMG_0651-0.JPG

1 – Cotopaxi
Controversial one here, and a deserved number one. Cotopaxi is an iconic flagship to Ecuador for obvious reason, it’s stunning. It’s also the sight of one of my most confronting travelling experiences ever. With time to rationalise the difficulty that was attempting the summit of Cotopaxi, the grandeur, immensity, beauty and mystique of this great peak are what remains. Whether travelling or at home, not much inspires quite like a truly surreal environment and this is what Cotopaxi delivered. It’s in this ‘trip to another world’ that we were granted memories of such magnitude that they will likely never fade, yes Ecuador will always, in some way, mean Cotopaxi to us.